I’ve loved hot air balloons since I was young. I always wondered what it would be like to float away in one.
One morning, shortly after moving to Ottawa for university, I looked out the window and saw a beautiful hot air balloon. And then I noticed there was a second one. Eventually, I realized there were a few dozen hot air balloons flying around. It was the Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival.
Since that first discovery of the festival, there have been many mornings on Labour Day weekend when I have watched the balloons. It’s always in the early morning, a little after sunrise. There is something incredibly peaceful and contemplative about being up early and watching their quiet flight, admiring the beautiful colours and interesting shapes.
But watching the balloons just isn’t enough. I’ve always wanted to go up in one. This year, Greg and I decided it was time. Last week, he made reservations for us, and so weather permitting, we would go up in a hot air balloon on Sunday evening.
Greg and I arrived at the festival early and enjoyed many of the other things the festival has to offer. As the time for the flight approached, I wondered if we would be able to go up. While we were in the waiting area, we discovered the balloons had not been able to go up at on Saturday evening or on Sunday morning. There wasn’t enough wind. It didn’t look good.
While we were waiting, one of the volunteers told me there was a light wind, but it was in the wrong direction. The balloons are not allowed to go over Gatineau Park because they can’t land safely there. And the wind was in that direction. So we waited. And waited…
Our pilot, Chantale, came to get us and walked us over to her area. She laid out her balloon as it needed to dry following her landing in a wet field the previous morning. And we waited to get official word about if the balloons would be allowed to launch. Finally the word came. It was a go. The hot air balloons were given permission to fly!
The frenzy of getting the balloon up started. All around us on the field, we saw balloons start to inflate. Then it was suddenly time to get into the basket and go. We were the third hot air balloon to go up. It was so exciting! The view of the city opened up before us. It was difficult to know in which direction to look, there was so much to see. And then looking back at the field, we watched the other balloons start to take flight.
Time seemed to fly as we were floating by. It felt like we had been up in the air for only about 5 minutes when the pilot started looking for a landing site. In reality, we had been up for about a half hour by then.
Our pilot spotted a small field that seemed as though it would be a suitable landing site, but there was a light post at the outside edge of it that could be problematic. She brought us down in a open area just past the field, the balloon touched down, tipped on its side (at that point, it felt like everyone was going to land on top of me) and then lifted up again. But not very high, just high enough to get us trapped in some low trees.
Landing in trees is not what any hot air balloon pilot wants. The basket gets trapped, the balloon is at risk of getting punctured and there is a significant fire hazard because of the open flame from the burners. This is not where we wanted to be. With much effort from her ground crew who were there very quickly, the balloon was eventually freed and they pulled us out of the woods.
The balloon ride was fabulous! Our crash landing just added more drama and adventure. And Greg and I decided that it is definitely something we would like to do again.