May 14, 2007
112: Such Great Heights
Kerry surprised me last fall by booking me for a late-season flight over the city in a hot air balloon. But my birthday being when it is, the reserved date didn't pan out because of poor weather – then the ballooning season promptly ended for the year. So after a long, balloonless winter on the ground and in the snow, the trip finally came to fruition this past weekend under sunny morning skies and ideal conditions.
Launching from Whittier Park, across the Red River from downtown, the excursion took myself and five other passengers in a northwest direction, arching around the north side of downtown office towers and the Exchange District, then following Notre Dame Avenue to Red River College (my alma mater), the airport and over a patchwork of fields within the Perimeter Highway. And though I'd been told the rides are eerily quiet (with exception of occasional hair-scorching blasts from the propane tanks), the early Saturday morning flight took silence to new levels as most people were still asleep in their beds as we ventured out. Thoroughfares were largely empty, and with winds low the clearest noises were amazingly from birds – gulls, blackbirds, robins and meadowlarks leading the charge.
Highlights included the launch itself, rising from a grass lot surrounded by trees to see the skyline beyond, as well as demonstrations of the pilot's skill as he skipped our basket along the airport's main runway during a moment of arrival/departure downtime ("it's not every airport that allows us to do this", he mentioned), and a rapid ascent that followed in order to hold a position directly over a landing jet plane. Our haute-rageously french pilot Serge had a deft hand at maneuvering such a seemingly uncontrollable craft, guiding our group to a "passive landing" on a gravel service road (the alternative on windier days, I learned, can involve skidding for several metres at a 45-degree angle).
A small collection of 20-odd photos from the morning can be seen here, including closer views of ones featured in the grid below, and a much better look at the seven-photo stitched panorama above.
Top row (left to right): Serge checks out the interior as the balloon inflates; our shadow as we rise out of Whittier Park; a jumble of buildings in Winnipeg's downtown. Middle row (left to right): abstract streetscape of the Exchange District; Serge (quel pilote!); tree canopy abstract of Brookside Cemetery. Bottom row (left to right): lifeblood; farm field abstract; a post-ballooning champagne toast.