New Hampshire (Cont'd)

 

 

I drifted past woods and fields, and up the slope of a large hill on the edge of Pittsfield. There were a number of fields where I could have landed, but at the top of the hill there were a number of houses with large fields on all sides. I radioed crew to get up there. I knew that there was a wind shift on the surface that would take me off to the east. However, I still dropped in too early, and instead of making it to the nice fields at the top of the hill, I came up just short and headed across the tree-covered hillside, just a hundred feet or so short of the cleared area.

 


Just missing the hilltop

 

 

I flew on, and the scattering of cleared fields near Pittsfield gave way to more and more densely wooded areas. Occasionally I would see a brief gap in the trees containing a house, but nothing large or directly on my track. I passed to the west of a dark black pond surrounded by marshes and trees. Since the roads were all arched over by trees, I could not see my chase vehicles, and they could not see me. I reported my position relative to that pond, and to another larger one I had glimpsed over a ridge to the south.

There didn't seem to be any more places to land out ahead. In the back of my mind, I began to go over contingency plans, like purposely treeing myself wherever I guessed there was a road, and waiting for crew to come get me -- pretty unthinkable for a hot-air balloon, but a reasonable if ignominious option when you're flying a disposable balloon.


oh sh**

I considered going higher, which would give me a better view of landmarks and potential landing spots; however, if I was high, I might miss my shot at any potential landing site that came up, and might use up a lot of my manuevering margin of balloons and ballast if I tried to dive in fast and had to abort and go back up. I opted to continue fifty to a hundred feet over the treetops -- a little unsettling, in that all I could see was a rolling green ocean of foliage, but from that altitude I could definitely hit any field I came up on, and we could figure out how to get my crew out to me once I was down.

Meanwhile, my chase vehicles had split up and were trying to guess my position from my description. I knew I was generally headed south toward Jenness Pond, but there was a small ridge between me and it, and cruising at the treetops I could not yet see it. David in one of the chase vehicles told me that they were on a road that ran around the shore of the pond, and that I might be able to put down there. I was clipping along at 5 or 6 mph now -- not a problematic amount of wind, since I was virtually guaranteed to have trees as a windbreak wherever I landed, but I didn't want to be going much faster than this.

When I finally crested the ridge, I could see the pond -- but it was too far to the west for my present track. However, out to the east of the pond, I could see a couple of small fields in among all the trees. I described their position to crew, who seemed to have no idea what strange planet I might be talking about. However, in a minute it was clear that I had a pretty good line to the nearest field, and a quick spit test showed that the winds down to the treetops were all the same direction. I radioed crew that I was landing.

Past the ridge, the terrain dropped away, so I was now a few hundred feet up. I released a balloon and fine-tuned my descent by dropping a little ballast. The little grassy patch among the trees stayed at the same angle in my sight as a drifted in, indicating that I was heading right for it. The wind direction held steady as I dropped in and my descent was right on target.

I just cleared the trees at the near end of the field, and to avoid a clump of trees in the center of the pasture, I released a few more balloons to drop in quickly, releasing ballast at the last moment to land lightly on my feet. I reported I was down on the radio, and in less than a minute, the first of my crew were running up from the road.

 

We obtained permission from the landowner to deflate the balloons in his field. Stan Bailey, one of the Rotarians who had helped with the inflation and joined Ernie on chase, was first to volunteer to get in my harness and go up on tether -- it's never clear who will want to do this, but it's always fun to see people show a little taste for adventure. Several local families drove up, and we spent an hour letting any of them who wanted to go up on tether, before we put the balloons away. One of the families had owned a local farm for many generations; they showed up at the balloon rally that evening, and brought me a bottle of maple syrup from their trees.

 

"Live Free or Die" is a little blunt as mottos go, but to their credit, the people of New Hampshire have yet to change it to "Live Free or Practice Conflict Resolution Skills", or any such modern reworking. Perhaps it has endured because, more than just a call to arms, the motto tells us that freedom involves risk, and that life without freedom is not living.

Or so I think, and never more so than than when I'm in the sky with my balloons.

 

Celebration XXII

Crew Chiefs: Ernie Hartt, David Tanzer
Principal Crew: Stan Bailey, Jenny Wolf, Dan Nachbar, Tom Chayer
Thanks to: Pittsfield Rotary Club, Donna Keeley, Ron Cassidy

Photography: Barry Nation, Ralph Simonds, Dan Nachbar, Jenny Wolf, John Ninomiya


David, Ernie, Jenny

 

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