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From Queensbury to Fort Ann, traveling by balloon

From Queensbury to Fort Ann, traveling by balloon

From the A banner year: The 47th Adirondack Balloon Festival series

In the purplish dark of Sunday morning, balloon pilots gathered for the last launch of the 47th Adirondack Balloon Festival.

Weather and wind direction reports were favorable, and they took to the fields of the Warren County airport.

They unfurled and inflated their balloons to the song Bolero, a classical piece composed by Maurice Ravel and the sensuous soundtrack to a famous love scene in the movie, “10.”

The balloons were up.

Festival Director Mark Donahue said the song is a tradition that dates back decades.

“You can’t have a flight without hearing Bolero,” he said.

I was lucky enough to hitch a ride with R. Scott Kelley (he goes by Scott), who pilots a green, yellow and white balloon called “Private Eye Too.”

From Pennsylvania, Kelley’s day jobs have been for various communications companies, including AT&T, but he has made a change in career later in life. His wife started teaching math, and to keep on a similar schedule to her, he became a school bus driver.

The kids don’t know he’s a balloon pilot, Kelley said, but he might change that one day and bring his balloon to school.

Kelley has flown his balloon all over, including at the world’s biggest gathering of hot air balloons in Albuquerque, New Mexico. But the Adirondack Balloon Festival is his favorite, he said, because of the people who are here.

The ballooning community often focuses on the southwest, Donahue added, because of the Albuquerque festival and the climate allows for more year-round ballooning. But in the Adirondacks, pilots saw the festival’s best year ever this weekend with more than 150,000 in attendance.

Besides me, Kelley’s passengers included Jessica Harris-Payne and Ish Payne, up from their home in the Bronx. The couple had never been in a balloon before, and Jessica appeared hesitant during the morning briefing.

Ish was busy helping inflate the balloon.

Adirondack Balloon Festival, Sunday morning

From left, Ann Williams, Stephanie Williams, Ish Payne, Karen Buttling and Lianne Knight, get R. Scott Kelley's balloon ready for flight Sunday at the Warren County airport in Queensbury. 

When the basket began to bounce, signaling it was ready for flight, the three of us got in with Kelley.

With a whoosh of a propane flame over our heads, the ground drifted away. The winds were to the north, and we floated over the changing autumn landscape of Washington County. Lake George was northwest of us.

While he’s from Pennsylvania, Kelley has a home in Silver Bay. He has flown his balloon in winter before, and talked about tricks of landing on ice and in the water. It’s trickier to land in snow, he said, but not impossible.

From above, you see things you might never see.

I saw the biggest spider web in my life, for example, glistening with dew on a tree top.

Adirondack Balloon Festival, Sunday morning

A spider web is seen from a hot air balloon Sunday during the 47th annual Adirondack Balloon Festival. 

Kelley got us up to 3,500 feet, and the fastest we traveled was 26 mph.

We journeyed all the way to Fort Ann, and our balloon settled in the middle of a farm field where Kelley spotted an access road.

It was the gentlest landing I could have ever imagined.

After several phone calls with Kelley’s chase crew, it was looking like we might have picked too remote a spot to land.

To see if he could spot the chase crew, Ish got out of the balloon and walked across the field to the access road. He disappeared into the woods.

Kelley got another phone call from his chase crew. They had found the access road, but the muddy ruts from tractor tires were so deep, the balloon van couldn’t make it.

Kelley pulled the lever, and the propane flame filled the balloon. We drifted upward.

At first it appeared we were leaving Jessica’s husband in the woods of Fort Ann, but he had found the chase crew and was in the van with them. Jessica and I were aloft with Kelley, and we watched another balloon land in an adjacent farm field.

I could see a manure lagoon not far from where we were heading, but we steered clear, and Kelley landed us over the trees and into another field, just behind Walker’s Home, Farm & Tack on Route 4 in Fort Ann.

Jessica, Ish, their children and the balloon crew gathered the balloon after it had deflated. They folded it into a large bag, the kids sitting on it to release any excess air still bubbled inside the fabric’s folds.

Once the balloon and basket were stowed away, we headed back for the airport, blending back into the bustling patchwork of grids we had been, for a moment, sailing above.

Reporter Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (518) 742-3238 or Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1.

Reporter Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (518) 742-3238 or Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1


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