O#8: Harmony Township, New Jersey
OAugust 4, 2004
Warren County, New Jersey, is on the western edge of the state, the last exit before Pennsylvania. It's a rural area, and although there are some new housing developments and the same-as-everywhere selection of chains, franchises and big box stores along the highway, farming is still a very important part of local life.
In early August, the Warren County Farmers' Fair is held at the fairgrounds in Harmony Township. It's seriously agricultural. The tractor pulls are a big draw, as is the livestock show. Farm equipment companies show their machines. A "Fair Queen" and "Fair Princess" are crowned -- as we were setting up the evening before my flight, I could hear a breathless teenage girl voice drifting across the fairground on the PA system, telling the judges that "agriculture is the light -- the light in the darkness. Without agriculture, there is nothing." It's the Garden State.
Hot-air balloons have been added as an attraction to the Farmers' Fair, and I was invited by the balloon rally organizers, Giulia Ianitelli and Fred Grotenhuis, to fly a cluster balloon at the Fair. Roland Escher, a fellow cloudhopper hot-air balloonist, drove up from D.C. to help.
The weather was not entirely cooperative. When we arrived, it was oppressively hot and humid -- humid enough for sweat to start pouring off you anywhere outdoors, even standing still. A friend who had moved to San Diego from New Jersey had told me that he hadn't moved because of the winters, but because of the summers -- a comment that suddenly made a lot more sense to me. Roland, Ernie and I made our preparations with sand bags and helium tanks. As an exciting New Jersey first for me, we were assisted by prisoner labor -- some unenthusiastic young men helping out at the fair as part of court-ordered community service.
The afternoon that I was scheduled to fly, rain was sweeping across Pennsylvania, heading our way, with an ETA of either just before flight time, or possibly just after, depending on whose forecast you believed. I consulted with Fred, and we decided to go ahead with the inflation, moving up the planned launch time by half an hour. Dick and Mary Beth Young, balloonists who had helped me with my flight in New York the year before, were there with their crew to assist me.
While we were inflating the balloons, the sky began to cloud over. The air was very still -- normally I don't want any wind during the inflation, but it was so stifling that I began to hope for a little breeze.
I got into my harness. I normally don't fly in shorts, given that you never know what sort of things you might drag through at landing, but the heat was so oppressive that I couldn't bring myself to put on long pants. Ernie walked me over a little closer to the crowd, so people could see me launch.
Ernie released me, and I waved to the crowd as my balloons lifted me slowly into the cloudy sky.