After I posted on Monday, Jim McManus of the Escapees Boomers group organized a trip to the Boxing Bear Brewery a few miles down Alameda Boulevard from the RV park. I rode with Jim in his Jeep. We had seven people – five men and two women for the brewery tour at noon. The tour was given by the brewmaster, Justin. This is a relatively small brewery using a 10-barrel system. A standard beer barrel is 31 gallons, so they brew around 300 gallons of beer per batch – the exact amount varies depending on the grain bill and how many hops are used.
Fermenters on the left, 10-barrel tun on the right
They had some brews aging in bourbon barrels.
Aging brew in bourbon barrels
It was a nice tour and we each had a couple of pints along with lunch. The lunch special includes some really tasty sandwiches – I had the Cubano – and a pint of beer for $10. Not a bad deal! The beers were very good and a good time was had by all. We came back to the RV park around 2:30pm. It was nap time for me.
Tuesday morning I was up before 5am. Brad picked me up at the entrance to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Park. After another odd breakfast in the Pilot’s Pavilion – a New Mexico dish called Frito pie – we went to the pilot’s briefing. Frito pie is a bowl with a handful of Frito corn chips topped by chili with beans, beef and cheese. Breakfast of champions.
Once again we had iffy wind conditions. The dawn patrol balloons remained grounded and a yellow flag was flying – meaning the field was closed and no one was allowed to lift off. Our pilot, Brad, had to decide if he wanted to go offsite on the chance that the field would open and he could fly in the day’s competition or stay at the field since there was a good chance the competition would be cancelled.
The competitions involve a target and test the pilot’s skill. The object is to fly over the target and drop a bean bag on it or toss a ring on a pole – things of that nature. Usually the target is on the balloon field. Competitors have to launch a minimum of one mile away from the field and aren’t allowed to lift off until all of the other balloons have left the field.
Brad decided to stay at the field. Our friends, Tom and Kris Downey (Open Road 365), arrived yesterday – they have their RV in the VIP parking area inside the Balloon Fiesta Park and they came to our launch site. They were excited to be here – it’s their first time. I explained what was going on to them and also told them they were only seeing a fraction of the normal number of balloons due to the wind concerns.
Around 7:45am, the field went green and balloons began to launch. The day’s competition was cancelled. We scrambled and assembled the balloon and inflated quickly. Brad was in the air by 8:10am. The wind out of the north had the balloons moving briskly to the south. At 8:23am, the announcement was made to close the field at 8:30am. It was getting too windy.
Brad made a short hop with his two passengers. We picked them up a few miles south of the field around 8:45am. It was short day of flying. I saw a few balloons landing at speeds that looked a little scary. Anything over 10-12 mph can be hairy.
After lunch, I spatchcocked a chicken with poultry shears Donna bought recently. The Oxo poultry shears made cutting the backbone out of a whole chicken a breeze. This was the first time I tried spatchcocking a chicken myself and it was easier than I expected. After I removed the back bone, I flattened the chicken and cut the wing tips off. Donna marinated the chicken in olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, fresh rosemary, salt and pepper. I cooked it on the Traeger and it was delicious. I set the Traeger to 350 degrees for 40 minutes with the chicken breast down, then I flipped it over and raised the temperature to 425 for 10 minutes to crisp the skin.
Traeger chicken with roasted potatoes and asparagus
I slept soundly and the alarm woke me at 4:45am this morning. I walked across the street to the entrance to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Park where I waited for the crew to pick me up. I talked to Johnny, the security guy at the entrance. Johnny has been working that post for 17 years. He always has a big smile and a wave for everyone entering the park. He knows many of the participants by name after all these years. Lots of people bring him food or coffee which they hand off to him as they enter the park.
On Wednesday morning, the conditions were much better. They would have the competition today, but competitors would launch from the field and make a drop on the target south of Alameda Boulevard in the RV park right in front of our site! Donna had a front row seat from the coach!
Balloons inflating and launching
Special shapes balloons
The famous Albuquerque Box was working today. Wind near the ground and up to a few hundred feet was moving the balloons south. At higher altitudes there was a wind shear and the wind brought the balloons back north – northwest. By working the balloon up and down, the pilot could move back and forth over the park.
After we launched the Heart’s A’Fire balloon, we piled in the chase vehicle and drove out to the south entrance – where I was picked up earlier. We waited there to see where Brad would end up. Lots of balloons were flying low overhead and I shot a few photos.
Coming through low over the trees
Special shape in flight
Lots of balloons
Pretty in the early morning sunlight
After flying low over the target, Brad flew the balloon high and went north past the Balloon Fiesta Park. Then he dropped down and we lost sight of him. After a while he contacted us on the radio and said he was on track to land back in the park. We drove back into the park and saw him coming in. The traffic was slow and I was afraid we wouldn’t get there in time. It wasn’t too big of a worry though – with so many crews in the park, someone would help them.
While we were stopped in traffic I decided to bail out of the truck and run to where I thought he would land. Brad’s wife, Jessica, said she would run with me. When I said run, I meant jog. Jessica ran. The balloon landed before I reached their landing point. Jessica got there a good 30 yards ahead of me! Jessica is 37 years old and I’m on my last day of 59 – that’s my excuse.
After we packed the balloon, I found out we had another task. We were taking the balloon to the school where Brad and Jessica’s three older children attend. We would set up for a static display and demo for the school kids.
While we were setting up, Brad noticed a tear in the envelope. The tear was nearly two feet long. The fabric was torn near a pulley for the top release. When we landed at the park, a guy I’ve never seen before helped us take the balloon down. It appears that he didn’t know what he was doing and pulled hard on the rope which must have been jammed at the pulley and tore it.
After the demo we packed up again and went directly to a shop called Aerco. They are an FAA-approved balloon repair facility. We unloaded the envelope and they will have it repaired by the end of the day.
It turned out to be a good thing we did the demo – if not, we wouldn’t have discovered the tear until we set up Thursday morning and the day’s flight would’ve been scrubbed.
Tomorrow’s forecast looks good. Hopefully they have it right and we’ll have another great day of flying on my 60th birthday. I forgot to mention this morning’s cold temperature. It was 48 degrees at 5am. Just before sunrise the temperature dropped to 37 degrees before it started climbing again. This afternoon as I type this, it’s 75 degrees outside. Thursday isn’t supposed to be quite as cold in the morning and we’ll see mid-70s in the afternoon again.
*Just so you know, if you follow one of my links to Amazon and decide to make a purchase, you pay the same price as usual and I’ll earn a few pennies for the referral. It’ll go into the beer fund. Thanks!