For the past many years, there’s an unusual sound that can be heard around Howell, Michigan around the third week of June. It’s an odd sound that’s combines scraping and whooshing. It’s the sound of the propane burners on a hot-air balloon. It’s time for the Michigan Challenge Balloonfest.
Yes, there is an element of sport here. The balloonists are competing in a form of “race.” For those of us on the ground, the shear beauty of a sky full of gorgeous, hot-air balloons goes way beyond any traditional sport. This is a sport that is completely at the mercy of Mother Nature. Rain, storms, high winds – all can delay or totally pre-empt launch. Steerage is pretty much taken over by prevailing breezes (at differing altitudes). This is not something anyone would attempt in less-than favorable conditions. Even the blimps (which are a different “animal” – not hot-air balloons) which have steering capabilities don’t lift off in poor weather.
For those of us who are ground-bound, the sight is awesome. Tens of multi-colored, almost silent (at altitude, you almost cannot hear the burners) entities ascending (and sometimes, descending – which I will add to later) into a clear blue sky, is a sight not easily matched. I may have a special affinity for balloons, as for many years my late dad and the company he worked for provided propane to balloon races in Florida.
I am including several photos taken over the years of balloons at Balloonfest. My favorite two events are the “glow,” (which is done in the evening when the pilots turn on their burners and fill their balloons with hot air and light against a dark sky) and the actual lift off of all the balloons on their chase.
“Pengwind” is my very favorite balloon of all time. I have been an fan of penguins as long as I can remember. I was thrilled to see this lovely balloon with an adult/parent penguin on one side and an adorable baby on the other.
So, what’s this about “descending?” A few years ago, I heard a loud, scraping noise out our back door. This was quite odd, because our home backs up to the non-public portion one of the area metroparks. This wasn’t a sound that I was used to. The sound got louder and louder and I finally saw that one of the balloons was descending almost into a neighboring street. This wasn’t a good idea as it’s all heavily wooded and could have had a disastrous outcome for balloon, its inhabitants and for the neighbors’ trees. Luckily, the pilot got enough hot air back into the balloon for it to gain enough height to get it to a more rational landing spot. Never would I have imagined having a hot-air balloon in my back yard!
If you ever get an opportunity to go to a balloonfest, go! Most “fests” (like the one in Howell) have additional activities (arts/crafts sales, refreshments, shows, etc.), but the balloons, themselves, are what fascinate me. One of these days, I may just be able to conquer my fear of heights and go up in one. It’s on my bucket-list!