Minnesota (Cont'd)

It was a pretty morning, and after two days of hanging around watching the wind blow and the clouds sprinkle, the helium balloon man was overjoyed to be up in the clear blue sky with all of his beautiful pink, red and white balloons. It made him want to shout "WHEEEEEE!" or perhaps "WHOOOPEEEEEE!" but he was generally a quiet person, so he just grinned like a loon as he rode the wind to the northeast.


Near town, the land was green and dotted with small lakes. His balloons carried him over one of the lakes, and across a river. From time to time he talked on the radio to the crew following him in a car, telling them where he thought he was on the map and looking for them down on the ground. Most of the time he just enjoyed the view. It was very quiet up there. The only sounds he could hear were the burner of the hot-air balloon, now some distance away, and occasionally the hum of a truck on the highway, or the barking of a dog.





It's hard to say what drives a person to go flying off with a bunch of helium balloons. The helium balloon man himself was not altogether clear on this point. Hot-air ballooning has more than its fair share of characters, people with big, colorful personalities who you might think would go for this sort of thing, but the helium balloon man was actually pretty quiet, in any case not the sort of person who you'd think would spend his weekends as a carnival attraction. Mostly he loved to do this because it was something he had dreamed of as a kid. There was something so strange and unexpected about a person being carried aloft by a bouquet of big toy balloons that it was like magic, like being a character in a children's storybook. Having grown up to be neither an astronaut nor an Indian chief, the helium balloon man realized that very few childhood dreams ever come true, so he was very grateful for this one.


He flew on. Farther to the east the land was drier and flatter, blocked out into neat squares of farms, each with its little clump of farmhouse, barn and trees.




Finally, after an hour in the air, he began to prepare for landing, cutting loose a balloon to descend a bit, then releasing some of the water he carried as ballast to level out again. As he got lower, his track turned more to the north. He directed his crew to drive out to an unplanted field beside a farmhouse, about a quarter mile away. He dropped in until he was flying at just fifty feet or so over the corn, on a line for the designated field. Releasing one final balloon, he dropped in neatly, just clearing the last row of corn, to where his crew ran up to meet him.


A few neighbors came over to see what was going on, as well as a few people who had been at the airport for the launch and had followed the helium balloon man in their cars. The hot-air balloon John had launched with had landed a little earlier, and their crew came by as well. The more daring had a chance to get in the harness and go up on tether. Then, they deflated all the balloons and packed up the equipment. A man and his young son who had followed the helium balloon man on a motorcycle took one of the balloons as a souvenir.



They drove back to Faribault, to where the luncheon was being held for the Airfest participants. Members of the Airfest committee were happy to see John well and apparently uninjured, figuring that any barn damage from his landing must have been minimal.



The Airfest was discussed in Faribault for much of the next week. The helium balloon man was generally agreed to have been pretty interesting, possibly even as interesting as a monster truck would have been. As for the event as a whole, a few people complained about the parking or the prices charged by the vendors, but overall people came to the same conclusion that they did every year....

So that's the news from Faribault, Minnesota, where all the weather reports are wrong, and all the balloon festivals are above average.


Celebration XXXII

Crew Chief: Larry Vandenberg

Special Thanks to: Faribault Area Airfest (Eric Wegner, Chairman; Stephen Sinnen, Balloonmeister), Ivan and John Idso, inflation volunteers

Photographs and Video: Brad Scott, Paula Patton, Larry Vandenberg, John Ninomiya

















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