Georgia (cont'd)


Aloft, the wind took me to the northeast. On my GPS, my speed rose quickly as I rose, from 10 mph to 15 mph, and higher.

The sun had yet to emerge from behind a thin, broken cloud layer. The wind carried me over the silent, twilight town, my speed now edging up past 20 mph. In just a few minutes, were we were out of Reynolds.

We passed over farmland, which after a few miles gave way to the swampy, wooded lands along the Flint River.

The inaccessible area went on for some miles. For the first time I was happy about the brisk wind, which was now carrying us along at over 25 mph, although I was still wondering whether that wind would work its way down to the surface by the time I was ready to land. We crossed the river, and continued over the swampy area on the eastern shore.

We finally emerged from the far side of the swamp back into farm country. Roland and Jimmy Whitley, a local man who was navigating for Roland, had crossed the Flint on the state highway and were working their way north towards me. I called out some landmarks to them on the radio, and began descending.

As I descended, my speed dropped under 20 mph, and then under 15 mph. With my track shifting slightly to the north as I dropped in, I looked for a place to land. Up ahead was a line of trees, followed by a field of new corn, followed by some more trees and railway tracks. I released another balloon to avoid overshooting, trying to set down just past the first tree line at the edge of the corn. I gave Roland some more directions -- he claimed to know roughly where I was heading, but could not actually see me. Then he said he was near John Goddard's hot-air balloon, which was a quarter mile or more north of me.



I was still moving fast, but as I dropped in the last hundred feet, I could feel little wind on my face -- a good sign, meaning that I was decending into slower winds below. I cleared the first row of trees by about ten feet and dropped some ballast to cushion my landing. I landed lightly on my feet in rows of ankle-high corn, still with some good forward speed from the wind. I began running -- that being the only alternative to dragging -- stepping between the rows so as not to damage the crop. I couldn't see the truck, and knew that I would have to stop myself. As I ran/floated across the field, I managed to line myself up with a gap between the trees in the second line of trees I was coming up on. As I reached the edge of the corn, I cut away six or seven balloons. I passed between the two trees, digging in my heels, and finally managed to stop at the base of the embankment leading up to the railroad tracks.

I called Roland on the radio again, and a few minutes later he and Jimmy arrived in my truck.




John and David had landed their balloons not far away, and after loading up their equipment, they and their chase crews came over to help deflate the cluster balloon.




Champagne is, of course, traditional after balloon flights, but David brought some beer to celebrate that morning. It seemed like the right thing for the occasion.



Celebration XXXIV

Crew Chief: Roland Escher
Navigator: Jimmy Whitely
Chase Balloon Pilots: John Goddard, DavidHarwell

Special Thanks to:

Taylor County Relay for Life: Mrs. Opal Wilder [Chair]; Melissa Norman; Scott, Ashley, Deanna and Tina Duncan; Corey McCants
Scott Graham
Robert Tedder
Lamar Wainwright
Airgas (Official Compressed Gas Supplier to the Taylor County Relay for Life)
American Cancer Society
Taylor County Sheriff's Work Detail

Photographs: John Goddard, Mrs. Opal Wilder, Melissa Norman, Kelly Trapnell, Jimmy Whitley, John Ninomiya













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