Outback by Air

Four. Fucking. Fifteen.

That is the ungodly hour at which I was going to be picked up for my latest adventure, making it the third day in a row I was on the road before 5. This time it wasn’t a drive down Stuart but a smaller trek out of town in a bus with a large trailer, upon which sat the morning’s vessel.

I was going ballooning.

I’m not sure what the logic was behind our brutally early departure time — something about the winds and seeing the sunrise — but once again I was shocked at how mind-boggingly cold it was in the Outback. I was wearing jeans, a jacket, sneaks and socks and still I shivered as we all got out of the bus and pitched in to unfurl the "envelope."

I ducked back into the bus to try to warm up, but by this time the pilots had finish deploying huge fans to fill the envelopes and were making use of the burners. I thought standing near the long flames sounded like a good idea.

firing into the balloon basket starting to tip

It’s a really simple concept, inflating a balloon. First you use a big fan to fill the balloon with (cold) air. The basket sits on its side, and you basically juice it up until the balloon starts to lift and then rights the basket. Then you have your people jump in and you’re on the rise:

basket rising, everyone's faces red from reflected fire

Soon enough you’re leaving the buses far behind.

balloon in foreground, buses down below

So simple, and so smooth. I took a picture of the basket resting on the ground, sort of a "before" shot, (here’s an after, with horses) and then fooled around with the camera. Next thing I knew, we’d risen twenty meters into the air. I’d felt nothing, and indeed throughout the whole journey never felt as though I was absurdly high, though we peaked at 1,000 feet.

sunrise behind balloon

The other amazing thing was how quiet it was. When the burner wasn’t firing, you could hear everything. It was incredibly peaceful, and just a little bit amazing when you looked up into the empty balloon:

looking up into the balloon

I mean, I know the principles at work here, but it still gives me pause when I look up and see no visible means by which we are being supported. Just hot air.

The trip ended too soon, and then we had to pack up the envelope and jump in the buses to go to our champagne breakfast, which consisted of hot chicken, quiche, various breads, fresh fruit, crackers/cheese, and chocolate cake. I skipped the fresh fruit and had double helpings of everything else.

Except for the champagne. I had to stay sober for the next activity.

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