“May the winds welcome you with softness. May the sun bless you with its warm hands. May you fly so high and so well that God joins you in laughter and sets you gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.”
– Balloonist Prayer
There is nothing more picturesque than looking up in the sky and seeing a giant, colorful hot air balloon meandering by. You can hear a gentle whish – as the fire shoots up and fills the balloon with air. A balloon ride is an opportunity to see the world from a different angle and to experience the tranquility and silence while floating high in the sky. Locally, adventurers looking for the thrill of hot air ballooning will find it in Holly at Balloon Quest, Inc. Captain Phogg Balloon Rides. The company has been around for nearly 50 years and recently put on a display at Groveland Oaks County Park in Holly. Five hot air balloons were launched, much to the delight of spectators, and the evening ended with a Balloon Glow when the balloonists returned from their flight.
Balloon Quest Manager, Captain Eric, has been a pilot for many years. “Every flight is a true adventure,” says the Captain. “You go where the wind takes you; there is no other aircraft that floats with the wind.” A balloon ride is appealing to many because it is tranquil and moves very slowly. And, people who fear heights need not be concerned. “Actually, the experience is peaceful and the basket gives you a very secure feeling,” Eric explains. “People with the worst fear of heights are the ones who have the biggest smiles when the flight is complete.”
The pilots at Balloon Quest, Inc. are very experienced and they offer 15 balloons of all different shapes and sizes; but only five are flown on a regular basis as some are specialty-built. The best time to fly is the first hour of daylight and the last light in the evening, according to Eric. “I recommend mornings – weather is usually more favorable in the morning, but sunset flights are nice, too.” The weather plays an important factor as to when a launch will take place. It has to be a dry day with light to calm wind and no rain or storms in the forecast. Balloon rides are available year round, but fewer people fly in the winter months because it is more challenging to find a good day to fly. “But every year, I take groups out over ice-covered trees,” Eric says. The best months to fly are June, July and August; but September is also good, weather-wise.
While you can’t control your direction during a flight, you can control where you land. You can only change the path by flying lower or higher, the Captain explains. “All flights end up somewhere different from where they start,” he says. Of course, the opportunity for taking photos is amazing from a hot air balloon. “The view is unsurpassed!” Eric exclaims. “It’s so wide open.”
A chase team follows the balloon while it is in flight. “We have a large group of people to choose from, some who are regulars,” Eric reports. If they volunteer for ten flights, the chasers receive a free flight. They help with the inflation and deflation of the balloon and are there when the balloon lands.
Before taking one of Capt. Phogg’s balloon rides, guests are shown a five-minute video with instructions on how to climb into the basket and how the balloon takes off and lands, to help eliminate any fears. Guests are welcome to help inflate the balloon. Then, they climb on-board for an approximately 45-90 minute flight providing views of sheer beauty – over lakes and wetlands – wherever the breeze takes them.
After the flight, guests receive a Flight Certificate and have a champagne toast – a long-standing tradition. There is actually a reason behind the champagne toast, dating back to France in the 1780s, says Eric. Early balloonists were not met by friendly landowners in the French countryside, so the champagne was used as a goodwill offering to the farmer whose field the balloon had landed in, with the hope that the farmer would put down his pitchfork or sword.
Capt. Eric says riding in a hot air balloon is a thrill matched by no other. “It’s an experience of a lifetime,” he shares. “The feeling of floating with the wind is amazing. You are a part of the breeze.”
Did you know?
According to Balloon.org, the first hot air balloon ride occurred on September 19, 1783 and was launched by Pilatre De Rozier, a scientist. The passengers on the 15-minute ride were a sheep, a duck and a rooster.
Photography by Eric Dutro