This national balloon competition attracts over 100 balloonists from all over the country to come to compete in a week long event.
We only had to drive about 30 minutes south through the gorgeous, Iowa countryside to get there!
Uhhh, one problem…we got there about 3 hours early. Rookie mistake!
The gates opened around 3 (earlier than the 4:30 sign said) but apparently it doesn’t take 3 hours to set up a hot air balloon for a 6:30 launch time…
Just us and the crickets for…a long time.
Luckily the food vendors were already there, setting up shop. Yes!
We each got what is my hands down favorite “festival” food – corn dogs.
It’s funny how in the “real world” I wouldn’t dream of eating a corn dog, but it’s clearly assumed that I will be CHOWING down on one when present at a festival or fair!
It was piping hot outside, so we set up shop underneath a shady tree and settled in for the wait.
In about three hours, the crowd went from this:
to this! It grew larger and larger with each passing minute, as the anticipation of the balloon launch grew.
To kick things off, three balloons were inflated for people who had arranged/paid ahead of time to take a ride. Don’t know how I missed that boat.
The balloons are filled with cold air to get them inflated and standing upright.
They went up fast!!
When they’re just about ready to launch, someone lets a helium-filled balloon go so the pilots can get a read on wind speed and direction. See the tiny, red balloon?
As soon as the pilots were given the signal, they turned their cold air off, and fired up the flames. The air inside the balloon has to be 100-250 degrees hotter than the air outside the balloon, to lift the basket. Let me tell you, as soon as that air gets hot enough – those babies are off like little rockets!
This is no slow and gradual ascent, it’s – one second you’re on the ground, and the next, you are 100 feet in the air! Ben was completely nauseous at this point. (He is TERRIFIED of heights. Don’t worry, he got over it!)
After the passenger balloons took off, the competitors took to the field to lay out their balloons.
So the competition part? The “balloon maestro” – the guy who’s running the competition” – gives the balloonists a task before each launch (they launch twice a day.) Depending on how well they complete the task, they get a certain number of points. Whoever has the most points at the end of the week – wins!
Yesterday they were playing a game called hare and hound. There were two balloons that launched first – the “hares” – who went out into the countryside and dropped two bullseyes on the ground.
The task for each balloonist was to launch as fast as they could, find the “hare” and drop a beanbag as close to the bullseye as possible. The closer you get, the more points you get. FUN!!!
It was seriously like MAGIC how fast these balloons filled up and took off. They were materializing out of thin air and pop, pop, popped right off the ground! (I love this picture of Father + son!)
Up into the sky they went!
Dozens of them launching into the sky about every 15 seconds or so.
They’re all named too. Apparently you name hot air balloons like you do a boat!
Can you see the guys waving?! HA!
It was truly a spectacular sight seeing them float off into the distance, racing off to catch the hares!
Scarily – the balloonists can only control up and down motion, they basically have very little say in what direction they go. It’s all up the wind at that point!
Don’t they look like little UFO’s?!
Soon, the last of the balloons started to leave the ground. It took a good 45 minutes to get all 100+ of them into the sky. Magically, none of them bumped into each other!
It was such a clear evening that you could see them from miles and miles away.
It may have been a smidge on the dorky side, and Ben and I may have been the youngest people there without kids by, oh, 30+ years, but this was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. I got some info about possibly taking a ride this week, so we’ll see where that discussion goes!!!!!!!!!!!!!
After all the excitement, ( ) we came home and crashed. A day spent in the sun wears a girl and a guy out! Early to bed means early to rise, though. And I’m sitting here listening to the birds and the early-morning crickets with some toast and coffee.