My alarm clock usually does not have an AM on it when I am on vacation, much less 5 AM. Having to get to this place at O dark thirty was the pitts!. When we arrived at the shuttle bus point we joined the crowd waiting with great expectations. One of the employees stepped in to address the crowd . . . we were told that we would be shuttled to another location about an hour away because the cloud deck was too low and we would not be able to sail over Napa to see any of the vineyards as we had planned. Just lovely!
We finally arrived at our destination and made it into the air in the middle of nowheresville with a gondola crammed full of tourists like ourselves. As we began to ascend, my scowling mood began to fade away. The view and the climbing sensation were stupendous!
The pilot, however, remarked that we were not travelling forward and would ascend further to find the right current. The pilot pulled the overhead cord and the the atomic furnace above me roared to life again. Some 4,200 feet later we were still climbing!! All the other balloons that had taken off with us were a mile in back of us.
As we drifted above the clouds I saw a Cessna flying off to the right and below us! Yikes, we were getting a little stratospheric! My sister-in-law had her head buried in her husband's chest where it remained for the rest of the flight. We were so high (how high were you . . . . !) that one could see both Sacramento and San Francisco in the hazy distance. This balloon-a-tik of a hot shot pilot, totally deviating from the normal fly low and slow tour over Napa, had made things interesting despite the change of plans.
Finally setting down in a farmer's field, the pilot asked a couple of us to jump out and help walk the balloon (through the mud) and over to the road where the chase crew was waiting. I was exhilarated by the flight and having been one of the first men to reach the stratosphere in a balloon without oxygen, but began to grumble a bit about my sod-caked Nikes and thought, "that champagne better be ice cold and waiting for us when we get back to the ranch" . . . . it was!
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