Saturday, August 27, 2016

Sometimes you have to leave the ground - to fly.

I have always maintained that riding a motorcycle is the closest you will ever get to flying, without ever leaving the ground. Although, sometimes - you have to, and it is definitely very OK to float off the ground, and soar into the sky! This occasion was my big four-O! Life supposedly begins anew at the big four-O! However, I don't feel any differently than when I hit the big three-O, which I think is a very good thing. Not that I was going to let that stand in the way of celebrating! My American family had a surprise gift waiting in the wings..and it involved a way. 

It would appear, if you have a flame thrower, some sturdy ropes, and lots of extra fabric - you can be a hot air ballooner. Oh don't forget the basket - you basket case! Don't try this at home kids! 

Meet Bob our balloon pilot. He came recommended. I was putting my life in Bob's hands. Just like you do any other pilot's. No parachutes allowed on board, and balloons don't glide either. No carry-on at all,  except your cameras. That is one solid basket we were going to be riding in. No doors latches, which could accidentally open and spill you to your death. You have to climb the walls of the basket to get in (and get out). There was an 'already been imbibing for courage' bridal party in one of the other balloons (thankfully), and they had decided to wear high heels and short skirts to a balloon ride. It was very amusing watching them climbing and falling into their balloon baskets. No pictures of that amusement - this is not that kind of a blog. :)

Within minutes, the balloons were upright and lighting up against the sky. The moon was still shining bright, it would be a little while before the sun would wake up. We were all aboard on ours, but some of the others were still loitering, perhaps a little nervous - cutting it close..

We were first off the ground! Taking off from the driving range, next to Domaine Chandon in Yountville. It was a gradual rise, including some controlled stunts like hovering us over the pond at the driving range - barely touching the water etc. 

Soon more of 'ours' were afloat. Lighting up above the Chandon Vineyards. 

Soaring above the sprawling champagne making and disseminating facility of Domaine Chandon. 

One of 'ours' buzzed us as he went by. Just like we had buzzed another before. 

Not all balloon companies are created or operated equal. The best one in the Napa Valley is the Napa Valley Balloon Co. Whose balloons we were riding. These 'others' weren't even off the ground yet. They would be lucky to catch the early sunrise! 

Finally, one of them took off and he took off in a hurry, trying to make up for the delay by acquiring altitude as fast as he could. 

Then the others of his company slowly started to float up and away themselves. Maybe they would catch the later sunrise after all - barely!

One of 'ours' had wandered off by his lonesome. Life a leaf catching a welcome breeze - rising away and getting away from it all. 

The valley was starting to fill with life and color - the harbingers of the arriving sun. This would be absolutely amazing in Fall. 

Getting ready for the first sunrise. How many sunrises are there? In our case there were three - we adjusted altitude multiple times - we witnessed three sunrises in all. 

The horizon was filling with color, and the valley was starting to filter in the light. 

The first hint and sliver of the red sun rising! 

Here he comes. That big red, yellow, and magenta ball of fire!

Floating (not quite) among the clouds in the golden hour. Surrounded by mountains, and a patchwork quilt of vineyards, mirror like ponds, and the roads stitching them all together.  

A stronger sun rises - parting the mists forcefully, making it retreat!

It would be a while before the mists completely burn off. The morning haze is routine in the valley in the early mornings. Today was one of the better days for visibility. 

After about an hour fifteen or so in the air. It was time to think about starting to head back. The wind picks up in the Napa Valley as the morning grows older, and as the temperatures rise. Hot air balloons like neither of these things - wind and heat.

All the more reason to start earlier. Pretty much all the companies have a similar cut-off time before the ambient air temperature and prevalent winds are no longer ideal for hot air balloons. The earlier you rise - the farther you might float, and the more time you would have to enjoy. 

You can see the balloons heading back and lining up for a landing. One of 'ours' was going to try to land right where he first started. I don't think he succeeded. 

The other pilot got back pretty close to where we started from, you seem him there hovering over the Veterans Home in Yountville, trying to make it back a little more north to the driving range, but being wafted at the mercy of the draft, he just couldn't make it, and had to find an alternate landing spot. 

Our pilot, I think, had a pretty good idea on where he was going to land. Preparing for landing, he was in constant radio contact with the ground crew which was chasing us. He had promised us, that we would be among the first to get back to Domaine Chandon, so we could pick the best tables for the Champagne breakfast that was to follow! :)

He had us serenly floating over the myriad geometrical patterns of vineyards, heading in for a landing. 

Not a very common perspective of the vines. That dark volcanic soil. Which makes Napa wines so delicious! 

Here, in Napa - all vines lead to great wine! :)

I love old farm houses. The tower is a re-purposed water tower. This one is particularly picturesque. I will have to find it on the ground one of these days. It has featured many a time in the local photography galleries. Now, I have a general idea of where it is. :)

Any landing you can walk away from is a great landing, this one was an incredibly gentle landing. No thuds, no bumps of any kind. Hats off to pilot Bob! Back at Chandon, we were not just among the first, but the first one's back - we had our choice of seating. It was a beautiful day - the food was great, and the champagne was flowing like water. 

We started of with Mimosas.. 

But, this was Chandon champagne we were drinking and an endless supply of it. Soon, we switched to just the champagne. Drinking, eating, reminiscing, talking, rinsing and repeating - we lost track of time, but I believe - we were there close to 3 hours!! 

A wonderful birthday gift, and a great way to start a new decade. Here is to raising our glasses for a decade full of fun, adventures, and great memories! Amen!

Thank you for reading! Cheers! 


  1. Congratulations! That is a really fantastic way to spend a 40th birthday. I hope you are blessed with many more to come!

    1. Thank you! Looking forward to another great decade! :)

  2. What a great way to celebrate 40. Happy belated birthday.

    Gorgeous pictures - such a unique view of the valley. Love that first picture before the balloon was airborne.

    1. Thank you! I have a great family - both birth and adopted, and great friends - most of whom are in the motorcycling community. Triply blessed. :)


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