I have had taking a hot air balloon ride on my bucket list for a long time. Go ahead and judge me for having a bucket list, I know it’s cliché :-). As my friend Meg and I were headed to Temecula for wine tasting, we thought why not throw in a balloon ride too?!? Luckily Groupon had a deal for a 2 for 1 and it cut our costs in half, which was great as the ride was not overly expensive, but it was not inexpensive either.
I like to play travel agent when I travel with my friends, so I set up the arrangements for the balloon ride for Meg and I about a month in advance. I read through all the information regarding the flight, including the “fat fee” as I called it. It was a surcharge for anyone over a certain weight. Well knowing I am no skinny chicken I assumed I would be paying the surcharge, but with the Groupon discount it would help offset the cost. The odd thing about the “fat fee” was that I could not find out how much money it was anywhere on the balloon website. I should have called the company but I did not for some reason, probably assuming the fee would not be that much. Two weeks before our flight I got our final paperwork, which included the “fat fee” charge. Sigh… $100 extra.
While faced with the“fat fee” and on an already tight budget, I did what any irrational person would do, I started my crash diet. Ok, not really. I am an over eater by nature, so what I really did was cut back on what I consumed, drank no alcohol and walked Boomer, morning, noon and night. I had to lose at least 9 lbs before the trip. Also working against me was that the balloon ride was at the end of the trip, not the beginning, meaning I had to be on my best behavior until the balloon ride. Honestly I didn’t have any faith that I would be able to do it, but I gave it my best try.
The first week went well and I lost 5 lbs. As the second week came around I lost the additional 4 lbs. I was at my goal weight however it would be easy to gain the weight back with a few beers and tasty food while on the trip. To help keep my weight down, I also took into consideration what I would be wearing. I picked out the lightest clothing and shoes I have, only taking my small camera and planned on leaving the DSLR behind in the hotel room. I was ready for weigh in.
On the morning of our flight we woke up early as we had to be at the site by 5:30 am. It was dark and cold as we crawled out to the car. I was now worried that my light clothes were not going to be enough to keep me warm during the flight.
We arrived to the meeting site, where we were greeted by the staff who offered us mimosas and danishes. JUST KILL ME NOW – I love mimosas! Meg and I sat at the table filling out the disclaimer paperwork while I watched everyone stuffing their faces with danishes and drinking their mimosas. I was jealous… but I had to “make weight” so I did not eat anything or drink anything. My reward would be saving the $100.
Due to windy conditions we had to move our flight from flying over wine country to flying over forest and flat lands. We were then asked to pile into the provided vans and zipped off to the departure location.
We arrived to the departure area and were split up into groups. I was perplexed as now we were on uneven ground standing in a field… where they hell were the scales to weigh me? Was I about to get away with not paying the “fat fee”? As we stood in our groups of 12, our chase car driver divided us up one more time. I leaned over to Meg and said “I think he’s visually weighing us”. She also agreed.
We took a few photos before we took off, some in front of the balloon… some inside the balloon (which sort of freaked me out because what if the fabric got torn… what IF…). After some awkward photos of us were taken (they were awkward because there was lots of heads tilting and hand holding and neither Meg nor I are very touchy feely kind of people) we were ready for take-off.
We climbed into the basket where I was pleased to see that we all had a great vantage point. The pilot, Phil, maneuvered the cords and heat, which I am sure he knew what he was doing, but I stood in awe of what was going on. My concern about being cold also diminished as there were several bursts of hot air flowing into the basket as the hot air balloon floated up into the air.
I won’t lie the scenery was not much to be desired but I would rather be safe than carried off by the wind to OZ. As we were in flight we were offered champagne and cheese, which I greatly took as I was starving and it was obvious by this point I would not be weighed.
We drifted around for about an hour, over a highway, slightly closer to the ground than I wanted and landed near some electrical wires. Although Phil was in control the entire time I was still nervous about the electrical wires!
The balloon ride was an interesting experience and turned out to be much different than I expected. I did take motion sickness medication before taking off, but in hindsight that was overkill. The flight was very gentle. In fact other than visually seeing that I was above the ground, I would have never known I was floating in a basket 1800 feet above the ground (548 m).
Although I was glad I took the balloon ride I am not sure it was totally worthy of being a “bucket list” item. I would most likely not do it again unless I was in Cappadocia Turkey. But it would not be for the balloon ride, but the beautiful moon like scenery!