Up, up, and away

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For the first 14 years that I lived in Iowa, I thought about going to the National Balloon Classic held annually in Indianola, but I never went. My first visit (with my husband, Dave) was one August evening in 2010, and it inspired me to start this blog. I celebrated by going back the next year, this time to an early-morning balloon flight, again with my husband.

And then I took a five-year hiatus from the event.

But this year I went back at the request of my oldest daughter, who is turning 30 this month. At the beginning of the summer, Katie put together a list of “30 Before 30” things she wanted to do, and the Balloon Classic was on the list.

So we went together on opening night: Katie, Dave, me, and our youngest daughter, Lauren.

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This was Friday, July 29. I’d been watching the forecast all week, and it was calling for a slight chance of thunderstorms. When we left Ames that afternoon to head down to Indianola, the sky was overcast and borderline threatening. I figured the balloons would get grounded, but we took a chance.

We arrived plenty early for the 6:30 p.m. scheduled balloon flight (entrance fee is $5 per person; parking is free). As an event regular now, I know better than to think anything’s going to happen at 6:30. Sure enough, it was around 7:30 p.m. before the pilots were given the green light to drive off into the countryside and launch their balloons. Yay! We were going to see a show after all.

Meanwhile, we were nicely entertained by Bonne Finken & the Collective on stage. She was pretty awesome; I imagined her channeling a combination of Joan Jett, Melissa Etheridge, and Pat Benatar.

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And, of course, we had to check out the food vendors, which I described in one of my earlier posts as “state fair style.” That hasn’t changed, but I do think the food selection may have improved, with vendors including Hotel Pattee, a wood-oven pizza offering, and roasted sweet corn. But there was still a lot of unhealthy food to be had: blooming onions, funnel cakes, deep-fried mac and cheese, “ribbon taters,” and the like. I ordered a BALT (bacon, avocado, lettuce, tomato) sandwich without the “B” from the Hotel Pattee stand, and the guy didn’t even look at me like I was a lunatic. And I got an ice-cold Fat Tire from the beer tent.

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The balloon action was fun, with several of them inflating in the balloon field right in front of us – including a silly pirate-parrot balloon. The competition that evening included trying to tip over an outhouse with the balloon basket after flying in from the countryside. I don’t believe anyone knocked it over, but who really cares?

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The sky was colorless for most of the evening, until the sun began to go down. And the weather was unseasonably cool for the end of July; I was actually chilly, even in a light jacket. It was really fun just to sit there and watch the balloons and the people and enjoy a nice summer evening.

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The National Balloon Classic ran from July 29 through Aug. 6 this year and featured music each night, competitive balloon flights, a parade, and other activities. Morning balloon launches are free (bring your own chair, a cup of coffee, and a newspaper!) If I go again, I want to experience either Dawn Patrol or the Mass Ascension Balloon Flight. And maybe Nite Glow Extravaganza. And fireworks.

OK, I definitely need to go to this thing every year.

By the way, here are links to my 2010 and 2011 blog posts.

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