Dad: There are only 2 things in life I will get up early in the morning for. What is the first one?
Son: Balloon Festival!
Dad: That is right! What is the second one?
Hands down the best conversation I have ever eavesdropped in. I cannot think of a better way to sum up the importance and the experience of Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico. It is just as good, nah, it is even better than Bacon. For all the vegetarians out there – vegan bacon?
Hot air balloon ride has been on my life bucket list ever since I heard there is such a thing called flying in a basket. The concept of flying into the sky, so close I could touch the cloud and breath in a fresher layer of air excites me very much. For those of you who haven’t tried out hot air balloon, think of it as those drones that will carry your wines to your table (YAASS Queen!); instead of carrying wines, they are carrying a basket of human. Same execution different product.
So how was I able to take a ride during this fiesta? The Rainbow Ryders. It is the only official ride concession for this largest ballooning event. I believe there is one more company that provides rides during the fiesta, but they lift off quite far away in the distances instead of in the official balloon park. (A new post will be up soon on all the logistics you need to know to have a magical balloon fiesta experience)
I do consider myself semi-brave, but there were a few things I was worried about this experience
1. I am terrified of heights (that is a great start)
2. My mom told me stories about balloons crashing and people dying (You know, parents!)
3. Dropping my phone, cameras and myself during the flight (Me = butterfingers)
4. Running out of gas or the gas tanks explode (I cannot lose this pretty face)
*The point of writing about this experience is not to scare you off. But I guarantee you many people had similar thoughts before stepping into the basket. Just keep that in mind.
Lets fast forward to the day of the ride. I arrived at the park at 5:00AM, and the ride started around 6:30AM. I was the first one to get into the basket (To be honest, having lots of people staring at my ass as I flipped myself over into the basket is not really my ideal start of the morning). I was standing right underneath the thing that pumps up fire (AKA the burner); my biggest fear was that thing will somehow drop onto my face (seriously! I was really worried about my face!). Within 10 minutes, everyone got into the basket and we were off.
As we slowly sliding across and moving above the sea of people, I started to squeal. Yes, that very annoying and high-pitched sound. I described it as my inner 2 years old self “lost for words”. For this video, you might want to unplug your headphone.
I felt bad for the people who were in the same basket. I guarantee you if something were to happen; I will be the first one to go.
After the lift off, everything started to calm down, and the ride became very smooth. We have a 360 degrees view of Albuquerque as the pilot continued to rotate the balloon. This is the view of the balloon park from midair. It was an incredible view to see things from up above. The dots around that black and red balloons in the center, those were people. You can see how important this event is in the state of New Mexico. People will drive far to get here at 6 AM in the morning or stay overnight just to see all balloons take off.
As we turned to our left, you can see the endless land of Albuquerque and the misty evaporation in the distance with the sunrise on the opposite side. (Click on the image to enlarge)
As we turned slowly, everyone in the basket was busy capturing the view, and so was I. I was griping onto my camera like it is a bar of gold. After the initial shock of seeing the sunrise, I started to settle in. I putted away my devices and just started to enjoy the view. Here are some thoughts that came across my mind:
– it would be great if I could sit
– it was an excellent idea to pee before getting into the basket
– Balloons from the distance look like light bulbs. NUICE observation Xin!
– It is really quite. I hope no one farts.
– Ok focus. Be in the moment
– Magical sunrise!!! Dis is Da best standing seat in the house!
Remember those fears I had before the flight, let me address those:
1. When you get up high enough into the air, DON’T LOOK DOWN. I almost puked a little. Just to make sure to look far out into the distant, it feels more like looking out through an airplane window
2. Actually a private balloon did crash into an electricity poll during the fiesta. It hit the poll either because the balloon was too low or the pilot was not familiar with the surroundings. If you ever take a balloon ride, make sure to check the pilot’s experience on flying in that particular environment.
3. All I can tell you is to hold on to your dear life. Claw those fingernails into the rubber edges, and hold on to your possessions like they are your cats, dogs, or first born child.
4. It is very unlikely to happen. The number of gas tanks for each balloon is related to the size of the balloon and the number of people in that basket. The pilot and chase crew will make sure to prep that before the flight. If gas is low, the pilot will make an emergency landing.
Of course, you cannot have the best experience without the most knowledgeable pilot. Our pilot dedicated hours of training and flights to the Rainbow Ryders. His hobby when he is not flying the company’s balloon is to fly his private balloon on the weekend. So clearly he is a fan of the balloons.
We were in the air for about 45 minutes, then we slowly landed in the middle of an empty street. Just so you know, it is unlikely the basket will flip over during landing. The human weights in the basket should be evenly distributed. During a smooth landing, you will feel the basket gliding slowly across the street instead of dropping onto the ground. A couple of male passengers got out of the basket to help pushed it to the right landing spot. Of course, an experienced pilot will instruct the whole process.
You know me, gotta look on fleek to commemorate that landing
The balloon chase crew will help fold up the balloon and we all rode back to the balloon park.
We also got mimosa after the flight to calm those nerves.
You get a certificate for being a badass and didn’t pee your pants!
And guess what? Within the same day I saw the sunrise at New Mexico, and saw the sunset back at Seattle. Life cannot get any better than this.
I also posted more gorgeous pictures about this experience on my Instagram account. Check them out! Here is THE video to sum up the whole experience. Warning! Video contains an unflattering looking me (10% of the times I do not look like this)