I was bummed that unfavorable weather prevented my hot air balloon ride in Sedona, but I wasn’t willing to throw that item off the list in favor of something easier to check off. Sure it was a setback, but this was something I could and would do. For years I had wanted to experience a balloon ride, perhaps even ending up in the Land of Oz. Hell, I would have been excited for a trip down a yellow brick road.
As it turns out, I am glad the original ride was canceled because it allowed me to have a bonus adventure: seeing my mentor, the Fonz. The Fonz just happens to live near Temecula in Riverside County. Never heard of it? I’m not surprised. It’s about two hours north-east of San Diego and is known for its wine country, Native American reservation, and hot air ballooning. So when the Fonz offered up his guest room and the chance to finally meet his family after all these years, I couldn’t say no. Armed with cookies (the Fonz is a sucker for baked treats) and a giddy excitement, I kissed the kitties goodbye and headed down to Riverside County.
And what a fun time I had!
The Fonz has by far the coolest family ever. Mrs. Fonz is an absolute delight and her siblings are some of the funniest folks I’ve ever hung out with. Not to forget the two strapping mini-Fonzies who are going to be heartbreakers. We cracked up over stories, jokes, and played the most hilarious game of Clue there ever was. I can’t believe it took so long for me to meet such a great family.
I stayed awake much later than I should have and couldn’t sleep because of my excitement for the early morning balloon ride. The sky was still dark when the alarm went off and it was still dark when I left the house. The twenty-minute drive to Europa Village Winery was a little rough without coffee, but I made it there in time for the 6am check-in time.
After getting signed in for my Grape Escape Hot Air Balloon Adventure, I was pointed in the direction of caffeine and had just enough time to take a few scalding sips before we loaded into the truck in search of a launching spot.
Balloons rarely take off in the same location each trip. Everything is dependent on the wind speed and direction it’s blowing. We drove to a couple of locations before settling on one. Our driver/pilot was also the owner of the company and a joy to be with. He was funny and cracking jokes left and right. We learned that the tours scheduled for the day before had to be canceled due to the weather and that we were lucky to be able to come out when we did. There were three balloons in total and we were in the small one that could accommodate about eight passengers and one pilot.
We watched as our pilot and his assistant carefully unloaded the balloon and basket from the truck. The process for getting the balloon ready was interesting to watch and before we knew it, it was time to climb into the basket and ascend into the clouds.
Hot air ballooning is not as thrilling as one might think. It’s exciting to be in the air in this bucket tethered to a giant balloon, but if you’re looking for a rush of adrenaline, you’re not going to get it. The ride is smooth and slow. It’s a calm activity to check out the landscape below you. We flew over homes, vineyards, and many junk yards. I was amazed at how many rabbits we saw from the sky. Either we were much closer to the ground than we looked or they grow some big bunnies out in Riverside County. For an hour, we floating through the clouds, rising and falling as the fuel burned off. I’m sure on a clearer day, the views would have been absolutely breathtaking. Especially if you were flying at sunrise.
After the balloon carefully landed, we made our way back to Europa for the traditional celebration of a hot air balloon flight: a champagne toast. Mimosas flowed and danishes were nibbled on as each truck returned to the winery. We received certificates as honorary aeronauts and recited the balloonist’s prayer. I even got my very own cake since I was celebrating my birthday.
The hot air balloon ride was the perfect end to my 30-before-30 list. Sure, it was after I turned the big 3-0, but it was done in the same month so I figure it still counts. The list was complete, I had entered a new decade, and so much of my life had changed in the last year.
Now, on to the next adventure.