There were farms with fields covered by netting, for the cultivation of ginseng.

Another farm had gone into the auto wrecking business, raising a bumper crop of rusting cars.

Several ultralight airplanes circled me curiously for a while.

My balloons carried me over tidy little dairy farms....

And a mysterious Wisconsin crop circle!

 

 

 

After two hours in the air, I had traveled about twenty miles north from the Wausau airport. The sun was getting low and the shadows were lengthening on the countryside below. My chase crew were criss-crossing their way to the north, making their way from road to road that crossed my path.

I saw an open field out ahead, on the other side of an east-west road I would be crossing. Ernie told me that it was calm on the ground, although at about three-hundred feet my GPS still showed me as moving at 15 mph, an uncomforatble speed to be dragged around at. I released a balloon to start on my final descent. I sent crew out ahead, confusing them with some bad directions so they drove past the place I wanted them to turn.

 

I continued to drop in, and at 200 feet my speed dropped to 12 mph, and then to 8. By that time, crew had turned around and arrived at the field I was targeting. I was flying over a field of small trees; ahead was the road that crew was on, with powerlines along one side, and beyond that an empty field.
I slowed my descent by dropping a little ballast, so that I would clear the power lines by a respectful distance, but still be low enough to land on the other side of the road.
As soon as I was past the powerlines, I burst another balloon to drop in. Ernie was waiting in the field on the far side of the road. I tossed my drop line to down him. He brought me to a stop and reeled me in.

 

Just a few minutes later, we were surprised when some of the Ladies of the Full Moon drove up. Unbeknownst to my crew, they had been following me as well. A number of local residents also pulled up, so we had quite a crowd. We let everyone who was interested get in my harness and float up on tether to enjoy the beautiful still evening from the sky.

 

 

Then, as the last light was fading and the fireflies were coming out, we put away all the balloons, and headed back toward Wausau. It had been a very long day. That morning it had looked like months of planning were going to result in just a brief hop across the airport, but at nightfall we were returning from a successful two-hour, twenty mile flight.

I reflected that it might be nice to have a hobby that didn't depend so much on the weather. For that matter, beyond just weather, the success of one of my flights depends on everything from the interest of balloon festival organizers, to the punctuality of large numbers of volunteers, to the beneficence of the local FAA -- sometimes it seems remarkable thatI ever get into the air at all. However, I had to admit that the constant suspense about this or that factor ruining all my plans made the successes even more sweet. A balloonist's life is full of ups and downs.

 

Crew Chief: Ernie Hartt
Principal Crew: Tom and Linda Wheeler
Crew: Wausau Ladies of the Full Moon (and their Gentlemen)
Special thanks to the Wausau Area Balloon Rally, Steve and Judy Woller, Christine Kysely, and the Ladies of the Full Moon.

Photography: Linda Wheeler, Jordan Brost, Ernie Hartt, Christine Kysely, John Ninomiya