Up, up, and away
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.