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Column

Up in a balloon, turning 80 is high adventure

The ride certainly had its ups and downs

Earlene Campbell
Earlene Campbell

Yep! Since last “talking” with you, I’ve gone from plain-old senior citizen to plain OLD! But nothing’s changed except my bucket list. It is one adventure lighter.

“Jerry, I know what you can get me for my 80th birthday present.”

He asked, “What?”

“A hot-air balloon ride.”

To my surprise, he simply said, “OK.”

The poor guy wound up paying for all the years he got by with just a card.

So, we were off to Michigan. Not seeing a large field with big balloons displayed as we had anticipated, too late we spied a small foliage-surrounded balloon sign. We made our way back and turned onto the pitted blacktop drive, passed a weed-enshrouded miniature golf range, and pulled up to the office, which was badly in need of attention.

As we sat taking in the head-high weeds and the seedy building behind it, I said, “I hope to heck their balloons are in better repair than all this!” Big, beautiful, internet advertisements really pay off!

When I talked to office girl, Meredith, she was as sweet as she could be while informing me, “Due to surrounding storms, it’s off for tonight. Call in tomorrow.”

I knew departure would be “iffy,” depending on the weather conditions. I didn’t complain. My goal was not being blown clear to Canada.

Climbing aboard

The next day was a “go.” The balloon was stretched across a grassy area and filled with air. We passengers piled into the wicker basket that was to become our home for the next hour.

When I say piled, I mean piled — pushed, or lifted in, depending on individual needs. Personally, thanks to stretch jeans that didn’t live up to their promise, my knee wouldn’t bend far enough to let my foot pass by a rope. I was hung up on the basket edge until one of the helpers brazenly pushed it through.

The balloon lifted the 60-inch by 72-inch basket containing 13 people and a tank of propane into the air. Jerry soon became no more than a speck on the ground as he watched us take off into the atmosphere.

I was with a man and woman in the left-hand back quarter of the basket. Settled in, I realized my back view was blocked by the large man standing behind me, and my front view by a tall, wide, male torso, leaving me with a side view only.

A majority of the view was vegetation and small lakes. Should anything interesting come into sight, the woman kindly shared her spot — temporarily. And, I was stuck in the middle, under the flames that were often fired up into the balloon. It was like being broiled alive.

Descending toward the intended landing field, we went from 1,000 feet above the earth to tree branches flashing past us, as others scraped the bottom of the basket.

Then I heard the pilot say, “I’m not sure we can make it.”

Now that’s what a body wants to hear while in a balloon basket!

When we landed beside weeds as high as the edge of the basket, I profusely thanked God.

We were then manually pulled onto a mowed farmyard. After getting out, the pilot directed us to pull the basket into another weedy area beside the yard, in order to make room for bringing the balloon down. Winding up in front of the basket, my feet caught in the weeds and I fell flat. One of the men yelled, and the basket stopped within inches of running over my feet.

That was it for me! They would have to get along without using this 80-year-old woman to do their job.

Jerry had followed the pickup van to our location. Spying him, I beat it over there like a kid running for Daddy’s comfort.

Am I sorry I went? No! I don’t ever have to say, “I wish I had!”

Would I go again? Maybe! Next time I could wind up with a front view.

Many people have come out on the other side of a hot-air balloon ride exhilarated. Should you ever go — wave to me. I’ll be standing on firm ground enjoying the view of a beautiful balloon drifting by in the heavens.

And don’t forget to F-R-O-G. I did!

Note to readers: Earlene Campbell lives by the FROG motto — Fully Rely On God. She lives in Princeton and can be reached at earlenecampbell@rocketmail.com.

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