By Janet Bresenham
When it comes to hot air ballooning, it’s all about the wind.
How fast it’s blowing on the ground. How much speed it gathers climbing to higher altitudes. How fast it could carry a balloon. How much balloon enthusiasts wish it would calm down long enough to lift aloft and assure a safe takeoff and landing.
“There’s a saying among balloonists that, ‘It’s better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air than in the air wishing you were on the ground,’” said Kevin Clooney from Edgewood, who pilots the Wicker Clan Hot Aire Balloon Team.
Or, as pilot Mark Trillanes puts it, “Takeoffs are optional; landings aren’t.”
Not all the balloons were able to get off the ground during Saturday’s Pioneer Balloon Jubilee, which started before sunrise.
Several crews finally had to pack their balloons away as ever-fickle winds grew through the morning, and less than half of the planned 31 balloon launches took place.
“Just off the surface, the winds are really howling now, said pilot Jim Hoidahl, as he helped his crew pack up his balloon, “Hiss 2.”
But once a hot air balloon safely lifts off the ground, it’s all about sheer exhilaration.
Just ask new convert, Mayor David Lansford, who received his first short balloon ride early Friday morning with Trillanes and by Saturday was working hard on a balloon crew and quoting facts and statistics he had learned about ballooning.
“It was so peaceful from the minute we lifted off,” Lansford said. “It was, in essence, a break from reality into the tranquil.”
Hundreds of sleepy-eyed but fascinated onlookers converged near dawn Saturday morning in the wide-open field west of Plains Regional Medical Center-Clovis to watch firsthand as colorful balloons effortlessly climbed into the blue sky.
Trillanes’ craft, “More Stuff,” a 90,000-cubic-foot hot air balloon that weighs about 500 pounds plus fuel, was one of the balloons that launched and flew successfully Saturday morning.
Another balloon launch is planned for this morning as part of the weekend Pioneer Days celebration for anytime after 5 a.m. at the same location — wind and weather permitting.
On Saturday, 4-year-old Lane Kelley held his dog, Kelsey, and stood wide-eyed as a balloon inflated to full size in front of him.
“He thinks balloons are the greatest thing in the world,” said Lane’s father, Darren Kelley.
Anjelica Martinez, 9, was filming with a video camera and talking calmly about how she thinks the hot air balloons “are pretty cool” — until one actually began to lift off yards away from her.
“It’s going up; it’s going up; it’s going up — gosh!” she exclaimed, her voice filled with sudden excitement.
Young and old alike felt the thrill.
“I’ve been all over the world but I’ve never been to a balloon launch before,” said Harry Harris, 64, who watched the ascension with his grandson, Jonathan Maher. “Just walking around watching the crowd and the balloons blow up — it’s neat.”