The Sky

Three sky shots from a recent road trip. The first two were taken in northern Indiana, the last on I-290 west of Chicago.

I thought it was cool how the sun rays were slanting down from left to right and the rain from right to left.

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Coon’s Candy

Coon’s Candy is in Harpster, Ohio. We stopped in on a whim and ended up spending too much money on candy and candles and … stuff.

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I asked the guy behind the counter if I could take a red chair photo. He said sure, but that I needed something to sit in the chair — I asked if I could borrow a sock monkey off the shelf.

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I saw a hot-air balloon mobile made of tin and a funky woodpecker toy. I told Sally she had to do an intervention because if she didn’t stop me, I would buy them both. She took one look and said, “You have to buy them.” Here’s the woodpecker in slow motion for your viewing enjoyment.

 

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Columbus Zoo

I had four hours to kill in Columbus, Ohio, so I decided to go to the zoo.

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The park was filled with moms with kids, young couples, and kids on field trips. I felt a little lonely in the crowd.

The zoo covers a lot of land and is visually impressive. I walked a long way before I realized I wasn’t seeing many animals. There were rides and fountains and food stands and face-painting booths and statues of animals, but the animals themselves were hard to find. Instead of a lot of different species, they have large displays for the more popular animals. I strolled through fairly quickly — I got in almost six miles — and looked for red chair photo ops and places where there were no crowds.

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There were trout in the water in the polar bear enclosure. This guy was paddling about and caught one of them. Below the tank, there was a place where you could stand and look up at the bears, but by the time I got down there, all three of the bears were out of the water.

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Advertisements for the zoo feature “sniff ports” where visitors and bears can smell each other. I saw the port in the polar and brown bear enclosures, but no bears were interested.

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The brown bears were close to the glass, but so was a huge group of kids in matching T-shirts. I managed to squeeze in and get this photo. The bear wasn’t really looking at the chair — I just timed it right.

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Shortly thereafter, the bears walked the length of their enclosure to a cave (which also had a window). I snapped this photo, but then the crowd followed and I didn’t bother sticking around.

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The Africa area was mostly just a huge enclosure where zebras and antelope and giraffes were mixed together. It looked impressive, but the animals were a long way away. I could have gotten closer if I’d paid a couple bucks to feed a giraffe, but the line was long so I didn’t.

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Here’s one of those stretches — this one in the Africa area — where there was “design” stuff relating to the theme but no animals. There were bicycles all over “Africa.” I guess I’m supposed to believe that the natives ride, or at least park, bicycles everywhere they go.

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It was hot by this time — in the low 80s. Most of the animals were sleeping in shady corners or somewhere out of sight. I didn’t bother taking photos of sleeping moose, pronghorns, wolverines, etc. because they looked like the piles of fur you see in every zoo. The wolverine enclosure was impressive, however. You walk in this cabin and find a bed and dresser and other furnishings. The back  is a wall of glass, and that’s where the wolverine is.

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There were three or four aviaries. I hoped for some red chair photos but they were packed with teens in zoo T-shirts who wandered over and stood next to anyone who stopped to look. In one of them, colorful parrots flew down and landed on visitors’ hands to sip nectar out of a cup. The cups cost $2, so I didn’t bother them and the parrots didn’t bother with me. I was watched very suspiciously and didn’t even attempt to get one to land on the chair.

In the Congo area they had a boat ride called Zoombeezie Bay with poorly-done animatronic pirates, making the zoo feel very much like a Disney-wannabe.

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Both these gorillas were looking at the chair, but they weren’t impressed.

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There were kangaroos and flamingos and penguins and all, but I mostly walked by without stopping. I did ask one young woman in the reptile house if I could get a photo of the chair with the corn snake she was holding.

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In short, it was a pleasant, but expensive, variation on my daily five-mile walk.

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White Sox vs. Tigers — Comerica Park

We stayed overnight in the Detroit area and headed downtown on Sunday afternoon for a baseball game. Sally and I got there first and parked about three blocks from the stadium

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We had to stand in line to get a photo with the giant tiger by the main gate.

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My phone was on video for the above shot, so the top of the tiger’s head got cut off. I tried again after the game when the area was much busier … I wonder what that young couple will think when they take a good look at their photo.

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Moments after we entered, I saw four members of the Tigers Energy Squad posing for photos with fans. I walked up and asked if I could take their picture with the chair. The blonde on the right started to say no but the two girls in the middle laughed and took the chair.

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Willie Horton, Tiger great from the 60s and 70s, was at a table signing autographs. I asked his bodyguard if I could get his photo with the chair. He was very friendly and we stood and chatted for a couple minutes until the line thinned. He then introduced me to Willie. Willie didn’t have any idea what was happening, but he took the chair and smiled.

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It was raining and the tarp was on the infield. As soon as it stopped, we found our seats. That’s Sally in the pink shirt. The groundskeepers were in the process of dumping water off the tarp.

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I left Sally to walk around the field and take photos. It soon began raining again, and she took shelter for a couple minutes. I just got wet.

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I wandered down to the Tigers dugout.

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The Willie Horton statue in the left field stands. Beyond him is Ty Cobb, Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, Hal Newhouser and Al Kaline.

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The bullpens beyond the left field wall

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Looking in toward the infield from above the bullpen

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The rain stopped and the groundskeepers removed the tarp.

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Sally in our seats

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The scoreboard with tigers on the top. Note the vines on the batter’s eye, copying Wrigley Field.

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The entrance from inside the park

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I opted not to take a ride on the baseball Ferris wheel. The view didn’t look thrilling.

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The stadium has a fountain on top of the batter’s eye. It goes off when the Tigers do something exciting.

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The visitor’s dugout

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Wayne, Holly and Arne showed up right at game time. Shortly after the game started, it began raining again. A lot of people huddled under umbrellas and raincoats, but the game continued. Justin Verlander pitched for Detroit.

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Here’s the first pitch.

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Carlos Quintana started for the White Sox

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The White Sox scored a run in the first on a home run by Jose Abreu. The Tigers came back with one in the third and four in the fifth on a walk, an infield single and a double by Justin Upton. Todd Frazier hit a home run for the Sox in the sixth.

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The park was very quiet for the first several innings. I think a lot of people came late because of the rain. It was so quiet that it was hard to follow the game from way up where we were sitting. Things got a little louder when the Tigers began scoring.

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The Energy Squad at the end of the Motor City Wheels race

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The view of downtown Detroit from our seats

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Wayne, Holly, Sally and Arne

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The park was enjoyable with the tiger statues and the fountain and downtown Detroit filling the view. The game was a bit dull. The Andersons are White Sox fans, so they weren’t thrilled by the outcome. I truly didn’t care who won. The weather wasn’t bad for a summer afternoon — a bit of rain early and direct sun later, but with a cool breeze.

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Henry Ford Museum

We drove to Detroit on Saturday morning and met Wayne, Holly and Arne in the parking lot of the Henry Ford Museum right at noon — at the exact minute we told them we’d get there. We spent the afternoon touring the museum. Here’s a little of what we saw in the approximate order in which we saw it.

We paid an extra $5 each to get into a special exhibition on the Beatles.

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They had some exhibits from the early days when the band was still called the Quarrymen. The drum set belonged to Colin Hanton, but John, Paul and George all played on it at one time or another. The guitar is the same model as John’s. We had to read the signs carefully. Most of the displays were just similar to Beatles’ stuff, not the actual items. In other words, artifakes.

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Wayne looks at a “brick-by-brick reconstruction” of the stage of the Cavern Club in Liverpool where the Beatles often performed.

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After we took this photo, I ran out to the car and got the red chair.

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This is thought to be the actual bus (1948 model) from Montgomery, Alabama, in which Rosa Parks refused to move to the back and set the civil rights movement in motion.

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Holly and Arne inside the bus. Holly is sitting in a seat where Rosa Park’s seat was located, although very little, if any, of the inside is original.

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The chair Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot — from Ford’s Theatre in Washington.

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George Washington’s camp bed and chest, used when he toured the Revolutionary War battlefields at the end of the war.

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The parts that make up a Model T Ford.

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Stage from 1891.

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Two photos of the limo Kennedy was riding in when he was shot in Dallas. The protected cover was added later when it was used by Johnson and Nixon.

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1958 Edsel

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1948 Tucker

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1927 Blue Bird School bus, which “could be America’s oldest surviving school bus.” Again, we had to read the signs carefully.

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1935 Stagecoach Travel Trailer belonging to Charles and Anne Lindbergh. Anne wrote one of her books and Charles wrote part of The Spirit of St. Louis in the trailer.

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1899 Duryea

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1900 Wood electric truck. Behind it is a 1952 Federal.

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This replica of the 1833 steam locomotive was built for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

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Replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer. Orville flies the plane, Wilbur holds the chair.

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Scroll map of New York used by early pilots.

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1925 Fokker Tri-Motor used by Richard Byrd in 1926 to fly over the North Pole.

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Plane used in 1927 for an attempt to fly around the world. Edward Schlee and William Brock took off from Detroit and made it all the way across Europe and Asia but they gave up in Tokyo and traveled by steamship from there to Seattle.

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An exhibit on aerial acrobats.

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Machine used to make light bulbs. Supposedly, in the 1970s, just 15 of these machines made most of the light bulbs in the world.

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1914 tractor

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We thought it was kinda funny that the Sperry combine was parked next to the Massey combine.

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Sally and I visited the museum back in 1982 or 1983. This test tube is one of the few exhibits I remember.

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Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion House, made of aluminum and plastic — his vision for the future. It has 1,017 square feet. This shot is looking into the kitchen.

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The living room.

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The bedroom

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1950s Weinermobile

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My chief impression of the museum was empty space. There was room for at least twice as many displays. What was there was very impressively done, but I felt like the collection hadn’t been updated or added to in a long time.

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At the end of the day we had to buy a Mold-A-Rama model.

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Which one? The car Kennedy was killed in, of course. Only in America.

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We stayed until the museum closed at 5:00, then went for supper at Longhorn Steakhouse in Dearborn.

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Lucy and Millie Meet the Chair

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Lucy and Millie

Ever since we had to put our cat to sleep last summer, Sally’s been planning on getting a kitten — or two. Lindy found two females from the same litter in Missouri, and she and Andrew brought them up when they came to visit over Memorial Day.

They arrived around midnight. We took the carrier up to Sal’s study and let them out. The adjustment period was a quick one — Within 20 minutes of their arrival, I took this video.

 

They were even livelier the next morning.

 

 

I had a hard time finding a moment to take a photo when they weren’t moving. But I persevered.

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On Grackles and Crows and Owls

Raucous cawing in the backyard alerted me to a mobbing. Two crows had found a Great Horned Owl in a treetop two yards down. I watched for about 20 minutes, and it was still going on when I went inside. For about half the time, several grackles were hassling the crows as the crows hassled the owl.

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Double Rainbow

It wasn’t much of a storm, but it created the perfect conditions. I was reading in my study with the window open, listening to the rain, when the sun burst through the clouds to the west. I grabbed my phone and ran outside, pretty sure I would see a rainbow but not expecting this.

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Balloon Ride

I’ve been saying for a long time that I have just one item on my bucket list — to take a ride in a hot air balloon. Good friends heard me say this and very generously paid for and arranged a flight for our 36th anniversary. I’m sure they did this because they love us and not because they are ready for me to kick the bucket.

We scheduled six or seven morning flights last summer and fall, but every one of them was cancelled due to weather. This year I decided to schedule afternoon flights and on my very first try, we were in.

I received a call around noon telling me to meet the balloon crew in a parking lot in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, at 6:00 p.m. We were met by John, who is the pilot, along with five crew members who help him inflate and deflate the balloon and keep it from blowing away when it’s on the ground. We also met Rene, who sometimes works as a crew member but on this evening was coming along as a passenger.

Sally and I piled into the backseat of the pickup that was pulling the balloon trailer. John gave us instructions on the way and contemplated the weather. The sky was cloudless, the weather was in the low 60s. The only issue was the wind. It was blowing at about 11mph, which can make for bumpy landings, but was due to calm down as the evening wore on. We drove about 10 miles to a school lot next to a housing development.

Sally and I stood and watched while the crew unloaded the basket and envelope (that’s what the balloon guys call the balloon itself). Nobody noticed the little red chair I was carrying until I took this photo.

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John released a couple helium balloons and watched them rise. After they rose above the surface winds, they rose pretty much straight up, so he determined to go for it. The inflation of the envelope began with a fan.

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Then John fired up the burners in the basket and continued inflating the envelope.

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As the balloon rose, it tilted the basket upright.

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We were standing by waiting for the order to climb into the basket, which came very quickly. We just managed to scramble inside when we took off. There was no fanfare. We drifted up calmly and were soon well off the ground. (I grabbed this next photo from the Lake Geneva Balloon Company facebook page. You can’t tell, but that is our flight.)

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The largest building in the center of this next photo is the school. The pickup and trailer can be seen parked on the grass in front of it. That’s where we launched from.

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We climbed steadily past 2,000 feet, then more slowly to our top altitude of about 4,000 feet. John takes photos of all his passengers in the air. (I got this on on the Lake Geneva Balloon Company facebook page also.)

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I handed him the chair and took a shot of him and Rene.

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He pointed out Chicago on the horizon to the southeast …

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and Milwaukee on the horizon to the northeast. For a little while, there was a small plane performing acrobatics a mile or so away.

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Lake Geneva was off to the west.

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To the south we could see Twin Lakes and, right on the horizon, Chain O’Lakes in Lake County, Illinois.

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I expected that we would be drifting steadily over the landscape, but once we got up high, we pretty much parked.

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I am not, as a general rule, afraid of heights if I have something to hang onto. At no time during this flight was I nervous. There was a bar in each corner, part of the frame that held up the burner. If I was leaning out at all, I hooked my arm around this, but otherwise I paid no attention.

 

On a couple occasions, we drifted into winds that were moving faster than we were and felt a little breeze. But most of the time there was no wind at all because we were moving at the same speed as the air. The only temperature variation came when John punched the burner and a hot burst of air hit us on the back of the neck.

The burner was loud, but when it wasn’t going and we weren’t talking, it was silent. We could hear dogs barking down below us, even when we were at the highest point. I heard, and then saw, a couple of Sandhill Cranes flying about half a mile off to the south.

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I found the shadows fascinating. The height also gave us a great look at the bumps and ripples in the ground, left over from glaciers.

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This was the closest we came to flying over a body of water. This is Dyer Lake.

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We weren’t harnessed or anything. The only thing preventing us from falling out of the waist-high basket was our will to live.

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At times we just enjoyed the quiet and view in silence. At other times we chatted, punctuated frequently by the blast of the burner as John kept the balloon at the altitude he wanted.

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Looking up into the envelope from the basket. This is the only way to take a photo of a balloon from in the balloon.

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I took this photo to try to capture the balloon and the view and posted it on facebook while we were in the air.

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John told us he’s performed a wedding in the balloon. He got ordained into some church online so he could offer the service. He’s lost count of how many marriage proposals he’s witnessed.

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John pointed out an airport where he hoped to land, but the wind didn’t cooperate. After 45 minutes, he dropped down to just above the treetops and began communicating with his ground crew.

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The last 15 minutes were the most exciting for me. We caught the surface wind and began moving faster. We scared up a Wild Turkey which flew cackling across a field into the woods and a Turkey Vulture that flapped away as quickly as it could go.

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We also startled a lot of dogs, some of which ran around under us and barked and others which panicked and ran for cover. People heard the noise of the burners and came out to look, wave and take photos as we passed over. This woman’s dog had just scurried inside, whining as it went.

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We spotted the ground crew. John was communicating with them about where to land. He settled on a cornfield and told the crew he would come down on the far side and lay the balloon down on a dirt road that ran next to it. He told us how to brace ourselves by holding onto handles inside the bag with both hands.

The next two photos, taken by the crew as we approached, are from the Lake Geneva Balloon Company.

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That’s me in the front with the camera around my neck. Check out the moon in the upper right.

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John bumped the ground a couple times to slow down as we crossed the field. I could see inch-high corn plants growing in rows. I figured we were doing quite a bit of damage, but Sally and Rene, who were facing backwards, said they couldn’t see that we were hurting anything at all.

The bounces were pretty jarring. I almost went overboard at the first one. Holding on to a handle with both hands at belt height isn’t the most efficient way to brace when you’re tipping forward against a waist-high railing and jarring into the ground. I managed to stay in the basket and not kill or embarrass myself.

I turned on the camera and let it record as it dangled from my neck.

 

We bounced four or fives times. When we came down on the edge of the field, the crew grabbed and held on. John got us all arranged and situated, then had us climb out of the basket one at a time. He was kind enough to allow me to get a red chair photo while the envelope was still inflated.

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They let the air out of the envelope and tipped everything over.

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The process went quickly. Air was pushed out by drawing the envelope through a metal ring.

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While all this was going on, Sally and I chatted with a guy who pulled up on a motorcycle to watch the proceedings. I’d seen him earlier, watching as we sailed over.

The envelope was folded over into its bag. One of the crew guys grabbed the chair from Sally and told her to jump on the bag to collapse it.

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We drove back to the parking lot. John, Rene, Sally and I sat around a table outside a pie restaurant. He gave us a little history of hot air balloons — the first one went up in the 1780s and until fairly recently they were mostly considered for military purposes.

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We then toasted each other with champagne (I only took a single small sip because the stuff is disgusting) while John recited the Balloonist’s Prayer:

The winds have welcomed you with softness.
The sun has blessed you with its warm hands.
We have flown so high and so well that God
has joined you in laughter and set you gently
back into the loving arms of mother Earth.

And we were home by 9:30. It was every bit as beautiful and cool and amazing as I’d imagined and I am very thankful for having had the opportunity. ThaNK you.

John posted this flight record on the Lake Geneva Balloon Company page.

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Here it is on a satellite image. The red stars indicate our take-off and landing spots.

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And close-ups.

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And to put it all into perspective.

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