Up, up and away

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By Calen McKinney


Balloonist's Prayer

"The winds have welcomed you with softness.

The sun has blessed you with his warm hands.

You have flown so high and so well,

That God has joined you in laughter,

And he has set you gently back again,

Into the loving arms of Mother Earth."

-The Black Baron Balloon Team

I will admit it, I'm a bit scared of heights.

Really tall heights are fine with me though, for some reason. Put me on the Eiffel Tower and I'm fine. I've flown in an airplane several times, and that's no problem.

I climb a ladder though and I get uneasy. To take care of that, I just won't do any work that requires climbing a ladder. Check.

But a hot air balloon? Well, turns out that's OK too.

I was invited to take a hot air balloon ride on Saturday. In short, it was amazing. I can see how balloonists become addicted to the rush and invest enough money to pay for a car or small house into their hobbies.

I met with several other people and the balloonists early Saturday morning. They were worried that the day was slipping by, winds were picking up and we might not get to go up. It was 7 a.m. I now know that's late for flying a hot air balloon.

On the way to the Taylor County Airport, I signed consent to the ride. Riding in a hot air balloon is, after all, a dangerous activity, I acknowledged with my signature.

We were going to lift off near the airport runway. Where we would land, who knew.

If you haven't seen a balloonist inflate a hot air balloon, that's something to see in it's self.

The process, and, yes, it's a long process, begins with setting up the basket and unpacking the "envelope," which is a fancy word for the actual balloon.

Inflating the "envelope" starts with a fan and ends with the burner doing the rest of the work.

After the balloon, the Black Baron Balloon, was upright, it was time to get into the basket. After climbing aboard, we were ready to go.

I rode with balloonist John Herbst of Lexington. He is a very patient man who has been flying hot air balloons for 26 years. I asked.

Herbst's license to operate the balloons is also valid. I checked.

And, Herbst had the prettiest balloon in the bunch. It's true.

As we got higher and higher into the air, I told myself not to look down, but did anyway. Surprisingly, seeing the ground get smaller and smaller didn't bother me.

I took lots of photos from the air. One is published on today's back page and more are online at www.cknj.com.

As I told Herbst, the ride was very peaceful. It was just me, Mr. Herbst and an envelope of air. It was quiet, probably the quietest environment I have been around in years. Those few moments were priceless.

We rode above Main Street, schools, many homes, the CKNJ office and many other businesses. It was just cool.

Hot air balloons really make a Fourth of July celebration, don't they? I have been watching the balloons ever since I was a child.

It was tradition for my mother and I to get up really early (7 a.m. was really early back then) and watch the balloons take off. Nothing was cooler.

We are so lucky that the balloonists pick Campbellsville as their destination on July Fourth.

Not many people are given the opportunity to ride in a hot air balloon, and I owe thanks to Mr. Herbst, Allen Gaddis and Tom McClendon for the opportunity.

Thanks for showing me a part of the world I hadn't seen before, and for giving me some moments of peace and quiet.

And Mr. Herbst, thanks for getting me safely back down to reality.

See photos from the balloon ride in a slideshow on the homepage.