6. Ride In A Hot Air Balloon

Finding a hot air balloon ride that was within my budget proved to be quite the challenge. Even with a Groupon, most of them ended up being around $400 PER PERSON! Way too much for a balloon ride.
Since the hot air balloon ride seemed to be the most expensive thing on my list, I had to find a way to do this cheaply. Luckily, I talk about this list a lot (it probably gets really annoying…sorry about that, friends) and I have a friend that lives in Des Moines, Iowa. Which happens to be where the National Balloon Classic takes place every year. When I called about the balloon rides and they told me it was less than $200 per person, I had to jump at the chance. Luckily I’ve been meaning to get out to Iowa to visit my friend and her husband. Two birds, one stone.
It’s about a 5 hour drive to Des Moines from Chicago. And, honestly, Iowa is kind of pretty. Much prettier than central Illinois and Indiana (a drive with which I am all too familiar). I got out to Iowa and had a quick catch-up session with my friend and a tour of her and her hubby’s apartment and then we headed out to the festival.
Now, when I say festival, I was sort of expecting balloons to be filled and coming/going while we were walking around. This was not the case, but there were corn dogs so all was right with the world. It was a gorgeous midwest day, so we walked around and took in the scenery while chatting and catching up on life. Then…it was time.
It was a breezy day that day, perfect weather for hot air ballooning. The only problem was that the direction of the wind was going to blow us directly into the Des Moines airport air space. So we couldn’t leave from the field at the festival (which was too bad, considering my friend is a serious paparazzi and would have gotten some epic pics of us taking off). So we headed out about 30 minutes to Milo, Iowa. There is a farm out there that has a standing agreement with the hot air balloon company that allows the hot air balloon company to take off from their yard whenever they need to. So we got to this house, and the balloon people got to work.

The yard we took off from.

The yard we took off from.

Setting up a hot air balloon is not an easy task. The basket itself weighs 400 pounds (this will be the first of many random facts I picked up on this trip), so obviously it can’t be lifted. It sits on the back of the trailer…

…like so...

…like so…

…on round metal poles and then it literally just rolled off the back of the trailer when they set it up. Then they tip it on its side

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and hook the balloon up to it. The deflated balloon is in a cart on wheels, which they run out into the yard and then pull the sides out (the hot air balloon that we rode in is 110 feet tall by 26 feet across).

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Then they turn on high-powered fans and it starts to fill…

And it fills and fills with the air, until it gets full enough and they can ‘turn on the burners’ (which means to turn on the propane tanks).

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At this point, the basket is tied down and once the balloon is filled, everyone loads up. As soon as we are ready go to, they untie us and we are off.

Hot air balloon shadow

Hot air balloon shadow

 

The last balloon to take off.

The last balloon to take off.

From this point, the balloon ride was exactly what I expected. It really felt like we were just floating through the air. Every once in a while the burners would be turned on, but when they were off it was so quiet and peaceful. As someone that is afraid of heights, it wasn’t scary at all (except, of course, when I looked directly over the side of the basket. Which I obviously never did). I even captured some amazing views of lovely Iowa.

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One mile up in the air.

One mile up in the air.

Proof that I was actually up there.

Proof that I was actually up there.

Our entire balloon ride took about an hour, and we flew about 10 miles total. We had a pretty smooth landing and the entire balloon and basket were packed up within about 30 minutes of landing. After we landed, we headed back to the field that we started from and the hot air balloon company had a champagne toast waiting for us (which is the best way to end any amazing event!). I would recommend this entire experience to anyone. Can’t wait to go back again next year and watch while my friends fly in the balloon!