On the fly

By , June 17, 2013 6:42 am

Yesterday I got to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time…


go on a hot air balloon ride!

Note: most pictures by Steven (can you guess the smart phone ones?). Click on most pictures to see larger.  


Somehow, Steven and I heard about the Great Galena Balloon Race, and were excited when we saw it worked out for us to make an overnight trip out of going to the event. At first, we thought we would just watch the balloons launch, go the associated car show, and enjoy the festival… but a few days prior to going, we decided to actually sign up for a balloon ride as well. 

Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! I was so excited, I couldn’t contain it.  I am not sure why I am drawn to spending time in the sky (plane rides, helicopter rides, skydiving, hang-gliding later this summer…), but for some reason, I am! Are you drawn to these “air” activities as well?!

We arrived at the event Saturday night.  Because of weather conditions, not as many balloons were able to launch – just the two main ones that people were getting rides on that evening. We both really enjoyed seeing how the balloons are inflated.


They lay them out, 


use gas powered fans to fill them up with air, 


then being filling them up with hot air from propane tanks (closer picture of this below). 


Once they are up, the people have to bust a move to get in the basket!



I had never been so close to a hot air balloon or seen how one was inflated, so I was really enthralled by the whole process!




We had a sunrise balloon ride scheduled for 5:00 am on Sunday. As hard as it was to get out of bed after only a few hours of sleep, I was excited about the spectacular views we were going to see. 

Only! One problem. There were supposed to be two sunrise balloon launches, but when landing one of the balloons the night before, its basket got damaged by a fence. So we had to do what they call a “hop” – the first group would go off in the (non-damaged) balloon and we would chase them in the van (I told Steven we were like storm chasers <— me so funny…)  then they would land in a field and we would quickly unload and load one person at a time and take off. 

I was disappointed that we were in the second group and wouldn’t have the sunrise views, but it turned out for the better because we got a longer ride! Which I will tell you why below…

We got to watch the balloon blow up again, but up close this time!



And they were off!


Our “chase” didn’t seem like it took that long…


and it was quickly time for the “hop”!


It is interesting that the basket started to tip like that when the first group landed, because our group had two smooth landings. Yes, two. Ha ha. 

We not so quickly (ha ha) unloaded and loaded one at a time, and took off! We stayed lower to the ground (400′ above) for the first twenty minutes or so.


We were amazed by how smooth the ride was. And the propane tanks were not that hot… although they did drip from time to time. I noticed at the end that one lady had a white cardigan on, and it had spots all over it. Oops. 


Anyways. The views were just beautiful. The fields, forests, farms, rolling landscape… the country is so beautiful to me. And we saw quite a bit of wildlife too. Lots of running deer… and lots of noisy cows. They would moo so loud when we would go over. I wonder what they were thinking!


The ride was really comfortable. Very smooth, as I said. You stand the entire time. There is not a lot of space to move around (we had eight people on our side of the basket) but I didn’t feel jammed or anything. The air temperature was nice, and we didn’t have any issues breathing. 


Eventually, we soared up a few thousand more feet. And flew among the clouds for a bit. 


 So, so peaceful!



Our balloon pilot, Andy, was super charismatic. He knew a lot of random trivia, and shared it throughout the ride (we learned a lot about how hot air balloons operate!).

It wasn’t until the night before our ride that Steven and I wondered how the balloon would get back to the launch site – as you just mostly go where the wind takes you. That is when we realized we would be shuttled back. Duh. 


Because Andy flies in this area often, he knows most of the land owners and has agreements with some about landing on their property. But since we were doing a “hop,” we were kind of going in to uncharted territory. 

While we were flying, he would communicate with the ground crew following us. When it was time to land, he asked them to go talk to the land owners and see if it was okay if we landed on their property. 


So we prepared to land – holding on to ropes inside the basket and with our knees bent to brace for impact. 

Ha! The landing was nice and smooth – no issues at all!


Only… the crew never got permission to land in that spot (the land owner wasn’t home). Andy didn’t want to upset anyone, so we went back up and tried to find a different spot and get permission from someone else. He told his crew to tell the land owners they could have a free balloon ride if we could land. Ha! I would say yes to that!

So we went back up to look for a new spot to land. I wasn’t upset! We were getting an even longer ride! Ha ha!

We eventually landed in a field with tall grass (so that is why they tell you to wear close-toed shoes – I am happy that I did!). They still couldn’t get the land owner’s permission (also not home), but they talked to the neighbors about it. 


And with that, our ride was over. Well, after a van ride back, and celebratory champagne (at 8:00 am? Why not?!).

I knew that this entire event was started to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), but I didn’t realize until we were on the ride that Andy was the one who started it for his son. How cool is that?! And what an event it has turned out to be. I think they are in their 12th year! And Andy’s son who has diabetes is part of the balloon crew (they run out to grab the basket when it lands and keep it from tipping over, and load the balloon back up when the ride is over). 

I am anxious to see how much money was raised for JDRF!

Anyways… I am leaving out a lot (like the kid on the crew that got shocked by an electric fence near our landing spot) but dang, this is already long enough. And I wanted to share some other photos from the weekend:

Hanging out with the traffic directors at event parking:


Enjoying a steam facial from some fa-jay-jays:


Making new friends:



Trying a vegan restaurant in Rockford on the way home:


Following this sign on the way home:


Almost! They were sold out. Darn it!


54 Responses to “On the fly”

  1. how exciting!! That’s a great picture of you and the horse and well the one with Steven as well!

  2. Declan says:

    Whenever I see a hot air balloon, I think back to an old Alvin and the Chipmunks tv movie where they race around the world and part of it was in a hot air balloon!

    Maybe you were a bird in your last life!

    That bird face mask is just creepy and I forgot what I was going to type.. thanks

    • kilax says:

      Hmm, for some reason I cannot recall that tv movie. I was thinking about Around the World in 80 Days… or whatever. Weren’t they in a hot air balloon?

      You don’t like my new mask?! 😛

  3. Emily says:

    What an incredible experience!!! Hot air balloon feels to me like something you see only on TV or in the magazines, so how awesome that you got to participate in person! I absolutely love all of your pictures, especially the ones showing the shadow of the balloon on the horizon. So peaceful!

  4. Lindsay says:

    Aww, it would have been nice to finally meet you! I live in Rockford and so enjoy going to Pig Minds! I’m incredibly jealous of the hot air balloons. There’s a big festival near where my brother lives in southern Illinois, no rides but just everyone lighting up their balloons at night & such. I’m gonna have to keep an eye out for this event in Galena for next year for the husband and I.

  5. Marcia says:

    What a fun weekend! I love watching hot air balloons, it never occurred to me to actually ride in one. My mom did and they had a mega crash landing so that may have something to do with it. I agree with Michel: love that pic of you w/the horse. And of course the fa jay jay one. Haha!

  6. kelsey says:

    OMG! Sounds like an AMAZING weekend!!! I’m so glad you had fun! you look SO fab in that yellow shirt!!

  7. abbi says:

    Wow, looks great! Beautiful photos and I love, love, love the first one! I’ve never been in a hot air balloon, I’m a little uneasy with heights so not sure how I’d be…though I have been sky-diving!

  8. Alyssa says:

    I’ve done that before in Galena! I think I was about 12 or 13 when we did it, but it was very cool, although I didn’t get any champagne at the end. I remember hoping that our balloon would blow across the Mississippi but I think we went northeast from Galena. Good thing that area is so pretty!
    I’ve been shocked by a few electric fences in my lifetime. It’s shocking lol.

  9. What a fun weekend! The photos are GORGEOUS! (And I’m loving that free facial with your meal hahaha!)

  10. Xaarlin says:

    All of your photos are fantastic! You really captured the essence of the balloon ride 😉 I’m so happy you and Steven had a wonderful time. I need to remember this event for next year. Gosh Galena looks so pretty an peaceful. You really do love heights and being up in the air. I loved the balloon ride we went on but am uneasy about helicopters and planes. Would you ever sky dive?

    • kilax says:

      Thank you! I wonder if you guys would like Galena! There is a touristy area with lots of little shops, restaurants and bars. There are also trails (that I have not had any time to explore) and a river for kayaking/etc. We really like the hotel we stay in – DeSoto House – it claims to be the oldest hotel in IL! Where are the pics from your hot air balloon ride? I have been skydiving 🙂 http://www.ilaxstudio.com/blog/2008/07/12/donk-yeah/ The question is… would I go again. Ha!

  11. How exciting! We had a hot air balloon land unexpectedly in the middle of the road up front of our house when I was growing up. That’s the closest I’ve gotten to one. It sounds amazing to actually go in one!

    • kilax says:

      Oh gosh! That must have been so exciting! There was a little kid at our first landing and I wondered if he thought it was cool 🙂

  12. Kandi says:

    I’m so jealous!! I’ve been wanting to ride in a hot air balloon for a few years now!! Love all the photos and that it was all for a good cause.
    I also like your shirts and jewlery in this post!

  13. what a weekend! those pics are breathtaking! honestly gave me goosebumps. i’ve always wanted to do this, but still in the process of convincing d. maybe your pics will do the job 😉

  14. J says:

    So jealous of you! I have wanted to take a hot air balloon ride for years! I used to go with my parents to the lift offs all over town – now they don’t really have them anymore in the summer 🙁

  15. Ashley says:

    I used to go to a hot air balloon festival in NJ growing up. I’ve never been in one but have it on my bucket list! Such a fun experience!

  16. jan says:

    SO COOL! You were pretty close to our house (we are an hour from Galena). I’ve always wanted to go up to the balloon fest but haven’t been!

  17. Pete B says:

    Beautiful, beautiful pictures! It looks like you were in Europe over the weekend. The only thing I can compare this to is when I jumped off of a mountain with a parasail instructor in Austria and we floated over the Alps. It looks very similar.

  18. Christina says:

    Hahaha! I laughed out loud multiple times at this post!! My favorite was the fajita steam facial. I bet that is really good for your skin.. 😉

    Your ride looks like it was so much fun!! I would love to try that sometime!

    • kilax says:

      Yay! I am happy to make you laugh! Let’s get fajita steam facials for your bacheolorette (sp?)!

      Do you think Will would like a ride? I think you would love it 🙂

  19. Meghan says:

    This looks amazing! I have always wanted to go! Mike and I looked into a trip in Napa but it didn’t work with our schedule. Bummer! Looks like you had an amazing weekend!

  20. GAH. As a world class height-fearer, hot air balloon riding is nowhere near my bucket list. Pretty sure I’d be curled up in the fetal position in the basket the entire time being all, “Pleasebeoverpleasebeoverpleasebeoverpleasebeover.” Hahaha. But I do very much like seeing hot air balloons! There’s a big festival during the summer not too far away from where I grew up, and it was always so cool to see the balloons when we’d be driving around.

  21. Kristina says:

    Wow – what a cool experience! They are really popular in places like Napa, and I do think that it would be SO very cool to do a hot air balloon ride. This makes me want to do it even more!

  22. Kim says:

    So fun! And beautiful!!

  23. I’ve always wanted to go in a hot air balloon, and now even more so!! It looks awesome! I probably would be a little scared of the landing part, but would still love to do it. Great pics!

  24. Losinglindy says:

    ok those really high into the clouds confirmed that isn’t for me.

    Glad you had fun! Galena is beautiful

  25. Anne says:

    I’ll get to the beautiful, awesome balloon ride pictures, but that fa-jay-jay facial is just fantastic! Relaxation has never looked more delicious!

    It’s so cool that you got to go for the ride, and got a longer ride than usual, and it’s really neat that the whole thing benefits a good cause that your pilot happened to start up. I wanted to go on one in Colorado last summer, but it was crazy expensive (I want to say it would have been more than $500 for both of us), which was hard with that wedding getting in the way. So maybe next time 🙂

    • kilax says:


      So yeah. At work, we have a system with a bunch of capital letters that don’t really sound like a real word – so we call it FAJITAS, which is the closest. Only last week, I accidentally called it that, but how we pronounce it at home, which would be “fa-jight-as.” Oops.

      I hope you do get to try it! CO would be amazing!!! 🙂

  26. bobbi says:

    I totes need a fajita facial. Right now.

    I’m like you – love love love the sky. When I worked at a canoe outfitters in northern MN during college summers, a couple of the guys were going for their pilots lisences. I got to go up in little planes over that gorgeous country so many times – I was way lucky.

    Hang gliding has been on my list as long as I can remember. I cannot WAIT to hear what the reality of the experience is like!

    • kilax says:

      Let’s go get them sooooooooooooooooooooooooon!!!! We need a Bobbi+Kim date 🙂

      Aww! That sounds awesome! Steven wants to get his pilots license for fun. I hope we can afford it someday. I know he would enjoy it and be really good at it.


  27. Courtney says:

    WOW, WOW, WOW!!! Your hot air balloon ride looks amazing!! I so am so excited for you!! It’s so exciting when you get to do something you have wanted to do for so long!! It looks like you and Steven had a great fantastic weekend!!!

  28. Mica says:

    I’m so amused by the clunkiness of the “hop.” I somehow envisioned it as a less hectic, stressful process. I imagine I’d be freaking out about being left on the ground or falling out of the basket.

    I’ve never been drawn to air activities. I’m fine being on the ground FOREVAAAAR.

    • kilax says:

      It was really funny because they were emphasizing how quick we needed to be, and people were taking their sweet time 😉

  29. Michele says:

    LOVE the pics!! They have hot air balloon rides here all the time!!! It’s quite pricey though, we’ve looked into it. Oh well.

    The pic of you and the hubby in the balloon, your hair looks almost blonde!!!

    The pic of you and the horse is good too!!

  30. Maggie says:

    Looks awesome!!

  31. Erin says:

    I think I would do this! And probably be less scared than in a plane, if that makes any sense. Maybe it’s because I grew up seeing one of the local pizza places in my hometown take their balloon all over town? It was a giant tomato so the mascot for the restaurant was the Flying Tomato. I also knew a girl in junior high/high school who lived down the street from me whose parents had a balloon they took to festivals.

    I’m happy you shared the pics (like you wouldn’t :-P) because I love seeing what Galena looked like from the air. So pretty!

    • kilax says:

      Yes! I think you would really enjoy it! It’s quiet and peaceful (if the people in the baskets aren’t talking the whole time) and it’s just such a neat view. I am happy you enjoyed the pics!

      I would love to see the Flying Tomato. I wonder if they still take it out!

  32. martymankins says:

    Great photos. My fear of heights prevents me from doing the hot air balloon or biplane. Although maybe one day, I might try the balloon.

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