Sunday, February 9, 2014

Hot air balloon festival

Yesterday I saw a hot air balloon mass ascension, and it was about as amazing as I thought it might be.

I've wanted to go to a hot air balloon festival for years, and when I made my 101 in 1,001 list, I put that goal in writing. I narrowed my options down to a few festivals: the famous one in Albuquerque, one near Josh's hometown, and a local one I stumbled across through a quick Google search.

This is Hot Air Affair, a festival held annually in February in Hudson, Wisconsin, which is about half an hour away. Hot Air Affair celebrated its 25th anniversary this weekend, so it has been around a lot longer than when I first found out about it a few years ago. That's also when I learned that coordinating a hot air balloon launch is a precise and challenging task, especially in Minnesota in February. Per Hot Air Affair's website, there needs to be a light wind (but less than eight miles per hour), good visibility, and either sunshine or high cloud ceilings. The festival hosts several launches each weekend, and in 2012, Josh and I tried to go twice but conditions ruled out a launch both times.

This year, we were in luck! We were about halfway to Hudson when we got word via Twitter that the afternoon launch was on!

When we arrived at the elementary school site that hosts the festival, we went over to the field, where plenty of people had gathered for the launch. One balloon was preparing. It was hard to get a sense of how many balloons there would be, but I was already in awe.

We popped inside the school for a minute, and I loved the concession area's decorations: hot air balloons hanging from the ceiling, of course.

When we went back outside, that balloon was in the air already!

Trucks and trailers kept rolling in with more and more balloons, and each crew would go through the steps to prepare its balloon. The whole event happened over about an hour, and I'd guess three dozen balloons lifted off during that time. It was neat to see several waves of set-up, preparation, and launching. I loved all the colors. In addition to the traditional bright stripes, there was one balloon that looked like a fish and one that had tomatoes and horses and butterflies on it.

Even with overcast skies, the balloons in the air were magnificent. The crowd was loving it, and the people in each balloon's basket would wave as the balloon lifted into the air.


It was beautiful. I went into the day hoping but not expecting to see a launch, and this was a wonderful surprise. I have a hunch that this will be among my 101 in 1,001 list's highlights.

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