Up, Up and Away — Or Not
Hot Air, Cold Wind at the Adirondack Balloon Festival
By Kat Fitzpatrick
Queensbury, New York
It could be the fiery dragon’s breath, shooting into the hollow cavern of fabric. Or the picnic-like basket that – somehow safely – cradles passengers aloft among clouds and breezes. Or maybe it’s the beauty of the billowing colors, polka-dotting the sky. There is something magical about hot air balloons.
And perhaps it was this promise of magic that lured hundreds of people to rise in the dark and travel to the 2013 Annual Adirondack Balloon Fest in Queensbury, NY. (Or it could be the rows of stalls selling cheap goodies and crafty wares, but one wouldn’t like to think so.)
However, as I pedaled my bike past hundreds of red tail-lights glowing like the eyes of primordial beasts in the pre-dawn light, I wondered, “Is this a Balloonfest or a Carfest?” I was glad I’d heeded the advertised slogan: “Bike to the Balloonfest.” I was breaking a light sweat but I felt like a hedonist compared to the trapped motorists, especially the ones with the crying babies in the backseat.
After I made it down the long drive into the country airport, I was waved down a long deserted runway (which was thrilling: how often do you get to bike down a runway?) and proceeded into the thick of things.
Though it was only 6:30 a.m., the place had the feeling of an early evening fair. The bouncy-bounce was in full swing. (Or should I say full bounce?) Somebody was cheering, ringing the bell atop the portable climbing tower. Balloon flair was everywhere. The air was tinged with the smell of cider, donuts, and hot coffee. And, as evinced by long lines, the port-a-potties were already doing a good business.
It was getting light now and I could see a thick wave of dark clouds to the west. The morning had seemed warm while I biked, but now a breeze sent a chill down my spine. Forecasts had called for a clear morning with a front moving in later in the day, but I was not sure the weather itself had had the good graces to check the report.
I left the cluster of stalls and it wasn’t long before I began to see the colorful mushrooms of fabric rising from the crowds. This was it! After catching some photos from afar, I found one crew unfurling their canvas right behind me. Once their initial inflation had been established by a gas-powered fan, they fired up the burner. Ruddy orange bursts of fire lent heat to those of us standing 10 or more yards away. The warmth felt like a balm.
But what had been a silvery mother-of-pearl dawn was becoming a sullen gray day. Just then, the wind kicked up a fuss, jolting and jerking the basket in front of me. People in the crowd ran to try to stabilize it. Despite their efforts, the ragged flame bit into the balloon’s fabric, leaving an angry, bronze burn. I looked to the far field. Like statues falling before the wrath of an angry god, the other balloons were rolling in over in defeat and deflating, every one.
I put my camera away, blew hot air into my chilled fingers and hopped back onto my bike. As I rode through the dispersing crowd, I perceived no great rancor. This was New York; the weather changed by the minute and you had to expect that.
Then I looked to the incoming road. There were still cars waiting to enter. That, I had to admit, was, less than magical.
If they were lucky, they’d find a way to see one of the other four launches. It was New York weather after all, guaranteed to be different tomorrow.
The Adirondack Balloon Festival, the oldest and largest balloon event on the East Coast, is a four-day event held annually on the third weekend of September in Queensbury, NY. For more information, visit adirondackballoonfest.org.
Kat Fitzpatrick has lived in Upstate New York for 13 years and finally made it to the Adirondack Balloon Festival this year. Her writing, she says, has been inspired by Dave Fox’s Globejotting and by her master’s degree studies at the Solstice MFA Program at Pine Manor College in Boston. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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