Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Six Thousand Feet in the Air

Chose promise, chose due.

 I promised to tell you all about my hot air balloon trip, and this is where it happens. This post is going to be long and full of pictures. You have been warned!

My first flight plan was cancelled due to bad weather. You don't fly if it's raining, or if the ground is wet. It'd be possible, but it takes more heat to rise, since water makes the balloon heavier. Plus, the view from the sky isn't as clear, and it's nowhere near as cool. So, we waited for the sun and a call from our trusted pilot.

The sun, it seems, decided to come one Saturday morning... at 5:30 am. Which means I was up at 4 am, a feat in and of itself! Honestly, though, I'd been semi-awake since 2 am, alternating between proper sleep and eyes-wide-open-with-excitement. Balloon Ride, my kid mind said. Proper research! my writer mind added. Happy times were to be had today.

So we got up, went there, and then moved with the four other passengers, the pilot and the rest of the crew to our take-off site. They took out the basket there, tied the enveloppe to it and only then did they begin to remove the enveloppe from its bag.

There it was. My first writerly heart attack.

When you read that something is X feet tall and X feet wide, you think "Wow, that's big."  But "big" isn't a concrete measure, and in my mind at least, it doesn't really click until I've seen it. Just like it's one thing to know the Eiffel Tower is tall, another to stand underneath it and look up. Or one thing to be told that northern lights are pretty, and another to see them. Some concepts are too abstracts to grasp with a solid exemple. Hot air balloon bigginess is one.

So we weren't in the sky yet and I already had one small plot problem to solve. But I took heart: that's why I'd come (in addition to the 'having fun' part).

Besides, I wasn't going to dwell on it. Not when they asked for volunteers to hold the enveloppe's mouth open!

Me with a crazy face, holding the enveloppe

So now I know how it strains the arms to hold it, how freaking complicated it'd be to take off alone, how hot the air gets once they use the burners to warm it (that's why the gloves) and about how long it takes. And yep, that's another balloon preparing for take-off behind us. We were three that morning.

Unlike the enveloppe, the basket was a bit smaller than expected. We weren't squeezed inside, but any tighter and it would no longer have been comfortable. But it was comfy. Also, you don't feel a thing when you take off. You're talking and enjoying yourself, and suddenly the world lowers and you wonder why. Then you look down and see this:

That's the third balloon. It was quite smaller
Once you're in the air, the entire world shushes down. Well, okay, not for the first half hour of the flight, because I kept asking questions to the pilot. "What's that rope?" "And that big red one?" "How does it feel when you go higher? In winter? In bad weather?" "How much propane do you need?"*

Once I shut up, though... complete quiet. Nothing but the soft whistling of gas heading to the burner, and the occasional WHOOOSH when he pushed the buttons. No cars, no birds, no people. Only you, the sky and the world, 6000 feet below.

Now, enough talking and more showing. This is what it looked like from above:

That's Quebec City on the other side of the St-Lawrence River

I call it the Brocoli Forest
We're at 3000 ft now. Nope, they did not crash in the river
Despite the fact that my mind kept wondering how I was going to fix my newly found plot problems, this hot air balloon trip is one of the most relaxing experiences I've ever had. It's an instant slow down. More than anything I've done in vacation, it took me out of my speedy-speed life and allowed me to take a breather.

The landing was super smooth too, and we shared champagne with the crew and the farmer whose field we'd used as a landing ground.

That's my pilot, in his super cool hat. He's awesome, funny and talkative.
My plot problems are now fixed, thanks to the boyfriend's many thoughtful suggestions and all I've learned on the trip. It's turned a cool scene into an absolutely epic one, and added a new storyline branch to the novel. The balloon trip was a great experience, both for the novel and for the pure awesomeness of it.

Oh, and just in case you'd consider flying around Quebec City or Montreal, my pilot is Jacques Brouard. He has his own little enterprise called Québec Montgolfière and has been flying for more than 20 years now. I recommend him. Seriously.

That's the little story of my brief time in a balloon. You can ask all the questions you want in the comments if there's something you wanted to know, and that I forgot to say. :)

*The last one is super important, considering propane is a rarity in my world.


  1. Claudie, that is just beautiful! It looks amazing! I love your FWOOSH! photo.

  2. Very cool pics. That wouldn't be my vacation choice, but I do see the appeal. :)

  3. Jen -- I have a video that corresponds to the FWOOOSH picture. :D It is really cool, because you can see the air shimmer due to the heat.

    Hektor -- Of course you see the appeal. How could you not? ;P

  4. Research and adventure! Sounds like my kind of fun.

  5. great adventure. Glad your extended break from the internet was beneficial. I plan to take one this summer.

  6. "Broccoli Forest." I love it!!! :) Thanks for sharing your trip, I enjoyed living vicariously through it. :)