October 9 and 10, 1997

The routine became getting up at 5am, having coffee and getting my bagel and all bundled up into the van before 5:30. We'd take off around then, and on the way get into contact with Deb and Merry by CB. We'd trick the parking guys into letting us by and parking at the top of the hill rather than down in the regular crew parking, and then wait up there for Merry to show up so we could all climb onto the pick up and get a ride down to the field. We'd arrive just before the pilot's briefing, which was around 6:15 and drop Richard and Walt off there while the truck would then go across the field to concessions. Everyone would pile off, get what they liked and then Merry would drive us all back to the site to await the completion of the pilot's briefing, which usually ended with the weather.

The wind was just whipping cold that morning, and while the pilot's briefing said that the upper elevation winds were slower, the ground winds were so high and so fast that Richard was not real happy with flying in the arena area. Landing was going to be a bear and since there were a lot fewer landing sites on the arena side it would be really hard to do the landing. He was also going to be flying a number of cub scouts and their leader, and kids in a rough landing would not be a good thing to have.

So we went over to West Mesa to see if the conditions would be any better. The troop leader had disappeared sometime during the wait to see about the conditions, so we drove around the arena area to see if we could find him. No luck. Lots of people noticed my blue hair as we drove along, a few laughing when I'd tip my hat to show the bright turquoise underneath. There was a team called the Blue Team which flew a set of blue balloons that were all crowded together, and when I tipped my hat, they all cheered. <laughter> There was also one guy, who was all huddled up in his coat that murmured to the woman next to him, "Hey, lookat her... it's so cold her hair turned blue!"

It was only as we left that Merry and Richard found him at the gate, knowing that we had to come out that way and knowing that he had to meet up with us for the cub scouts to fly. When we reached the place that Richard wanted to take off from the other crews there were flying a kite. Not a good sign.

We finally decided not to go there, either, and turned back to the field, where we got to see the balloons compete for the drop. That was really keen to see, but also really emphasized why it was that Richard didn't want to fly, because as the balloons came closer to the ground they started to go really, really fast. A pilot would likely not be able to really land so much as drag for hundreds of yards.

After the competition was over, we had chili dogs in the high wind, and champagne. The kids liked the chili dogs and were mollified from not being able to fly. Everyone also signed one of the champagne bottles for me because they forgot to do that when I flew. That was cool.

Then we went back to the house and I went to sleep. John and David went up Sandia peak, Paul and Jan went to finish fixing his plane as the part came in, and Walt went out shopping.

Cathie came home, took a nap and then the four of us went to meet Debbie, Kevin, Linda, and Charles at Laffs, a local comedy club. We had pretty good food there, and the comedy was really good. Jerry something, Jason Lee, and Steven H-something. Steven was really, really intense and really, really good. We had a lot of fun and laughed a lot and whooped a lot and choked a lot on some of the really, really off-colored jokes; but he also had a lot of really good stuff that tied simply into his everyday life. Substance abuse, Catholicism, and his fairly recent wedding made for some really interesting material.

It was too smoky there, so I wasn't breathing too well when I came out, but I was smiling and got to sleep with no problem.

We did the usual, "We have instruments that we have to take out to the field." trick and the rest. Got back to the slot and found out that it was Box conditions today. Hoorah!

One of the reasons flying hot air balloons in Albuquerque is so popular is because of a weather phenomenon that happens near the Sandia mountain. Air currents at a lower altitude go in nearly the opposite direction of air currents at an upper altitude; therefore, if a balloon wishes to go in one direction, they go to a certain altitude and if they wish to go back, they simply change how high up they are. This is called a box because the balloons flying in such conditions look like they're tracing out a box. Conditions like this allow for multiple passes for the competition things.

The box, today, wasn't quite lined up for the field, correctly, so we went within the one mile limits on those that wanted to participate in the competition and set up in a field outside of Phillips' plant. Big Bird went nearly straight up when let go and Richard took it to a height where it just hovered for a while and then slowly moved to line up with the field. The chase crew just parked for a while, watching all the balloons as they went up. The Special Shapes came out, en masse, as they had most of the field to themselves for the day as none of them were in the competition and they mostly needed the room to get up. The Golden Pagoda and the Clipper Ship were just astonishing to actually see up. With all the round balloons it was just weird to see something as square as the Pagoda going up like that and gleaming all of gold in the sun.

For a long moment, while Richard was still in the air, all the other hundreds and hundreds of balloons swirled around him. Since the balloons went up in waves, there were far more up, in the Box that day than any other day, and they were thick in the air over the field, and when I looked up, they were spread all 360 degrees around me. There's no picture that can capture that, nothing that can give that experience of watching a sky thick with huge balloons floating about in all directions, swirling in patterns to show all the air currents. It was absolutely awesome.

They flew over the field and after being up for so long, when they finally started coming down again, the wind started to pick up a little. They landed in a field behind the General Mills plant, but when we finally fought our way through traffic, it wasn't accessible through GM. So we had to go all the way around and ended up in a spare RV park for the Fiesta. They were fairly still at the far end of the lot and since the wind was picking up, we dumped it there, and packed up and wandered back into the Fiesta field.

We then lined up the cars to provide a wind and sun break, ate much food including a beef brisket sandwiches, drank plenty of champagne, sat and talked. Yum. David got baptized and pinned, and then we went home. Had a call from Charlie and we organized getting together that night and then I slept for a while. Showered, and was all ready for Charlie and he was nearly an hour late. Oh well. Actually given the phone conversation there is a possibility that he wasn't, as it could have been 4:30 and 5:30 or something like that, rather than my reading it as he'd be there at 4:30 or something...

Cathie's Aunt and Uncle came while I was napping and they were very robust and very social but they made me want to just run away with just how extroverted and energetic they were about pursuing conversations with everyone. They're probably really great at meeting a lot of people, but it just made me really tired. So I was glad when Charlie came. John hugged me bye and Cathie gave me her cel phone and the number for where the party was, just in case. Charlie commented, later on, to not know if he should be insulted or what by the fact that they thought that I would need a cel phone with me. I just grinned and hugged him.

The wind had picked up during the afternoon and Charlie noted that the evening's Special Shapes Rodeo was off, completely. The wind was too high for anyone to fly and that the predictions said that the next few days would only be getting worse.

Charlie took me to his favorite place for green chili cheeseburgers with green chili cheese fries and I had a red chili cheeseburger with onion rings. Meat on a burger, yum. Then we had fun driving up the far side of Sandia as the sun set and we talked and talked and talked and when we reached the peak I was coughing from the altitude and from dehydration. It was *COLD* and the winds at the peak were so fast and so hard that they just cut right through everything. So Charlie lent me his huge black leather jacket and we walked the few steps to the viewpoint.

It was very nice as one could see all of Albuquerque spread out below us. Charlie was also courteous enough to act as a wind block for me and we surprised each other with the fact that he could rest his chin on my head. Me, because there has never been someone tall enough to do that to me, and him because he's never run into someone that was tall enough for him to do that to. That was pretty funny.

He stopped and bought me a Gatorade and got himself some water, and then we went to his house, where I got to see where he MUSH's from and got to meet Kat, his wife, and her friends whom she was gaming with. That was cool. They've also got an outside the house shed like area that contains two rooms whose walls are nearly entirely lined with SF and F books. Keen.

He then took me back to Cathie and Walt's before 10pm, so I'd actually be able to get up again in the morning. All the other folks had just arrived back at the ranch, so we sat around, talked a little, and then went to bed, ready for the morning.

© 1997 by Liralen Li

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