Or, snatching victory from the jaws of despair...
I'm a member of the local hot air ballooning club and yesterday one of the pilots asked for some crew for a flight this morning. We were to meet at Old Settler's Park in Round Rock at 06:30.
So I asked where this place was and was given a map, upon which was marked two pavilions suitable for meeting up at. Off I trot to Round Rock at 05:30 this morning. It's pitch dark still when I arrive so I just followed the road into the park where I found both pavilions but nobody else, so I parked up and waited. And waited. And waited. And called the pilot - no answer. Waited some more. Drove around a bit looking for people. Phoned again; no answer. Drove around some more - by now almost an hour had passed since our allotted meeting time - and saw a balloon in the sky. DAMNDAMNDAMN Where the hell are they then?!!! Drove out of the park to find the balloons (for there were two more) inflated and ready to go, outside the park entrance, in a parking lot right by the main road.
So I careened up, leapt out of the car and being honest, was a bit upset. I had been looking forward to crewing; wanted to hang on ropes and operate fans, and felt I'd let my pilot down by not being there. He knew I was coming because he phoned me while I was en-route. Bloody maps that point you to the wrong place.
Anyway, Joe the pilot simply told me to get in the balloon... which is very nice of him since I had totally not expected to fly today.
Joe's Burner and Envelope
We lifted off and flew right over the top of the Dell Diamond baseball park, and spent the next hour flying at about 18mph and 500 feet across to Taylor, across industrial estates and housing estates, our way marked by a trail of barking dogs. Waving at folks on the ground, at cars slowing down to have a look at us. Taking loads of pictures of the other balloon which lifted off behind us. Watching cranes fly out of creeks and cattle running away from us. Watching the chase crew following us around. Marvelling at how little people had in their back yards in Hutto, just grass and bicycles (don't people plant trees around here?).
The other balloon
Joe was on his check ride so he did a couple of touch-and-goes in a nice wide field. Most of the fields around were ploughed so the landings were a bit bobbly as we hit the furrows. We had a little bit of wind steerage - different altitudes often have winds blowing in different directions - but not quite enough to put us into Taylor airport (which would have been quite cool).
Holding the balloon upright just after landing
We landed into a field just to the North. The other balloon landed in behind us. The basket tipped over a bit and we dragged for a few yards but it was all fine. I stayed put as I'd been told to do; passengers are merely ballast after all! Eventually enough air had been released from the crown of the balloon to deflate it suffiently that it would no longer be taken by the wind, and we were properly down.