Texas (cont'd)


I flew off to the west-northwest, my speed topping out at about 25 mph. I passed over the launch area at the NASA balloon base. After a while, some of the hot-air balloons began to launch back at the airport.



As I ascended, the wind took on a more northbound track and slowed, until at 3,000 feet I was only moving at 3 or 4 mph. Since that would allow my crew to catch up to me, and would take me away from the prison farm to the west, I leveled out there.



I floated slowly to the northwest at 3000 feet. My crew caught up to me and were waiting out on the road. It was very peaceful.

I watched the hot-air balloons pass. No one had gone as high as me, but the ones who went higher slowed as I had, while the ones who stayed lower went shooting past. However, a few who were down near ground level seemed to be moving more slowly, or so I hoped.






After half an hour or so, I decided it was time to start down. As I descended, I began to speed up once again, until at 1000 feet I was doing about 25 mph. I continued down, waiting for the wind to drop off. I was still going over 20 mph at 800 feet... 600 feet... 400 feet...and was starting to wonder just how fast I could run, or how far I would drag. To my relief, at 300 feet the winds finally slowed to under 20, and at 200 feet dropped under 10.




I cruised along over pastures, woods and occasional houses, looking for my truck. Larry called on the radio to say they were out ahead of me, more or less on my current track. I looked around and saw them in a field, on the far side of the woods I was flying over, perhaps a quarter mile away. I told Larry I'd try to land where they were.



I dropped in slowly until I was a treetop level, still heading toward Larry.

I dropped a bit of water to clear one last big oak tree, then released two big balloons to put me down in the field where my crew was waiting.






























And then I was standing with my balloons in the middle of a field of spring flowers -- and bull nettles, too, but that's Texas.




I guess that Texas exceptionalism dictates that my flight in the Lone Star state should be something unusual, which it was -- the most expensive and longest-running of any of my States of Enlightenment experiences, and also probably the greatest test of my perseverance, and that of the balloon festival hosting me.

I do not know if my cluster balloon flight will be commemorated in the Museum for East Texas Culture, but I hope it will. If not today, then perhaps decades from now someone will find an old snapshot of me, and I will be put on display alongside a collection of broken iPods and DVD players and other ancient stuff from peoples' attics, with the note: "Balloon man John Nimonimya (?) flies with helium balloons in Palestine, Texas, ca. 2006".

It would be a very fine thing to be remembered that way, in some classroom of the former high school, another piece of the past of this Texas town.



Celebration XXXVI

Crew Chief: Larry Vandenberg
Chase Crew: Mike Cline, Gary Whitten

Inflation Volunteers (partial list): Mark Chalemin, David Mendiola, Nikki Norris, Mike Cline, Sherry Miles, Brian Shafer, Phil Bryant, Keith Mills, Guy Gauthier

Special Thanks to: Museum for East Texas Culture, Heritage Balloon Festival (Bob Redinger, Balloonmeister), Grace Bible Church volunteers

Photography: Sherry Miles (Heritage Balloon Festival Cluster Balloon Photo Contest Winner), Cory Whittaker, Jimmie Tobey, Keith Mills, Marjorie Walters, John Ninomiya











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