Fuquay-Varina, N.C. — This was my first time around hot air balloons, and boy was it eventful.
The WRAL Freedom Balloon Fest in Fuquay-Varina is a family-friendly community event dedicated to honoring those who serve our nation and their families as we celebrate our freedom.
On Friday afternoon, I had the pleasure of meeting Kenny Shumate, owner and operator of The Balloonatic, and his crew from Florida. The guys were extremely welcoming, but warned me, due to wind, our flight may be canceled.
Once I sat in on a pre-flight meeting, I quickly realized how important conducive wind conditions were to a successful flight.
Following opening ceremonies, I watched as Kenny, his crew, and a group of lively volunteers set up the large rainbow-colored balloon. It was bigger than I could have ever imagined.
Kenny remained hesitant about the weather, and I often caught him watching other balloons to see how the wind was blowing. The mass ascension began at about 6 p.m., and by about 7 p.m., Kenny decided we would be OK for a short flight.
As we waved goodbye to the festival-goers below, my nerves started to set in. There were three of us in a small basket and we were ascending quickly.
Kenny shuffled around a bit during the flight, but for the most part, being up in the air was calm and quiet. Until we attempted to land.
I quickly decided I was not comfortable with the spontaneity of a hot air balloon's landing process and chose to look away.
We waved to a group of people on their back patio as we got closer to the ground, but the wind picked up again and we were forced to continue our trip.
Kenny spotted a clear backyard and honed in on the area for landing. After hitting a few branches, and taking out a bush, we landed near the intersection of Wilbon Road and Maggie Run Lane.
Our crew in a ride-along van, neighbors, children and dogs greeted us and helped pack up the balloon and load up the van. Everyone celebrated with a bottle of champagne and a toast by Kenny.
Despite the dramatic landing, the ride was incredible. I can't wait until I get to go in another hot air balloon. But until then, I have crossed one more thing off my bucket list.