|Photo by the author|
We had to be at the meeting place before 5:30am. Which means I had to be up well before sunrise to allow for the additional one and thirty-minute drive time to Napa or stay in Napa the night before in order to make the meeting time. Ted and I showed up at the Napa Valley Marriott Hotel and Spa lobby, where the balloon company set up shop, before 5:30am. There was continental breakfast (coffee and pastries) waiting for us. We then checked-in with the Balloon Company representatives and signed a waiver - a contract that rule the balloon company out from any injury liability. After everybody had finished filling out the paper work, a company representative announced that there was plenty of low fog in Napa valley so that we could not do the ride over the Napa Valley. The launch would be moved inland, at Winters - a forty-five-minute drive from Napa. The riders would not see vineyards but farmland instead. We were given the option to cancel, but I was already up and ready to go. Nobody cancelled. We loaded up into the van and were driven to the new location.
During the drive to Winters, I was miffed that we were not ballooning over the Napa Valley. I talked to the other passengers and found out that all of them came from out of state. One couple came from Toronto, Canada and another couple from Hawaii, so there was really no recourse for them but to go on the ride. I thought that the company could have told the riders the afternoon before that there was a better than average possibility that the location could change. I understood that the ‘weather condition’ was specified in the terms and conditions and that no one could control the weather, but I felt that the company had been in this business for a long time and could have told us in advance rather than minutes before the ride. It seemed that the company could easily use the ‘weather condition’ as an excuse to do the ballooning somewhere else. Do they ever launch and fly above the Napa Valley, I wondered.
As far as the ride itself, the ascent was exciting, but once we were up, it felt as if we were not moving at all. According to our pilot, we covered around 6 miles at a speed of 2 miles per hour. It felt to me as if we were suspended up in the air, looking down into the same view just as I could be on top of a hill or a building looking down. So for me the ride was not worth the $250 - $300 fare.
Then our pilot talked to us about landing. He said that depending on the wind, he could land off-course. He mentioned that he once had to pay for damage for landing on a cornfield. It reminded me when I was just learning how to drive; I drove the car into my sister neighbor’s yard in Napa and ruined the sprinkler system. From an economic perspective, it made sense to me why the balloon company would do the ballooning over farmlands than vineyards in the Napa Valley.
Just as our balloon was first to ascend, it was also the first to land. Our balloon hit a couple of walnut trees, but the landing was softer than I anticipated.