Still looking up


On your bucket list: Ride in a hot air balloon.

Standing on a precipice looking down, I get what can only be called “tingly feet.” In addition to my sweaty palms and upset stomach, my toes literally begin to tingle — almost as if they know what it’s like to fall.

It’s a pins-and-needles sensation I know all too well. Like many a reasonable human being, I’m afraid of heights. I remember willing myself to step out onto the glass floor of Toronto’s CN Tower and feeling like I was going to be sick. In Chicago, looking down from atop the Sears Tower (or Willis Tower? When did that name change happen? Oh. 2009) gave me a raging case of tingly feet. It’s vertigo to the extreme.

So why do I then insist on partaking in adventures like hot air balloon rides? Because I don’t want my nerves to run me. Like most of my weird anxieties, I’m locked in an eternal struggle trying to act like a rational person . . . so I can’t let my mind and its always-on panic button keep me from trying things. If my crazy brain had its way, I would be locked up tight in my childhood bedroom clutching my sock monkeys and a list of pros/cons for taking a shower. The point is to open the gates and seize the day, just as the Newsies insist.

So when Spence and I were in California, we signed up to take a hot air balloon ride in Napa Valley. Rising for an awful 4 a.m. wake-up time that morning, I tried to piece together why the balloon escapade seemed like such a brilliant idea — but when we made it outside of Winters, Calif., and stepped into the brilliant sunshine, I remembered why I’d been so excited about the ride in the first place.

We almost didn’t get to go. Stepping out of the shuttle van on site, thick fog was rolling into the valley. Clouds hovered, blocking the colors of sunrise, and our group of six worried we wouldn’t have time to take the balloon ride and get back with our tour group by 9 a.m. Some schedule finagling fixed that, though, and I was back to being giddy when we arrived to see the giant, colorful balloons inflating against the crystal blue sky.

Up in the air, I wasn’t thinking about heights — or falling. I wasn’t thinking about fear. I was looking out at the city in the distance, at the farms and fields below us, at my boyfriend with a wide smile on his face. “I can’t believe how quiet it is,” Spencer said, and he was right — nothing but vast and epic silence as we drifted on a breeze, all of us snapping photos and staring with open mouths. It was the most at peace I’ve felt in months.

The next time you’re updating your bucket list, grab your pen — or your typing fingers — and add “HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE” in fat block letters. Don’t overanalyze it. Even with a bumpy landing that sent me sailing against the rigid basket, I was pumped enough to have gone straight back up into the air.

And I never did get tingly feet. I was only looking out — and up.



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32 thoughts on “Still looking up

  1. These photos are SPECTACULAR and so is your story. I call it tingle toes and its terrible and I, too, refuse to succumb to it I’m putting this on my bucket list, for sure.

  2. Those shots are so pretty. Having no fear of heights I would love to ride in a balloon. I really should start doing some of these ‘bucket list’ things before it’s too late!

    Willis Tower? Nah, we of Chicago still call it Sears Tower. They may have changed the sign on the building but they can’t change what we call it.

    • Good to know it’s still the Sears Tower, Leslie! I hate when the names of iconic buildings/places get changed. That’s a pretty common thing around D.C., but most of us steadfastly refuse to use the new monikers.

      • Glad to see DC is stubborn too. We don’t like any of our icons changed. Marshall Fields, which was 150 years in Chicago, was bought out by Macy’s a few years ago and people still call the store ‘Fields’. There is even a group and a web site, plus a boycott, to change it back.

  3. What great pictures! I always wanted to do it too, and when we finally did, it wasn’t anywhere interesting like Napa, but just over a bunch of flat barren farm land. It wasn’t the best scenery, but the ride itself was pretty neat!

    • We lucked out being in a pretty location, Jill! Our original flight was supposed to take us over the vineyards, but the fog derailed that. I’m glad we managed to see something else cool — and the view of Sacramento in the distance was really neat.

  4. At Carl’s company family day one year they were going to let people take tethered “balloon rides” and I planned to give it a try but the weather didn’t cooperate that day. I’m not sure I”m as brave as you are, but the scenery certainly is magnificent!!

  5. Brava on tackling a fear head on! I so v much want to go on a balloon ride — in Pittsburgh there’s an annual balloon ride/race and my family would always brunch outside so we could watch the balloons pass overhead. It looked like such fun!

  6. Yeah, I am of the tingly feet ilk. And like you, I refuse to let it hold me back. Maybe deep down I like the feeling of near death, nausea, and faint, who knows! But for our 10th wedding anniversary, my husband and I did go to Napa/Sonoma and did ride in a balloon. I had some initial fear, but after you get up there in the peaceful sky and see the farmland and God’s bounty, you just don’t care. It puts you in the ultimate Zen state.

  7. What a great trip!! I signed my fear-of-heights-self up for a hot air balloon ride in New Zealand, but the weather was against us. It’s still on my bucket list, though! I climbed Half Dome in Yosemite last year for the same reasons — can’t let my nerves run me!

  8. OMG so beautiful. I’m so jealous. This is on my bucket list. Problem is I have to talk Mr. Whimsy into it.

  9. Woo hoo! You did it! This has been on my bucket list for so long and I know it will happen eventually. The Huz thinks I’m nuts (in his words: You are climbing in a little wicker basket and then lighting a fire, why would you do that?), but I still want to. This look magical.

  10. You know, this USED to be on my bucket list, and then I took it off, because as I got older, the idea just got scarier…you’re making me reconsider though!

  11. I want to go on a hot air balloon ride so badly! I know I don’t imagine romantic things very often, but this is one of those things I imagine something special happening on. My first kiss with someone special, someone asks me to be their girlfriend…. hell, maybe my future second husband proposes 😉

    I have high hopes for this ride.

  12. Beautiful photos! So glad you conquered your fear and did it. I had a chance to fly in a tiny plane once, but when it came to actually getting in I started to worry. Then I realised I’d hate myself if I didn’t try it, and it turned out to be one of the best experiences ever. The world is so stunning from above.

  13. Thanks so much for this post. I, too, have a horrible fear of heights. I’ve always wanted to try a balloon flight, but figured my nerves would get the best of me and I wouldn’t enjoy the trip. Thanks for encouraging me to try it anyway. It’s definitely back on my bucket list – and I’ll remember to look up. 🙂

  14. I applaud you, Meg, for going against your fears! The result is beautiful in pictures and it must have been even more breathtaking in real life.

  15. Besides the quiet I love the feeling when you start to rise that you’re in one place and the world is dropping away … can’t really describe it right, but it’s a great feeling. I love balloons.

    Awesome photographs.

  16. Glad you did this! Hot air balloons are so incredible. It’s one thing I love about living in Albuquerque – ballooning year ’round. We have a huge fiesta here every fall, but Albuquerque has a unique wind pattern that doesn’t exist anywhere else on earth, making it ideal for ballooning. So, this reminded me not to take it for granted! It’s a beautiful thing to do, and flying in one is unlike anything else. I suggest it to everyone!

  17. Oh, that’s amazing. I’ve been obsessed with the idea of riding in a hot air balloon since I was a kid – your post just reminded me how much I still want to do it (and how I really need to work on making it happen!).

  18. Gorgeous!!!! I have a love of hot air balloons that dates back to my childhood. I grew up in a rural part of NJ (yes, there is such a thing) and we had 3 acres of property. When balloons were aloft and looking for a place to alight, they frequently picked our yard. The neighbors would come running and the balloonist would give my parents bottles of champagne for the landing courtesy. We were offered mini-rides and the view was spectacular. The open flames did scare us, though. These days, the biggest balloon festival in NJ is held close to my childhood home. :). Love you photos–stunning as usual! Xo

  19. This sounds like such fun! I’ve wanted to do this forever, but my father dampens my spirits by telling me it’s dangerous. I think it’d be worth it, though.

  20. Riding in a hot air balloon is on my bucket list too! Thanks for sharing your pictures and experience. It makes me want to do it all the more!

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