It was nearing our scheduled 7 a.m. launch time, and pilot David Wakefield was busy with last-minute details: checking rigging, test-firing the burners, tethering the balloon to the bumper of the chase vehicle. And he was doing it all with a grin stretching from ear to ear.
Such is the life of a balloon pilot during the Great Reno Balloon Race. Safety is first, but fun runs a close second. And Wakefield was obviously having fun.
“When you love something this much, it never gets old,” he said. He ran from one side of the balloon to the other, all the while trading jokes with our fellow passengers and doing the “work” of preparing for our ascent in the Harrah’s-sponsored balloon.
Thursday’s media day event was a scaled down version of what visitors to Reno’s Rancho San Rafael Park (map) can expect this weekend (Sept. 11-13). About two-dozen balloons were set out in the park’s green pastures, propane burners blasting hot air as the colorful nylon bloomed all around us. My first ride in a balloon offered perfect conditions, as the sun peaked over the Virginia Range to the east. It was majestic.
Our route took us in a box formation about 1,500 feet up where we mingled with other balloons and traded positions with fellow fliers. The silence is the striking thing – interrupted only by the occasional burner blast that would give us our lift. From our vantage point, we could see all of the Truckee Meadows, with the cities of Reno and Sparks laid out before us. We floated east, then south above the University of Nevada campus. With predictable wind, and luck of the draw, a draft brought us back almost directly to where we started.
With a master’s touch, Wakefield set us down about 100 feet from our original launch site. And with my first flight under my belt, I stepped out of the basket, grinning from ear to ear. This would never get old.
The Great Reno Balloon Race 2009
- When: Sept. 11-13
- Where: Rancho San Rafael Park, Reno
- Cost: FREE!
- Time: Events starting at dawn
- On the Web: www.RenoBalloon.com