Nebraska (cont'd)


Steph Mantooth


I wondered if the wind was getting set to cut loose again just as soon as I left the ground. I took a deep breath, and took a few bouncing steps forward. I uncapped one of my ballast bags to let water pour out, making me lighter and lighter with each step. After a few more steps, my balloons pulled me up into the air.


I floated up over Carhenge, and out over the broad Nebraska plain.


Aerial photos courtesy of Steph Mantooth



I drifted off to the northeast. As I rose, my speed rose steadily, until I was moving at about 20 mph. Below me, I could see Dennis and Denny, another of the volunteers, following me in their vehicles.


The land was very flat, save for the low, grayish sandhills off to the east. Arbor Day was invented by a Nebraskan named J. Sterling Morton, and was first celebrated in Nebraska in 1872 to encourage people to plant trees on the state's vast plains. 133 years later the Alliance area still seemed to have a way to go.



I relaxed a bit as I floated on, but the weather here seemed to change so rapidly, it was hard not to wonder if the wind would pick up again, and I would go dragging a few miles across the countryside when I landed. I wondered if we had pissed off the Carhenge wind gods by not flying on the exact date of the solstice.

The sky was silent, and the land seemed immense.











The signs of human presence looked very insubstantial: a house here and there, agriculture like a thin coat of yellow and green brushed onto the brownish-grey earth. To me, it seemed to be a place totally indifferent to man, a place where you might awake one morning to find every sign of human habitation gone, just a vast plain beaten flat by wind and hard rain. It was the kind of place that might drive you to construct a druidic monument out of junk cars -- or build a frontier town in your back yard or try to fly with a bunch of helium balloons -- though whether for worship, mirth or madness is anyone's guess.




Steph Mantooth





After half an hour or so, I began to run out of room before the sandhills started. I had been told that this was a difficult area to access, so I burst some balloons to start down. My course shifted to the north as a descended, and I directed Dennis and Denny onto a north/south road just to my west. I dropped in over a farmhouse, where people came out to watch me, then over the next field to the north. I directed the vehicles up to an east-west cross-road that would intersect my course. I came in low over a field of timothy hay, still moving at a good running pace. I could see one of the chase vehicles driving into the field, so rather than drop ballast to slow my descent, I touched down lightly and slid along very smoothly on my seat for about fifty feet, until crew drove up and stopped me.

And there we deflated my yellow and white balloons.



Sometimes the sacrificial flier did not return. Other years, the balloon man survived his journey, but returned to Carhenge a simpleton, dazed by his terrifying, ecstatic experience. He was honored in the community as a sacred fool, forever overwhelmed by the memory of the yellow and white balloons of the sun carrying him into the sky....


Afterwards, we drove back to Carhenge. One of the volunteers took one of my balloons home with him on top of his car. I spent some time talking to two women from the local newspapers, then went back to Liz and Dennis' house to pack my equipment for the trip home.


Summer Solstice

Crew Chief: Dennis Lee
Special Thanks to: Liz Lee, Dobby Lee, the Friends of Carhenge, Alliance Nebraska Visitor's Bureau, inflation volunteers
Photography: Liz Lee, Steph Mantooth, Rachel Gonzalez (Alliance Times-Herald), Teresa Boness, Dan Contonis








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