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MY FIRST BALLOON RIDE

Today a long-time dream came true -- I floated above the Napa Valley in a balloon.  Not that it didn't take some effort to get the job done.  I had bid for the trip at a charity silent auction last year and scheduled my ride for this past May.  My husband and I got up at "O-God-Three-Thirty in the morning" to arrive in Napa for the 5:45 am meeting time.  I had an ominous feeling as we headed over the bridge and saw the fog bank darken the sky ahead.  We checked in at the Red Hen Cantina and were given the bad news -- the balloons were grounded for Napa Valley.  But all was not to be lost.  They had an alternate site about an hour away.  Disappointed, we decided to take the offer and climbed in the transfer van, only to be told within a couple of minutes that it was too windy at the alternate site.  We rescheduled. 

This time we were smarter; we got a room right across the road from the Red Hen Cantina so we could sleep in until 4:45 am.  We were the last of the four balloons to lift off and we floated calmly up, up and away until we had a bird's eye view of Yountville.  The winds blessed us with a most scenic ride.  Normally they caress the balloons south, toward Napa.  But today they worked in our favor and we headed north to float at 1500 feet over the vineyards and wineries.  What struck me the most was how quiet it was, except for the occasional blast from the propane burner.   It's easy to see how one could get addicted to ballooning.   As we descended we hovered above a Silver Oak cabernet sauvignon vineyard until one of the chase crew could grab the dangling line and pull us to the dirt service road.  After a smooth landing we helped make sure the balloon didn't fall into the metal trellises of the newly planted vineyard on the other side.  Back at the cantina we had a champagne breakfast.  Yum, yum.

Man's delight with hot air balloons first appears in Chinese history in 220 - 280 AD, when unmanned ones were used as airborne lanterns for military signaling.  The first unmanned documented balloon flight in Europe was in 1709.  After experimenting with unmanned balloons and flights with animals, the first tethered balloon flight with humans on board took place on October 19, 1783.  Modern hot air balloons, with their onboard heat surce, were pioneered in the 1950s which resulted in the first successful flight on October 22, 1960.  Today, hot air balloons are used primarily for recreation, and there are some 7,500 hot air balloons operating in the United States.