Tuesday, September 7, 2010

full of hot air

This labor day weekend was pretty unforgettable!  We had a very relaxing weekend filled with friends, good food, good wine - and a hot air balloon!  For our wedding, Alison and Eli gave us a ride on a hot air balloon in Sonoma County, CA. 

I should start by saying that when I think hot air balloon - for some reason I think of the end of the movie The Wizard of Oz... a movie that I love and have probably seen about 100 times.  Interesting to note that hot air balloon technology is pretty much the same in 1939 as it is today (wicker basket, big cloth balloon, hot air from a burner).

Image credit
Anyway, we left the bay area Sunday afternoon and picked up Alison in the city.  Alison was fresh from 4 days at Burning Man, so she was channeling her inner-hobo when we picked her up - tanned, in sweats with desert dust on her shoes - a plastic bag with the essentials (People magazine). 

We stayed at the Doubletree hotel in Rohnert Park and had a relaxing evening drinking wine and eating Japanese food.  However, 5:30 am Monday morning came too soon and by 6:45 am we were standing in the middle of a small airport unpacking the hot air balloon.  We went with a company called Up and Away Ballooning.

The colors in the morning light were beautiful
First the balloon was spread out on a tarp and then a giant fan was used to fill it up.  After the balloon was somewhat inflated, the propane burners roared to life and the hot air started to lift the balloon.  There were three balloons going up yesterday - two that held 7, and one that held 12. We were in one of the smaller ones.
Fire and fabric usually don't mix...
The hot air lifts the balloon (and eventually the basket with passengers on board).  This was one of the other balloons going up with us.
Almost there
So I asked - what does one of these balloon/basket combos set you back.  I guessed $10,000 and the captain couldn't believe I could think that.  Turns out - it is $70,000!  Insanity!  Apparently they are completely handmade in the US using very traditional techniques - the wicker basket technology is pretty tried and true it seems.  Aside from modern fabrics - you could have seen this balloon in the Wizard of Oz.
There are a lot of guide wires inside the balloon

And we have liftoff
We enjoyed an hour long float over the Sonoma County countryside.  It was pretty quiet except for dogs barking and the occasional blast on the propane burners that kept the balloon in the air.
The other balloon in our group
We caught up to the balloon in the above photo and I took this photo of them photographing us.  Our balloons actually touched at this point.  I thought it would be kind of scary - but it was just air and fabric - so it wasn't noticeable when they touched.
these baskets are packed pretty tight
 Our balloons bumping mid-flight!
the bump
double date on a balloon!

I couldn't get a picture of what we looked like in the balloon from a distance (of course), but I could photograph this other balloon and pretend we were on that one. 

We passed countless fields of grapes and this one had the workers just starting their day.  We could hear the clang of their tools and cars as the field rumbled to life.  It is about time to harvest the grapes, so they may have been getting an early start.
Harvest in progress?
So how to you land a balloon you can't steer?  In a random field with sheep.  Yes - those sheep were our welcome committee.  The farmer was thanked for his hospitality with a bottle of wine by the balloon company.

Some big horns
The farmer also had a HUGE dog.  While the balloon staff wrapped up the balloon and basket and loaded the truck - we hung out with the farmer and asked lots of questions.  He grew grapes and produced wine under the Prophet label.  He also had a HUGE Irish wolfhound the size of a small horse (the tallest dog breed according to wikipedia).  What was so funny is this dog was scared of us, when it really should have been the other way around!  It was fun to meet him - even though he looked so scary with his orange eyes.
Cormack the wolf dog
My hubby helped pack up the balloon while I stood and watched the sheep and giant wolfhound.
They call this milking...
After the ride they fed us a delicious brunch with champagne and coffee.  I ate so fast I almost forgot to document it!
quiche - yum
After our brunch we went wine tasting - but I'll save those details for another post.

Thanks again to Alison and Eli for the amazing wedding gift!  We had so much fun with the two of you this weekend.  Our next adventure?  We hope to see the Grand Canyon sometime in the next year or so - my husband and Alison have never been!  That is something everyone should see.

Hope you had a great labor day weekend - enjoy the short workweek!


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