By Ellen Bonalsky, REA Project Manager
Last summer, I channeled my inner Carl Fredricksen (aka- the old man character in the Pixar/Disney movie ‘Up’) and went for a hot air balloon ride with pilot “Denny”, who runs the Tewksbury Balloon company in Tewksbury, NJ. For those interested, balloon season is very brief in New Jersey, typically running from May until late October.
The season becomes even more abridged when one factors out the days that aren’t balloon-friendly, which I soon learned meant not just rain or the threat of nearby storms—but also the mere mention of the word “wind” will keep Captain Denny’s basket firmly planted on the ground.
After 2 weather-related cancellations, my big day was finally in sight. The night before the flight, I started to think about what I was going to be doing the next day. Believe me, lying in bed on the eve of the flight thinking about climbing in a basket and floating up 2,000 feet in the sky with an unknown man named “Captain Denny” would cause the bravest person severe heart palpitations.
I didn’t sleep very well that night but the next day, miraculously, by some act of supernatural power (or the fact the tickets for the ride were non-refundable) I got in the car and headed over to the field where I would soon take flight.
The minute the balloon began to rise, I forgot all about my fears and simply enjoyed the beauty of all that was around me–the colorful balloon, the gorgeous scenery and the loving people. Surprisingly, I felt safer in Captain Denny’s balloon than I had on any recent commercial airline flight I’ve taken. It was so quiet and calm up in the sky—the only noise was the occasional roar of the flame that is used to regulate the height of the balloon.
Reflecting back, I think what really attracted me to the balloon ride was the uncertainty of it all. I am a planner—if not an over planner—when it comes to my daily existence (which probably makes me successful as an account person). It was so unlike me to sit back and “see where the wind took me” but during that flight that’s exactly what happened—both figuratively and literally. The captain has no control over where the balloon will fly (which is why there is a chase car on the ground who keeps in constant communication with the balloon pilot).
We floated around for an hour and finally landed in a vacant field, where the chase car picked us up and brought us back to the field for a champagne toast to celebrate our successful flight. The reason for mentioning this tale in a blog post is 2-prong. First—if you ever thought you might want to ride in a hot air balloon, I recommend you make arrangements to take the flight. It really was one of those “wow” moments in life that stick with you long after they have ended. I’ve put the link to Captain Denny and the Tewksbury Balloon Company at the end of this post- he was top notch- you won’t be disappointed.
Secondly, if you don’t want to go up in a balloon but want to go somewhere to appreciate their beauty and experience your own “wow” moment with your feet on the ground, there is an annual Quick Check NJ Festival of Ballooning every July that takes place at the Solberg Airport in Readington, New Jersey. The festival took place this past weekend, and for the first time in its 29 years of existence, I went to check it out. Coming from someone who isn’t easily impressed, I must tell you the launch of over 100 balloons in tandem will stop you in your tracks.
I’ve attached a few photos from the 7pm launch this past Saturday, July 30, 2011 for your viewing pleasure. While the pictures are lovely, it doesn’t do justice to what the event truly looks like in live time. If you ever have the chance to attend in the upcoming years- I highly recommend it. The festival runs at the end of every July for 3 days (Friday through Sunday). They launch the balloons twice daily—once around 6am and once around 7pm.
I challenge any of you who haven’t found your inner Carl Fredricksen yet to reach out to Captain Denny and schedule your own personal “wow” flight (http://www.tewksburyballoon.com) – and/or make plans to attend the Quick Check NJ Festival of Ballooning (http://www.balloonfestival.com) next July. Unlike the balloons I speak of in my post, I am not full of hot air. I stand by my recommendation 100% that either of these balloon options (actual ride or attending the festival) will leave a lasting impression on you—go check it out for yourself.