National Balloon Classic: The event that launched the blog

Today marks the anniversary of the day one year ago when I had my “eureka!” moment and decided to start an Iowa travel blog. I was sitting at the National Balloon Classic in Indianola watching several dozen balloons take off and land on the acreage in front of me, and I thought, wow, there are a lot of really fun things to do in Iowa.

So I decided it would be appropriate to come full circle and attend the Balloon Classic again this year. I’d been thinking it would be cool to go in the morning – balloon flights are scheduled for 6:30 a.m. daily throughout the duration of the festival (July 29 – Aug. 6).

I got up this morning at 4:30 and left the house by 5 a.m. Turns out this early departure was completely unnecessary. We arrived at the festival grounds at 6 a.m., and literally NOTHING happened until almost 7:30.

Well, maybe not nothing. I got to listen to a little kid next to me singing, at around 7 a.m., a made-up song that went something like this: “When’s it gonna star-art, when’s it gonna star-art?” I hummed along with him, feeling his pain. And I got to watch four young lads on my other side enthusiastically shouting and running up and down the hill…over and over and over. Not that this annoyed me.

The start time is pretty arbitrary. I remember last year arriving at the evening balloon flight and sitting for a very long time before any balloon action began. But at least there were food vendors and a band to keep us entertained. This morning was very slow, as we watched the fog lift and waited for something to happen, balloon-wise. I wished I had my Sunday newspaper, but it hadn’t been delivered when we left the house at 5 a.m.

Finally, at a little after 7:00, the pilots got the green light from the balloonmeister and took off in their trucks. About half an hour later, balloons began to appear over the southern horizon. For the next hour, it was a spectacular show, with around 70 balloons heading back to the field in front of us to attempt to drop bean bags onto ground targets before rising back up and heading for the next target.

The Indianola Balloon Classic is a regional competition in which balloonists earn points toward their national standing. In addition to the morning balloon flights (free admission) and evening flights ($3 per person or $10 per carload), the week-long Classic features balloon rides, bands, “Nite-Glow” balloon flights, a parade, and fireworks. The festival is in its 42nd year.

Indianola is about 12 miles south of Des Moines’ southeast side on Hwy. 69. If you go, bring a lawn chair. If you go in the morning, you might want to bring along some breakfast and a thermos of coffee because the vendors are not selling, as I imagined, breakfast burritos and mini-donuts.

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