Flight number 943, the number of flights my hot air balloon pilot had flown Friday morning. Number one, the number of times Vanessa Houck and I had been on a hot air balloon ride.
Early Friday morning we met at Edwards Motel to be paired off with our pilots for a once in a lifetime event for most. I wasn’t supposed to be on Flight 943, but a friend gave me his spot on the balloon. Vanessa, administrator of The Columns in Jonesville, joked with me that we were once again a pair. She was Queen Elizabeth at the Celebrity Waiter Dinner to my Princess Diana.
Our pilot, Richard Ret, was one of the last to take off from Louisiana Delta. The take-off was smooth and once we were up in the air it felt like we were sitting on a cloud even though the balloon was moving at 20 mph. Mary Edwards told me before we took off to take pictures but also take the time to enjoy the view and I did. Backwater on the Delta seemed endless but the view from above was breath taking.
Vanessa asked Richard how long he had been flying, when he said three weeks, there was a little bit of fear in our eyes, then he laughed and said thirty years. He is a retired aviator and real estate broker. He was working for Re-Max when he went on his first balloon ride and was hooked. He said, “the first ride was free, the next ride cost me $30,000.00”. He bought a used hot air balloon and took lessons to learn how to fly and 943 flights later our paths crossed for a once in a lifetime ride and landing.
I’m glad we payed attention to his landing instructions when we first got off the ground. He told us to hold onto the handles tight and bend our knees to prepare for landing. We practiced and laughed because we forget our gloves on the ground. He mentioned it should be a soft landing and we probably wouldn’t miss our gloves. He was WRONG!
Our view changed from backwater to a green field but as he lowered the balloon, we could see backwater shining through the grass. On our way back up Richard told us to look down at the deer running. I’ve never seen that many deer running in my life and the view from above was breathtaking.
That’s when the ride got a little more exciting. The wind shifted and we changed courses. All we could see were trees. Our crew, a few other pilots, search and rescue and the sheriff’s office were out scouting for us a place to land. The problem was you can’t take a right in a balloon if the wind is driving you to the left. Highway 126 was our only option.
Richard warned us that he was going to clip a tree to slow the balloon down. I was face to face with the tree top and asked him, are we supposed to clip it this much. “Not this much! Hold on tight for the landing.”, Richard warned us. I looked at Vanessa and said “bend your knees” before we hit the bridge guard railing.
I remember rolling around in the basket before coming to a stop. The basket was tilted towards the water and Richard was maneuvering the ropes. His expertise in piloting helped him know to how to flip us over the railing instead of back into the water. We rolled down highway 126 and when the basket was about to go back up in the air again, I looked back and saw Detective Ben Adams running after us. He jumped onto the back of the basket and held us down. I never thought I would be happy to see the police chasing me down a road, but I was wrong.
Detective Adams took one of the ropes on the balloon and helped guide it down, search and rescue and our crew pulled up to help. We were okay and even laughed about our not so soft landing. It may have been my once in a lifetime adventure in a hot air balloon but what a story I had to tell.
I asked Vanessa if she would ride in a balloon again and she said of course that was fun. I agree it was fun and I would take another balloon ride, but next time we are wearing our crowns.