I’m up and on my way to try hot-air ballooning at Delmarva Balloon Rides. There is just something about driving to Eastern Maryland before dawn that makes me smile. On this day in particular, it’s even more beautiful than the dozens of times I’ve made this trip before. A light fog hovers over the crops; crisp air fills my lungs; and a feeling of calm has taken over my soul.
My camera crew and I arrive in the small town of Ridgley, Maryland – a charming little place reminiscent of Andy Griffith’s Mayberry and surrounded by soybeans and corn. We stop to take pictures of the country view, the porched houses, and a man training a horse on his farm. Although we’re only about an hour-and-a-half outside of Washington, DC, it seems like we’re far away from home – I love it.
We arrive at a small air field that shares its space with hang-gliders and small engine planes. The sun is just coming up as we prepare to build our flying chariot. We were met by Todd, the owner and pilot and by John – who drives the “Track and Recovery” vehicle. I was also going to share my experience with a cute young couple, Alex and Jenny. They were celebrating Jenny’s birthday.
We immediately began to unload and assemble the balloon making sure that all of the components were put together properly. We ran through all proper safety checks and attached the balloon (made of rip-stop nylon) to the gondola (or basket).To get it going, a simple fan pumped air into the balloon that lay there lifeless and deflated. But once it started taking its spherical shape – the burner was turned on… all I could manage was a semi-silent, “whoa!”
The flames shot into the balloon, heated up the air, and completed the inflation – we were ready to ride! One by one, we climbed into the basket. Todd gave the cord a pull and we were off to touch the heavens…. Climbing higher and higher – it got more and more quiet. I never knew real silence until then – there were no sounds at all: not from traffic; computers; or phones. Not even that constant hum that comes from the city that you wouldn’t notice until it’s not there. Nothing existed but the occasional distant buzz of a small plane. We looked over the side to see John tracking our every move – the truck seemed so tiny from up there. Balloons can travel pretty far – the wind pushed us along.
As I looked out and gazed in wonder – I realized that there were no words I could’ve written to describe what I saw. So I have to apologize to anyone reading this article – I should have been a poet. Only then would you feel the ache in your heart, the love for the land and the sheer awe that I felt on that day.
Sadly, we began our decent. Somehow I knew that coming back down to earth would be different. I took a mental picture of every beautiful thing I wanted to remember so that I could recall it when I needed to.
We landed in a large soybean patch not far from a dirt road. John had successfully “tracked and recovered” us and so began the heartbreaking process of taking it all apart.
It was still early when the crew and I drove back toward the city. I quietly gazed out of the window and tried to imagine I was floating two-thousand feet above the earth – but I couldn’t: the noise was back; the cell phones started ringing; and there was that hum again. I think I just might have to find my way back to the Eastern Shore again soon.