Enjoying the ride

Tall balloon

The quiet surprised me the most.

The first time we took a hot air balloon ride (over Napa Valley, back in our dating days of 2012), we were in a large basket with at least 10 other adults. It was crowded, everyone was chatting — and Spencer I wound up in different compartments on our ride.

(Side note: I was somewhat convinced Spence was going to propose on that fateful ride, but that moment would come six months later. Also, if he had wanted to pop the question in that balloon, it might have been mighty awkward. We would barely have been able to reach each other and hug.)

Back on our honeymoon last November, Spence and I booked a second ride over Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Having had so much fun the last go ’round, we were hoping for another memorable experience. Alas — cold and wind kept us grounded that trip, meaning we had to reschedule . . . for nine months later.

We certainly could have gotten back out to Woodstock, Va., before last weekend, but it’s a long trip — and I knew we’d be in the area for an annual ham radio event Spencer loves on Sunday. The stars finally aligned for us to get airborne once more.

Climbing into the basket (I have stumpy legs — it’s a process), I felt a rush of nerves as our balloon was untethered and the ground crew below us began to fall away. When a hot air balloon is released, everything happens really quickly; one moment you’re on the grass, the next you’re airborne and looking down at the world you thought you knew.

Everything looks different from above.

Blowing up balloons

Mountain view

Church sunset


I thought I’d be scared, but somehow . . . I wasn’t. On paper, this looks like exactly the sort of experience that would push me into a fetal-position panic attack (extreme heights, lack of protection/parachute, risk of pilot error and, um, horrible fall to imminent death), but I didn’t even hesitate to ungracefully get in.

Not even after signing my life away in a series of legal documents.

Unlike our large ride in California, only five of us — including the pilot — shared this basket. Without the occasional bursts of fire from the burner keeping us afloat, it was silent . . . or close to silent, anyway. Even from high above we heard cars on the highway, cicadas in trees, dogs barking below on working farms. It was peaceful . . . almost holy.

No one said much. We were smashed with strangers, for one, but more than that? It just didn’t seem like the time. I was too busy gazing at the mountains — ones we were almost even with, it felt — and taking in the low clouds cresting the darkening mountain peaks.

Though only in flight for about a half hour, our view from above was totally different from our sunrise trip in Napa — but just as exciting.

Hills and house

Shadowy hills

Red house

Balloon landing

And this time? I totally wasn’t analyzing Spencer’s every movement, waiting to spot the glint of a diamond. That was a beautiful thing.

We’re married now, I thought. This was an experience we were scheduled to have had in the early days after our wedding, but I suddenly felt grateful it hadn’t worked out.

We needed this break. From the house, from our worries, from work. Though it hasn’t been so very long since our Yosemite trip, the summer has been brutally busy — and this balloon ride, though brief, was almost medicinal.

I didn’t even panic as we sank toward the ground, our basket just clearing the treetops as our pilot prepared us for landing.

For once, I hadn’t worried about the ending.

I just enjoyed the ride.


32 thoughts on “Enjoying the ride

  1. SOOOOO beautiful!! I need to stop watching videos of hot air balloons crashing into power lines and book us a trip. It looks magical!


  2. Beautiful photos! You are so brave! Three days ago, I freaked out on the flying elephant ride with my son. There’s no way I’m ever getting into a balloon. I’ll admire your photos and story from a very safe, solid living room =).


  3. I am terrified of heights too, but we went on one of these in Napa and I wasn’t scared at all. Not sure why. It is such a peaceful thing to do. Love the view!


  4. What amazing pictures. I’m glad the weather held out for you. Its amazing how lovely things are when you stop worrying about what happens next and live in the moment.


  5. Fabulous pictures, and such a beautiful narrative, I felt like I took the ride with you! I am glad you and Spencer had the opportunity to relive the magic of this experience.


  6. This is a beautiful post and made me so excited to be back in VA… look at those mountains! They aren’t so far away! This is definitely something I’d like to do one day. Can you imagine those mountains in a month or two when the fall colors start setting in???


  7. I think this writing is the closest I will get to riding in a hot air balloon. It is impressive that you resisted the panic! There is no way I could do that without panicking! I would feel so out of control. But your pictures are beautiful and your description of the ride makes me feel like I was there. ā¤


  8. I love seeing the world from above – and it looks like you had the perfect view from your balloon.
    It’s only been a year but I remember very well how exhausting buying and moving is; I’m glad you guys got to have this little piece of peace amid all the craziness!


  9. I was hoping to make it to this place for the balloon rides but I had to be in New Orleans for the week. Glad that you had fun. I’m hoping I can go to the Statesville one in October.


  10. Loved reading about your amazing experience. I would definitely hesitate to get in a hot air balloon, for all the reasons you mentioned (fetal position- haha!), but your pictures are so peaceful. I may think twice about it one day. Thanks for sharing!


  11. I love this post + photography so much! I’ve always dreamed of going on a hot air balloon ride… the sights you can see from the sky are unmatched. I also love seeing you slide into the warm comfort of marriage — I remember back when you two were just dating, and it’s been so beautiful to see your progression forward in life šŸ™‚

    “I was somewhat convinced Spence was going to propose on that fateful ride, but that moment would come six months later.” — Isn’t this the worst/best feeling?! Over the past 4.5 years, I’ve had several moments where I think my guy is going to propose (even if I know we don’t have the money yet). There’s just something about certain moments when the magic in the air is just right… you can’t help but wonder if that’ll be “the” moment!


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