Four residents in Independent Living agreed to go up in a hot air balloon…fulfilling one of the wishes on their bucket list. Becky, Community Life Director, made all the arrangements and there was no going back! The hot air balloon company gives you a 24-72 hour window of time, based on the weather and the wind, which is a huge factor in Oklahoma. We had about 36 hours notice to let us know we were going up at sunrise on October 11th. The pilot never knows where we will take off from until that morning, what direction we are going, or where we are going to land.
The residents who decided to make the trip were Wanda Bolen, Harvey Wardius, and Marge & Chuck Whitehair. All four were excited and eager to see what it was going to feel like way up in the sky in a small basket which held 7 people. Another young couple joined us, along with the pilot flying the balloon. We drove to an open field and watched how they prepared the balloon and the basket, then put it altogether. Eddie, Plant Operations Director at The Fountains at Canterbury, drove out to see us off. It’s a good thing he did, because they put him to work holding onto one side of the balloon as they fired it up and expanded the balloon to connect to the basket. Getting in…and out of the basket was no easy task, but with some effort and a few extra hands we managed to hoist everyone into the basket.
Becky followed the balloon’s path in the van with the sons of the pilot and it was fascinating to hear how they have to constantly keep in touch as to what direction they are heading and wind conditions on the ground which effected the direction of the balloon. You also have to keep in touch with the airports since you don’t want to enter their air space and sometimes the wind blows you in that direction. The balloon headed south to Norman and flew over Bob Stoops house (former OU coach) and Daryl, the pilot, spotted a field behind a church and neighborhood where he was going to land. He did end up landing almost in the backyard of a family…who ran out with their cameras and all the kids, full of awe. A bus load of school children drove up about that time, yelling and waving with excitement to see the balloon land.
After landing, Daryl served everyone French Pink Champagne, drinking a toast to the experience and presenting a blessing that is said after every hot air balloon ride. The hot air balloon originated in France by two brothers who finally got one off the ground. They landed in a farmer’s field…the farmer believing they were sent by the Devil. From that moment on, it became a tradition to take French Champagne in the hot air balloon with them so they could prove to the land owners they were really French scientists experimenting with air flight. A French blessing always accompanied the champagne toast…for a safe landing. The residents all had many comments about the experience. Wanda said it was simply a feeling of peace like she had never experienced. They all said it was totally quiet once you got high enough above the traffic and noise below. Marge commented that it is something you should definitely do when you are young and in better shape! Harvey, 91, said he had been afraid of heights all his life, having to hold on to a ladder with both arms once he got up high, keeping him from doing the task at hand. Chuck, who is a former pilot, said it was an amazing and different experience from flying a plane and one everyone should definitely do before they die!