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#19: Reynolds, Georgia
May 20, 2006


Reynolds, Georgia is located two hours south of Atlanta. Home to about a thousand people, Reynolds is surrounded by farm country, with the Flint River and its wetlands to the east. State Highway 96 runs through the center of the city, where the town's lone set of traffic lights is located. Reynolds is home to a number of several businesses, such as GLC's Snack Shack and the Fort Wayne Convenience Store, Restaurant and Inn. A very tall water tower rises from the center of the town cemetery, advertising the Georgia Strawberry Festival which takes place in Reynolds in April.

The Traffic Light

Antique Shop


I first heard of Reynolds in November of 2005, when I received the following e-mail:

Dear Mr. Ninomiya,

First I would like to say that I love the idea of what you do with the cluster of balloons. It is absolutely uplifting to see someone take what I know I have had as a dream since childhood (being lifted away by a bouquet of balloons) and living it out. It is great.

I am looking for information on how to sponsor a States of Enlightenment flight in my state of Georgia. I am currently working as co-chair for our county's Relay for Life committee and I believe that the cluster balloon flight would be a great addition to our activities. Please let me know any and all information that I would need in order to make this happen.

Thank You.

Melissa Norman
Information Applications Support Clerk
Flint EMC HQ - Reynolds, GA




I was pleased but not too optimistic about the invitation. Although I enjoy flying at events other than hot-air balloon festivals, such flights are often difficult to arrange. At balloon festivals the event organizers are at least familiar with hot-air ballooning and what it all involves, in terms of weather dependencies, the FAA, crew support, etc. -- and cluster ballooning is weird and resource-intensive by an order of magnitude beyond that. Generally, the amount of fuss involved is enough to drive off everyone except hot-air balloon festivals as potential sponsors.

So I sent Melissa an e-mail outlining what would be involved, more out of courtesy to a fellow balloon-flying fan than out of any expectation that anything would come of it. However, to my surprise, she pushed ahead with presenting the idea to the organizing committee for her event, and then, with the help of a mysterious figure named Lamar, succeeded in finding a sponsor to donate the helium gas. So, the following May I found myself headed to Reynolds Georgia to fly in the Taylor County Relay for Life.


My fellow hot-air balloonist Roland Escher had kindly volunteered to serve as my crew chief. Arriving in Reynolds the day before the flight, Roland and I went out to the park in Reynolds where the Relay for Life was to be held.

The tireless volunteers of the Sheriff's Work Detail were there to help set up for the Relay. Along with some of the the Relay organizers, they gave Roland and I a hand with filling my sandbags and laying out the helium tanks.

We wondered if Amnesty International would have any problem with prisoners being forced into participate in ballooning this way, but concluded it would probably not be an issue unless we tied all the balloons to one of them and sent him up.


The wind came up in the afternoon. It had been unusually windy for the past several days, and although things had initially been forecast to calm down by the weekend, the wind was proving unexpectedly persistent. The FAA forecast predicted light winds on the ground in the following morning but 36 knots at 3000 feet. Later, when I called John Goddard, a balloonist friend from Georgia who was planning to come fly along with me in the morning, he told me that the Weather Channel was now forecasting 20 to 30 mph winds on the ground overnight.

Roland and I finished our preparations, but I was not too optimistic about my chances of flying in the morning.



The Taylor County Relay for Life began that evening. The Relay for Life is a program sponsored by the American Cancer Society at hundreds of locations across the country. Relay teams set up camp and walk around a track all night to celebrate survivorship and raise money for cancer research and support programs.The Taylor County Cheerleaders led the opening lap around the track, chanting "Celebrate Life -- Celebrate America!" while the cancer survivors in attendance followed them, somewhat less perky but still in good form. A band provided entertainment, and the various relay teams sold food as a fundraiser. Later, luminarias encircling the track were lit in honor of a survivor or in memory of someone who died from cancer




















To my surprise, the winds died shortly before sunset, and the toy balloons released as part of the opening ceremony flew off briskly but not unreasonably so-- which left me wondering where the Weather Channel's 20 to 30 mph winds were. I puzzled and grumbled over the weather, then Roland and I went back to our rooms at the Fort Wayne Convenience Store, Restaurant and Inn to get a few hours of sleep.