New Hampshire


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O#9: Pittsfield, New Hampshire
OAugust 7, 2004


Pittsfield, New Hampshire is a small town located about half an hour east of Concord, the state capital. There's a hot-air balloon festival in Pittsfield in July, and in 2004, I was invited to fly a helium cluster balloon there.

Ernie and I drove up to Pittsfield from New Jersey. Heading up through central Massachusetts, I was forcibly reminded of the number of trees there are in that part of the country -- a LOT of trees. Trees are not that conducive to ballooning, since you don't want to land in them, and flying around until you find a large enough open space to land can force you to stay up longer than you might want, possibly until the wind comes up and you really have problems. I had done some hot-air ballooning in New England over the years; it was very beautiful, drifting over a sea of leafy green, but it was a challenge. This would be my first time flying a cluster balloon in New England.

As we got up near the border we began to see New Hampshire license plates advising me to "Live Free or Die". It sounded inspirational, but not altogether reassuring.

The balloon festival in Pittsfield is sponsored by the local Rotary club.Rotary International is a volunteer organization composed of local business and professional people. In the months before the festival, responsibility for "Balloon Man" had bounced from person to person in the Pittsfield Rotary, finally ending up with Donna Keeley. Donna is one of two women in the Pittsfield Rotary, and is also a selectman (or selectperson), which is an elected post in the Pittsfield city government.

The Balloon Festival is the Pittsfield Rotary's largest annual fundraiser. The rally includes a carnival, with the usual vendors, rides and healthful carnival foods. A band plays, and there are fireworks. A man driving around the park on a riding mower "locomotive" tows a train of cars made from metal barrels that riders sit in. Pittsfield is not very far from Concord and Manchester, so people have doubtless seen more sophisticated entertainments, but the Balloon Festival is still very popular with the community.


After some concern about the weather, the morning of my flight turned out to be beautiful. My Rotarian and other volunteers showed up at 4 AM to help inflate the balloons.



Shortly after dawn I was ready to go. The hot-air balloons were inflating as my crew attached the last of the balloons to my arms and legs, and walked me into position for launch.