Indiana (Continued)


For a while, I floated along with the two Oliver Winery balloons, staying just above treetop level. Then, I decided to see what the winds were like a little higher up.


I set up a slow ascent, and found that my speed increased, taking me to the Northeast. This was not a good direction: in a few miles I would come to a large state forest where there was nowhere to land for many miles. However, I continued a cautious ascent, to see if there was a better direction a little higher up. I was over the outskirts of Bloomington now, where farms were giving way to new subdivisions and industrial parks. People arriving at work shouted and waved at me, and I waved back, until I was too high to hear them any more.


My speed continued to increase, until at seven-hundred feet I was doing about fifteen miles per hour, still to the Northeast. The two hot-air balloons had stay low and were now a mile or two behind me. I released some balloons to level out.

Travis called on the radio from one of the other balloons. He told me my best bet to avoid the state forest would be to pass the main highway, then drop in really low in the valley beyond, where there was often a wind that would push me north into open farm country. I acknowledged and waited for the highway. The view over the misty countryside was amazing.


Chris Howell, Bloomington Herald-Times



Chris Howell, Bloomington Herald-Times

When I passed the highway, I released some balloons to begin a descent. As I dropped, I watched my direction and speed on my GPS. At five-hundred feet I had slowed a few miles per hour, but was still moving Northeast, towards the forest. I could see the little valley Travis had told me about coming up, and beyond it the dark unbroken mass of forest stretching out into the haze. At three hundred feet I slowed a little more, but direction was still the same.


I dropped down to two hundred feet, then one hundred, down into the foggy little valley. I was mentally resigning myself to overflying the forest when finally, almost imperceptibly at first, I started turning slightly to the left; looking at my GPS, I saw that my track had shifted to the north by ten degrees. So I continued down slowly, letting out enough water ballast to level me out about twenty-five feet over the treetops. The balloon turned gradually to the north, then the northwest, following the valley out to open farmland.


Chris Howell, Bloomington Herald-Times


Chris Howell, Bloomington Herald-Times

A short while later, the other balloons caught up with me. I was happy to see them -- it's always a better idea to stick close to the local guys, since they presumably have some notion of where they are.

Together, we went for a long, companionable float low over the lush green of alternating trees and farm land.


I had time to take a few pictures.

Chris Howell, Bloomington Herald-Times


After over an hour, I decided it was time to put down. I first landed first among some trees, but found that I was in the middle of a swampy area that crew could not reach. I lifted off again. Ernie radioed that there were some large open fields on the far side of a wooded ridge I was coming up on. I dropped some ballast to ride the treetops up over the ridge, then released balloons to follow the treetops down to a neat landing in the field on the far side. Crew was waiting for me there. Most of the mist had burned away by then, and the day was hot and humid.




My fifty-state ballooning performance project, States of Enlightenment, was named as a play on words. Most people seem to get the "states" part, but don't always connect "enlightenment" and "lighter-than-air". I've occasionally had people ask me whether the name refers to some kind of mystical or transcendental experience that I have while flying; my answer is probably not, unless euphoria, adrenalin rush or the occasional moment of terror qualify as mystical or transcendental experiences. However, the name does play on the Buddhist ideas of a state of enlightenment (or Nirvana) and an enlightened one (or Buddha). Not being a Buddhist myself, I hope this is not offensive to any Buddhists or (more likely) to any humorously-challenged PC Police out there.

Oddly enough, Bloomington Indiana has some unusual ties to Tibetan Buddhism. Thubten J. Norbu, the brother of the Dalai Lama, was a professor at Indiana University and founded a Tibetan Cultural Center in Bloomington. The center is located on the outskirts of town on South Snoddy Road. The day that I visited was hot and humid. The grounds were mostly empty, except for workers from a local party rental company who were erecting tents in various places.

The main building of the Cultural Center contains administrative offices, meeting rooms and also houses the monks of the Gomang Monastery. With its squat, heavy lines, the building looked as if it would be more at home high in the Himalayas than it was here in the oppressive green heat of an Indiana summer.

There was a basketball court in front of the building, showing that even foreign holy men are not immune to this favorite Hoosier pastime. The backboard of one basket had been shattered. I wondered whether the monks were aggressive players, talking trash about an opponent's past lives and so on.

An old dog guarded the entrance.

Inside, a young Caucasian woman offered me a map of the grounds.



There was a stupa(religious monument) called the Jangchub Chorten, dedicated to the memory of Tibetans killed during the ongoing occupation of their country by China

Ernie with Stupa

A gathering of Buddhas drowsed under a mossy tree.

A second stupa , the Kalachakra Stupa, was dedicated to world peace and harmony.

Bloomington's other connection with Tibetan Buddhism is a popular restaurant called the Snow Lion, which was run by His Holiness the Dalai Lama's nephew. Ernie and I ate lunch there. It's rather unusual, when you think about it-- like finding out that the Pope has a brother-in-law who owns the Taco Bell franchise down the street from you. The food was spicy and quite tasty.



Indiana (Continued) ]