Evening set in on my first day at Balloon Fiesta, and it was crowded now. I remembered how dead this place had been in at noon. I remembered how packed it had been at dawn. I remembered driving in here at 5 AM. That all seemed so long ago now.
I never got bored exploring. There was so much stuff happening all around. There were firefighters auctioning off cool prizes for donations to their firehouses. I wandered by a NASA tent, and spent a lot of time embracing my inner nerd, talking with scientists, and learning about astro-science. I made a crowd of people cheer me on as I did a bunch of pull ups at the Marines tent (hey, I hadn’t been to the gym in over a week!). I watched a bunch of break dancers do some amazing tricks for the crowd. It was such a fun day!
The event was fairly crowded again by the time night had come around. The “Evening Glow” event was cancelled because of winds, but there still seemed to be a lot of people and activity happening.
Suddenly the crowds started cheering. I looked over and realized there was a laser light show happening in the night sky now! Then came the fireworks. I guess the Balloon Fiesta Fireworks are one of the best shows that Albuquerque does. And damn, were they awesome! I loved the show and thought it was a perfect way to end the day. They lasted forever. They came from several directions, shooting up over the crowds of cheering people and into the night desert skies of Albuquerque. I sat down, watched the magic in the sky, and thought about how thankful I was to be here.
I decided to head back to my car towards the end of the show. I anticipated a severe traffic jam forming the instant the fireworks ended, and I didn’t want to get stuck in traffic. I laughed when I finally got to my car. It had been such an amazing day, and it seemed so long ago that I first parked here, 16 hours ago. I timed everything just right. I got out of the event just before the traffic jam formed behind me. I got back to Adam’s just before it started storming heavily.
Adam had two new couch surfers from Denver staying with him tonight. I chatted with everyone about my awesome day at the fiesta. I had dreamed about seeing this event for years, so I was really happy today.
The two guys from Denver had made it to Albuquerque late this afternoon, so they hadn’t seen the balloon launch. I felt bad for them. They were hoping to go tomorrow morning, but I wasn’t planning to return the next day. Tomorrow, Sunday, was the final day of the event. And all week the weather had predicted rain all morning Sunday. Even now, looking at my phone, the weather was still looking terrible. The Denver Dudes seemed disappointed. I was just happy I had a good launch today. I was looking forward to sleeping in, but I set an alarm for 4 AM. Just in case….
When my alarm went off at 4 AM, I once again cursed myself for choosing an activity that required me to wake up at 4 AM. But, based on yesterdays forecast, I was fully expecting to roll over and go back to sleep. So when I looked at my phone I was shocked to see the weather had changed. The dreary forecast was now replaced by clear blue skies and minimal wind! No way!!!! By 4:25 I was out the door. By 5 AM I was once again parked and ready to see more balloons.
Today was the last day of Balloon Fiesta and it was much less crowded. I was excited to be back, but I had spent so many hours wandering around this fiesta yesterday, that now I was kind of tired of it. So I was surprised to see that despite the lower attendance, this morning was more magical than yesterday! The yellow flag was hanging from the flagpole again, but today several balloons were fully inflated and glowing with light as the fires inside lit them up. It was amazing. The morning glow!
Apparently the Fiesta gave updates on their twitter account, and the balloon pilots were all going to meet and discuss the weather. I didn’t really even care if the balloons didn’t go up this time. I was fortunate to have watched them yesterday.
And then the green flag was up, much earlier than yesterday. There was a cheer and the fully inflated balloons immediately started lifting up into the sky. I thought Saturday had been fun with balloons, but Sunday morning was amazing. I hadn’t realized how much the weather had shortened yesterday’s balloon launch. But today was fantastic. It was the last day of the event, the final farewell mass ascension. And the participants were going big. I couldn’t believe how many balloons got launched into the sky that morning. Hundreds of balloons, wave after wave of them, constantly ascending upward. For hours. I never got bored of it!
Unlike the gray clouds of yesterday, the skies were blue and wonderful today! The sun was shining strong over Albuquerque and every balloon was brilliant. They were huge and colorful and magnificent. I spent my magical morning watching literally hundreds of these balloons floating above the desert sky.
And it lasted for hours! Much longer than the day before. Balloon after balloon, into beautiful blue skies. I couldn’t get enough. I took picture after picture, but no picture could capture the experience. For hours I ran around that field, taking pictures, marveling at the views. I was fascinated by the piloting skill needed to navigate so many enormous balloons through such crowded airs. I was mesmerized by the hundreds of colorful globes filling the skies. I was slightly envious of that I was only a spectator and not a participant. How much cooler must this view be FROM IN THE AIR?!
I stayed in that grassy field all morning. I looked around at the once crowded field. It was now almost empty. The pilots were in the sky. Their crews were on the roads chasing after them. Most of the spectators had dissipated.
I felt deeply satisfied when I watched the last balloon take off. Something positive had changed within me, though I couldn’t explain or define what. Perhaps it was the joy of being far away from home. Or maybe it was a sense of wonder and possibility that was being reignited within me. Watching hundreds of hot air balloons take off into blue skies reminded me that anything really is possible.
Or perhaps it was a sense of accomplishment that I had managed to make it here, to an event I had been dreaming about for years, and seen something mystical and incredible. There was a sense of relief knowing that this road trip wouldn’t be a disappointment after all. Having just seen hundreds of flying globes of color fill the sky, it was clear that this road trip was amazing.
I watched that last balloon float away, and decided if I ever made it back here, I would be more than a spectator. I would return somehow as a participant.
It’s hard to say exactly what changed in me after that balloon fiesta. Nothing had, and yet everything had. I had been carrying the stress of my old job with me everywhere I went. Now I had put down my stress and replaced it with enchantment, with wonder, and with an eager anticipation for what was next.
But it was time leave now. My road trip crackled with energy, possibility, and potential. I was being called onward.
It was time to move on. The energy was calling me west.
And west I would go.