Texas (cont'd)


I arrived in Palestine the Thursday before the event, in time for a torrential afternoon rain. I cowered in an airport hangar with several of the Balloon Festival volunteers, waiting for the truck that would deliver the helium.

But the forecast for the weekend was good, and on Friday was revised to be even better. Saturday morning was going to be clear, calm and perfect. My crew chief Larry Vandenberg and I went through our preparations smoothly, having had the past two years to practice.

However, when I woke up at the motel on Saturday morning, the Weather Channel said that it was blowing 9 mph out at the Palestine airport. We went out to the airport and sure enough -- there was wind, too much to do the inflation. Bob the balloonmeister showed up, and we told the volunteers that we were on hold. They waited in the hangar, while I paced the darkened tarmac, my heart a lump of moldy cream cheese, thinking "Not AGAIN.... not FOUR years......"


However, this time, the wind slowly dropped. We listened to the airport's automated windspeed reports on the radio, and slowly the wind dropped to 8 mph, then 6. Bob was more cautious this morning than he had been two years ago, having me wait a full hour until he agreed that it was time to start the inflation.


Then we were rushing around, trying to get the inflation done in about half the time it would normally take. Luckily, several of the volunteers had done this all before, two years ago; and as the hot-air balloonists and crew began to arrive, I recruited a number of them to help out.






The last of the balloons were being inflated and staged. Bob Redinger briefed everyone on the conditions, which he announced to be well-suited for ballooning. I got into my harness and got ready to go.



However, as the sun came up, the wind became gusty -- calm one minute, the next minute blowing hard enough to require two people to keep me from being carried off.















It was amazing to feel the force of the wind, tugging and lifting at my huge balloon bouquet.








These were not the most promising launch conditions I'd ever had, but after three years, it didn't seem like the time to be finicky.

I waited until what seemed like a lull and told crew to let me go.


































Almost immediately, I could feel myself accelerate as I ascended into faster winds. My balloons leaned out in front of me as the wind carried me away.





It was exhilirating -- although once you've been flying balloons long enough, you know that exhilirating may or may not be a good sign.