I ended my last post by saying the final day of the 2016 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta may be a bust. It was raining when I went to bed Saturday night and looking at the forecast, I fully expected to hear raindrops on the roof when my 4:30am alarm sounded. I was surprised to find it wasn’t raining and dragged myself out of bed.
Brad picked me up at the Fiesta Park entrance. I had a nice chat with Johnny, the security guy there, while I was waiting. Hanging out with Johnny for 15-20 minutes every morning for nine days straight gave us a chance to get to know each other.
Breakfast burritos and excellent locally roasted coffee from Piñon coffee was served to pilots and crew at the pavilion. A great start to the day. They do a great job of feeding about 1700 pilots and crew on weekdays and up to 2200 on the weekends.
The pilot’s briefing had weather info that caught me by surprise. It seemed like a nice morning with favorable winds, however there was some ground fog to the east and the possibility of more fog in the river bottom as the dew point and temperature were close.
After sunrise, Brad gave the go-ahead to unload and assemble the Heart’s A’Fire hot air balloon. We had it cold inflated and I expected Brad to fire the burners at any moment when we were given the command to stand down. I didn’t know what was up but soon found out that the field had been closed due to the fog bank to the east. Ground fog can be very dangerous for flight as it makes it impossible to see and identify obstacles for landing.
We were soon back at it, inflating the balloon. I really like manning the throat of the balloon and watching it inflate. It can be taxing at times as wind or the weight of the sponsor banner makes the balloon want to roll on the ground. It’s important to keep the envelope properly oriented with the basket so the lines don’t twist and tangle. The lines connecting the basket to the envelope are numbered and we strive to keep number 10 and 11 centered on top as the basket lies on its side. I had some muscle soreness every day for the first week of the Fiesta but now I’ve worked myself into shape – just as we’re finishing up.
Brad’s passengers for the day were a special pair of siblings – brother and sister. They are the children of a good friend of Brad’s that’s an avid extreme hiker – more of a rock/mountain climber than hiker from what I understand. About three weeks ago, he disappeared while hiking 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado. Search and rescue operations searched for eight days before they were suspended. The kids haven’t been out of the house since his disappearance. Brad thought it would be good for them to get out, have a flight in the balloon and enjoy a day. He contacted their mother and invited them to go up.
We were given the thumbs up by the launch director and they were off!
Final launch of the 2016 Fiesta
We chased the balloon over to 2nd Street, west of the field. Brad had it working as he flew high and went north over the Sandia Pueblo Reservation, then dropped altitude and came back south down low. In fact he went low enough to dip the basket in the Rio Grande River – what they call a splash and dash! He did this a couple of times.
After more than an hour of flight time, he landed near the water diversion channel – about 150 yards from his landing the day before. This time he was on the west side of the channel and the access road had a locked gate. Lucky for us, a Sandia Tribal Police Officer had a key and unlocked the gate for us. Last year I heard horror stories of how the tribe treated balloonists and crews that landed on the reservation. This year there seems to be much more understanding and cooperation – I haven’t heard any bad stories, only good news.
After packing up the balloon, we had our usual tailgate party. Donna and our friend, Kris Downey, joined us. One of the crew members, Darren, thoughtfully lent us his Ford F150 truck so I could transport the Traeger grill, table, chairs and a few odds and ends from our site in the RV park to our trailer. Thanks, Darren! It would have been a real hassle to walk the stuff all the way to where we dropped the trailer.
I napped and watched football for the remainder of the day. At 4pm, Donna took a Lyft ride to an after-Fiesta party. She had a good time and was glad she opted for Lyft instead of riding the Spyder. We had another thunderstorm pass through. Besides, she could enjoy a couple of glasses of wine without worry. Brad and Jessica drove her back to the coach.
This morning I woke up a little before 6am. It felt luxurious to lie in bed for 15 minutes, then get up. I felt like I’d slept in. After a regular breakfast of eggs, bacon and toast with raspberry-ginger jam, I started packing up for the road. I had a few things I needed to take to the trailer. On my way walking back after the first trip, I saw Jim McManus with his head inside the battery compartment of a motorhome belonging to a solo woman RVer. I stopped to see what was going on. She had a problem with her house batteries not charging. The generator had tripped the breaker. When I checked it, the breaker didn’t feel right, the switch didn’t snap into place like it should. I worked it a few times and snapped it vigorously and it closed like it should. We checked it with a meter and it was charging.
On my next trip to the trailer, I saw Jim messing with a compartment door on the same coach. The door wouldn’t latch and they were trying to come up with a temporary solution. I checked the latch and it worked. The problem was that the squared-off U-bolt that it latches to wasn’t adjusted properly. The woman who owns the coach said she just had that compartment door replaced. It appears as though the shop didn’t lock down the adjustment nuts and they worked loose. Easy fix.
I like to help people out when I can, especially if I know what the answer to the problem is. Helping out here put me about 15 minutes behind schedule – but hey, what schedule? So I thought we could leave by 9am. What’s the big deal? I didn’t have to be anywhere at any special time. By the time I hooked up the trailer and loaded the Spyder, we pulled out at 9:30am.
We didn’t have any special destination in mind. I was thinking if we could make it to Holbrook, Arizona we could find a place to boondock for the night.
We’re not in New Mexico anymore
On the road, we thought about what we needed to do in the next three days. Tomorrow I want to stop in Mesa, Arizona at the RV Renovators to go over the work we need to have done to repair the damage caused by the suicidal deer in Idaho. Then I’d like to continue on to Casa Grande where I’ll have service work done at Speedco and a wash job at the Blue Beacon there. This had me thinking I should try to get closer to Mesa than Holbrook.
We ended up driving about 340 miles – a lot longer than we usually do – and are dry camped at a casino in Payson, Arizona. We started the day at an elevation of 5,000 feet above sea level in Albuquerque. Our route across I-40 took us to the Mogollon Rim in Northern Arizona – there’s some disagreement on how to pronounce Mogollon. This is probably due to various tribal dialects, Spanish speakers and settlers in the area. Most seem to agree it’s muggy-on. The Mogollon Rim brought us to an elevation of more than 7,700 feet. Now we’re right back where we started sitting at 5,000 feet above sea level.
Tomorrow night we can find another boondock spot – maybe the Elks Lodge in Casa Grande. Then we’ll move on to our little piece of desert in California west of Yuma/Winterhaven for the night.
It will be nice to have a quiet, secluded night before we move on to city life for the next three months in San Diego. I don’t think I’ll be posting for a couple of days as we take care of business.