After a one-year hiatus, the city of Windsor returned to hosting the Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic last weekend. Chrystie and I woke up at 4 am on Saturday to make the two hour drive to Windsor and partake in the event.
Arriving minutes before the scheduled liftoff, and expecting a field full of hot air balloons I was dismayed to see only four hot air balloons.
There were easily a thousand balloonatics in attendance, many on blankets and lawn chairs, some huddled around the four balloons, and some perusing the vendor and sponsor booths.
I couldn’t understand how so many people would come to see just four hot air balloons, but the emcee’s soon provided a sigh of relief as they explained the pilots had just finished the meeting with the Balloonmeister about the weather conditions and would be making their way to set up their balloons for a likely launch. I found out later that the four balloons were part of the dawn patrol, a spectacular light show which took place two hours earlier for the truly early risers.
The field was cleared of spectators as trucks gradually drove to their respective locations and volunteers helped unload the balloons onto tarps.
The “envelopes” were unfolded and blown up with large fans and as they got to max capacity the pilot would turn on the propane burners to lift the balloon enough to get the basket stood upright.
The wind was calm enough that the balloons were able to stay in place with eight or so volunteers holding them down.
I imagined the balloons all being fully inflated and launching at nearly the same time resulting in an amazing palette of colors filling the sky, but it didn’t turn out that way. The Good Neighbor Pharmacy balloon was the first to get fully inflated, and shortly after it took off as the emcees scolded the pilot for launching without clearance.
As many of the other balloons were in various stages of inflation the WWJD balloon took off.
As the WWJD balloon disappeared behind the fog, the emcees informed everyone that launches would be delayed due to the fog. As more and more balloons became ready for takeoff, some pilots felt that the weather wouldn’t get any better, so they deflated their balloons and packed them up.
After waiting an hour for conditions to improve, with perhaps 15 balloons ready for takeoff, the emcees announced that the weather would not allow for any further launches. A frustrated and disappointed mass of people made their way to the exit as one pilot decided to throw caution to the wind and launched without permission.
The emcees informed them that they would be getting fined, and strongly discouraged others from launching. They then tried to pacify those remaining by announcing that some balloons would be offering tethered rides shortly. Lines formed around three balloons as the rest of the balloons were taken down, and each line quickly grew to about 50 eager riders, the majority of which would likely not be getting a ride.
Chrystie and I waited…and waited for the tethered rides to begin so I could get some shots of the balloons in flight, but our patience ran out after half an hour and we headed home. While it was very disappointing to drive two hours to only see three balloons launch, I will likely be back next year.
The coolest looking balloon of the event was Planet Earth, its design made from NASA pictures of earth:
See more photos from the event here.
See the event’s website here.