So there I was in a hot air balloon gondola floating over the countryside of Bath, with fields of rape seed in stunning yellow in the distance.
The pilot said we were at 1500 feet. Once the ascent had begun, the mood in the gondola turned quite. We could catch odd sounds drifting up–a concert on Queen’s Square, a dog barking–but whenever the propane burners were not firing, the surroundings were remarkably silent. I knew, of course, that balloons simply drifted with the wind. The pilot had some control, increasing altitude with more heat or descending simply by not heating. For much of the trip, we had, he reported, been drifting south, and after an hour’s flight, he began planning his descent. While we drifted, the support team maintained constant walk-in-talkie contact, following the captain’s attempts to find a suitable field for a landing. From the gondola I would occasionally get a glimpse of the pursuing LandRovers.
The Bath Balloon enterprise had cordial relations with many area farmers, willing to let balloons settle into their fields. The challenge was finding a field that fit the into our slow descent, and from the back and forth discussion between pilot and crew, I figured the winds were not cooperating. We might have to land in unknown territory. At one point, while descending, the wind shifted and we quickly rose over a small clump of trees, brushing the basket with the upper branches.
Finally, the captain decided to go to ground in unknown territory. He had to move carefully, since in the evening light, we could see a field of cows slowly moving toward a barn for milking. One, a bit more inquisitive, pondered our existence, but the real concern for the pilot was not stampeding the cows and upsetting the farmer.
After many propane gas pulses to alter altitude, the gondola actually touched down in the middle of a dirt track between two pastures. The support crew was close by and caught a glimpse of the landing.