I was nervous, and that couldn’t be denied. The thought of standing in a wicker basket while a man I’ve never met before shoots fire into a flammable object doesn’t tend to be on my repertoire of relaxation exercises. I’m also not terribly good at being out of control, which is pretty laughable at 4,000 feet above sea level. I was going to do it though, if for no other reason, than to check it off my bucket list. The small community of Candler, NC has always embraced the hot air balloons. If one landed in your yard, it was an honor. The colorful aircraft have been decorating the morning skies on weather-friendly days for twenty-some-odd years. As a child I would run outside to get a glimpse, and I knew I’d have to experience it one day, just to see what the ado was about. It went to the bucket list. That’s exactly what I thought it would be too, just a flight, like being in an outdoor plane…something to say I made it through and put a check beside. I went through the motions, signed the waivers, and talked to the pilots (who were more than experts, and extremely helpful by the way), before heading out to the launch site in a Candler resident’s front yard. At this point, I was anxious, and all business. As I climbed into the basket that sported smiley faces for footholds, I felt my heartbeat quicken. I told myself to breathe, this was just for the bucket list. It would be something I would make it through…and, maybe those first thirtish seconds were. Those were the seconds before I entered the dreamland. They were the seconds when the mind races the same way it does just before rapid eye movement sets in on a Tuesday midnight. All the things in the world there are to think about get thought about. All of the things to get nervous about, were gotten nervous about. I could see the ground getting further away, and could feel the intense heat from the primitive force that began removing the basket and its cargo from the Earth. I don’t remember noting the noise though…to me, all was silent as the balloon invaded the morning mist…when everything changed. It wasn’t a breath-taking moment. Those can sometimes be described in a realistic way. I’ve seen “amazing” before. This was something different. To fully grasp it, it must be done, but I’ll do my very best. Think back…there’s that one fairytale unlike the others…that magical one that even in adulthood still makes us feel warm and fuzzy and think maybe mermaids do live in the ocean after all. For me, it’s Peter Pan. I’m convinced I may find Neverland yet, and almost did Saturday morning in that balloon. First of all, the air was perfect. I could have been comfortable in a tank top or a sweater either one, and the blinding sunrise was somehow easily to fixate upon. It was such a curious setting, and nothing like flying in a plane. It was gentle, while daring; peaceful, while exhilarating. My senses seemed different, and I secretly wondered if this balloon was the new way to Narnia. The tops of the mountains I’d grown up in, with my summertime swimming holes visible from the air, somehow seemed more regal. They were reigning over this place, and presenting their freshly grown leaves with the cockiness of the poppies from Wizard of Oz. Maybe it was the time of day, the time of year, or the altitude, but the colors I saw aren’t available below 500 feet. At one point I saw everyone looking to the left, and oohing and ahhing…one of the only things I remember actively hearing. It was a shadow of our vessel in a cloud, encircled by a rainbow halo, a phenomenon the pilot says happens almost every morning. With this on one side, and a half-misted Blue Ridge dawn on the other, I realized this wasn’t something to mark off on a bucket list, but to feel more alive about forever. Forget the fears. Though our pilot, Danny Smith, told me they had a perfect safety record pre-flight, I’d still been frightened until I became part of it all. Somehow I realized the magic in it, and realized the experience gives far more than it could take. I was in another place, floating up and down to the dew-dropped tree tops and back to the clouds. I wasn’t on a ride, but a journey…a journey that has to be felt, smelled, seen, heard, and tasted. When I got home, I crawled back under the covers to nap after my daybreak voyage. I drifted off to sleep quickly, and don’t think I dreamed. The dream already occurred, and felt somehow far away from me when I awoke, as if the balloon existed in a realm almost like Earth, but not quite. The flight was truly that remarkable, and I longed for it. It was so supernatural that I wondered for a minute if it had happened at all. Then for some reason, a quote from a Shakespeare play I read more than a decade ago came to mind, “…you have but slumbered here/while these visions did appear.”
Visit http://www.ashevillehotairballoons.com, snuggle into your basket, and get ready to dream your little dream! Or give Phyllis a call at 828-667-9943! This is a must-have on your summer bucket list!