Monday, November 08, 2010

My brother died Saturday.

I came home from a conference on Saturday. Shortly thereafter, I got a phone call from my mother, giving me the news that my younger brother died in his sleep Saturday. Not the kind of news one wants to hear. He was 46, and having some medical issues, but not anything that we expected to do this.

I wrote the news on my facebook page. Support flowed from all over. It was very comforting. My sister-in-law posted, in part:
one can't help but be reminded of how fragile and precious life is. Tomorrows are not guaranteed.

My reply:
Tomorrows are guaranteed, but not necessarily in this life. The bodies we are given are strong beyond belief, fragile beyond imagining. We learn, we teach, we grow. And each in our own turn, we leave. The time we have here is precious. Cherish what you learn. Give freely what you can teach. Hold dear in your heart what you love.

Rest in peace, Jeff.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Take Down...and pack up

Click any image for larger version

Once the balloon is on the ground, it's time to fold it up and take it home.

The Bembel Has Landed
The Bembel Has Landed

Starting to deflate
Starting to deflate,
basket being
tipped over.

Everyone helps tip the basket over.

Lots of neighbors getting into the act!

Still deflating, still tipping over.

And down it comes!

Balloon on its side

Balloon neatly down, and the pilot crawls out.

Squeezing the life...I mean air,
out of the balloon so it can be packed.

Air being forced out.

Balloon mostly deflated
Squeezed and bundled up.
Everyone gets
into the act.

Folding and tying
Walter, on the left
in the "Balloon Team" vest,
gets into the act.

Balloon tied up, ready for packing

This is why, immediately after, I went out to buy a real camera. I couldn't download the pics from my itty bitty cellphone camera fast enough to clear space for the next pic in this sequence. It was the utterly adorable collection of neighborhood kids, holding up the balloon and stuffing it into its travel sack. And then leaping enthusiastically on the sack to force out the last of the air.


Next day, another chance to catch
a balloon getting stuffed.
Balloon starting to deflateBalloon starting to deflate.

Balloon starting to collapse

Deflating and coming down.

More collapsing balloon

You can see the handle of the bembel (wine pitcher),
about to get flattened under the rest of the balloon.

Balloon down, ready to fold up

Balloon down, basket tipped over.

Balloon about to be stuffedBalloon folded up,
ready to be stuffed in its travel sack.

Balloon getting stuffed

The travel sack is far sturdier than the fabric of the balloon, so the sack is dragged to the next segment of the balloon to be stuffed. It's a rather energetic process.

Packing Balloon If you're not careful, you'll get
stuffed into the sack along with the balloon.

Why yes, I almost got stuffed in with the balloon. About all the sympathy you'll get is the team telling you when the balloon will be unpacked next. If you're "packed" on the last day of flight, they cheerily tell you that the next time will be back in Germany.

Balloon all stuffed

Balloon all stuffed in its sack,
ready to be laced up and sat on. Sat on?

Sit On It!

Yup. Sat on.
Squeezing the last of the air out.

Getting ready to hoist basket

Getting ready to hoist the basket into the truck.
Having a few strong backs around helps the process!

Basket hoisted into truck

Basket's in the truck! Yay!

Securing the basket, attaching the flag

Securing the basket, securing the team flag!

Return to top  ^^

Hot Air Balloons: The Chase

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Part 2 of a Day in the Life of a Hot Air Balloon.

Once the balloon is in the air, we have to go fetch it and bring it back. This is called The Chase.

The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is ten days of... more than ten days of balloon related insanity. Slap a "Balloon Chase Team" sign on your car, and you can go anywhere. Orchards, fields, back yards, private land, the Indian reservations. The Native Americans get rather testy about you landing on their land, so we try not to. But other than that...

The Chase 

Our balloon is a bembel, or wine pitcher.

Getting Ready to Head Out

Getting ready to head out.
Waiting for the right moment

Waiting for the
moment to leave,
and watching the
balloons stream by.

The launch park empty of balloons

The launch park looks empty as we head out.

Watching the balloons stream by

There's joy in watching
the balloons go by.

Balloons north, truck south

Balloons headed north,
we're headed south
out of the park.

Why yes, that's a skunk.

A lot of little balloons
Our bembel is to the left,
as we chase balloons.

Crossing over the Rio Grance

Crossing over the Rio Grande, still chasing all those balloons.

Headed north

At the start of the chase,
we're all going in the same direction.

Who's chasing whom?

Who's chasing whom?

Line of chase vehicles
Since all the balloons are heading in pretty much the
same direction, we all end up chasing each other.

There's the bembel!

We're getting closer. The bembel's next to the top of the pole.

Dead by the side of the road

Airabella came down early.
The balloon's on one side of the road,
the basket on the other.

Darth in your backyard

My first view of Darth was between trees, as the balloon came down in someone's yard. Rather disconcerting.

Wind whipping our flag
Wind whipping the flag as we
chase after the bembel.

Getting closer

The bembel isn't a dot any more.Looking for a place to land

Coming in low,
looking for
a place to land

Find the bembel!

"Where's The Bembel?"
Hiding behind the house

It looks like a landing

It looks like
a landing!
Now we need to
find a road.

Low over houses

No, no landing.
The area was
full of corrals.
There's this thing in the sky...
There's this thing in the sky...

And people just keep on
driving like it's the
most ordinary thing.
Well, during the Balloon
Fiesta, it is.

We've caught up with it

We caught up with it...
until the wind went one way
and the road another
It's a lovely thing, our bembel.

Bembel waiting for us

There she is, waiting on the hill top.


Safely down, ready to deflate, pack and carry home.

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

A day in the life of a hot air balloon.

Click any image for larger version


My second year at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta!
Moon And Small Light(Pics taken on different days.)

I took Amtrak from LA to Albuquerque, arriving Friday, October 1. Up at 4am. Yes, 4am. Showered, caffeinated, dressed, and out the door by 5am. Karen, Kevin and I head for the mess tent, where the pilots and crew get fed breakfast and discuss the weather. Out on the launch field no later than 6:30, to find our spot, and get ready to unpack. The sun isn't up yet, and I'm bouncing around with several hundred other balloon teams, getting ready for the day's excitement. 

The excitement really starts when the first pilot balloon goes up. It's an itty bitty thing, with a bright light on it, launched from the area of the pilots' briefing. We all watch it go up, as it will tell us how the winds blow. Any ground wind and most balloons won't launch. That's why balloons launch at dawn, when the ground winds are calm, before the sun heats everything up and makes for exciting times on the ground.

Sunrise First Balloons

Small time out to admire the sunrise. One of the benefits of getting up at 0-dark-thirty is getting to watch the dawn.

Pepsi And The American Flag

Balloons At Sunrise
As the sun comes up, the national anthem is played, and a balloon is launched carrying the American flag. Every day it's a different balloon who has the honor. This day, I caught the Pepsi can, for a friend who's a die-hard Pepsi drinker.

The balloons that launched first on Sunday went up and then south at a good clip.  We were all a bit disappointed, as we weren't going to launch our balloon again. Then someone noticed that HEY! the balloons higher up were coming north again. The winds above a certain height above ground were blowing south, and winds several hundred feet above that were blowing north. Balloon launch time!

The Setup

If you ever want to teach anybody about wind layers, come to a balloon festival. Not one where there are just a few balloons. You need to be able to see what dozens, and in our case, hundreds of balloons do. For example:

On Saturday, the day of the Mass Ascension (everybody who can is supposed to launch), we didn't. Why? All the winds were heading south, and the balloons would come down somewhere in the city of Albuquerque. Probably downtown. I'm crew for a ten-story bembel, or wine pitcher, and there isn't anywhere to land a ten-story anything in downtown Albuquerque. When a balloon lands, it not only lands on its basket, but the balloon must completely deflate. Ten stories of deflated balloon takes up a lot of space.

I know this because inflating a ten-story balloon takes up a lot of space. Because on Sunday, that's what we did.
Consultation With Zebras First the consultations with the referees, also known as "Zebras", for some rather obvious reasons. No one of them wears the same patterns, just like the four-legged zebras.
Hookin' Up Fuel Lines

Unload the basket,
hook up the fuel lines.

Tip Basket Over

Tip the basket over, ready to hook up balloon.

Attach Balloon To Basket

Hook up the balloon
straighten the lines.

Start Unfolding

Start unfolding!

And Unfolding

And unfolding...

And More Unfolding

And more unfolding.

Starting Inflation

Sometimes starting inflation
while still unfolding.

Unfolded Balloon

We have achieved
Flat Balloon.

Air Reaching Top

The excitement is not in
watching the bembel inflate,
but also seeing the
balloons all around.

Attaching The Top

Attaching the crown to the body of the balloon.

Crown Rope

Crown rope keeps
the ballon from
blowing around.

Blowing Up Balloon

See those fans?
They really "blow up"

Almost Full

Holding open the mouth,
so the air goes in.
She's almost ready for...

Light It Up

Lighin' her up!
Heat the air...

Air Hot Balloon Rises

And up she goes!


She's tethered to the back of the truck until everything and everybody is ready for flight.

Getting Ready To Launch

You can't see the zebra in this shot,
but she's 'way out there
making sure there's no other
balloons above ours.

Balloon Sponsor

Now, only people are holding her down. Only People Holding It Down

And Shes Off

And she's off!

This is a good idea of the size of the balloon.

I started this with the intent of putting it all one one page. Didn't work. So, this continues on The Chase

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