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April 16, 2021

HOT AIR BALLOONING IN TEMECULA

It was over 200 years ago that some Frenchmen invented hot air ballooning. They had no problem flying and landing the balloon. However, it was the farms they landed at. that had people believing that it was the devil coming out of the sky, breathing smoke and fire. The farmers would go out and take their pitchforks to the envelope, which made ballooning quite expensive. The balloonists then decided to offer champange to keep peace. This tradition continues to the present time.

A Grape Escape Balloon Adventure, in Temecula, California, is one company that maintains the traditions, but may be able to avoid landing in someone's backyard. Temecula Valley, famous for its wine country, is located 20 miles off the Pacific coast an hour-north of Sari Diego. Most of the main town, known as "Old Town" is great for both history and antique buffs. The streets are lined with antiquette shops and Old West heritage.

In spite of my intense fear of heights, I ventured on the tour, arriving at the sight at 6:30am for the sunrise flight. Here is how it works. The basket is attached to the envelope (the balloon part). An iriflator fan blows cold air into the balloon until it's full. Propane tanks are in the basket as one is ignited to turn the cold air into the hot "floating air". The balloon, which has been on its side is pushed upright as we climb into the basket that is tied down and weighted on all sides by those assisting in the flight.

The felling of lifting off was like being in a glass elevator on the outside of a tall building. Our pilot, Rusty Manning, told us that he can control the height, but the direction and speed is controlled by the wind, or lack of.

Floating over vineyards and citrus groves, it was clear that Rusty was a very experienced pilot. During the flight there is virtually no sense of motion, and only the noise of the burner is heard. Rusty was actually able to pinpoint his exact landing spot, on a dirt road. BTW there is a truck following us and the pilot is able to keep in contact with the driver at all times.

When the balloon lands, you need no only brace yourself by bending your knees a bit. As the balloon deflates, the basket will fall to its side and its time to climb out. Champagne, orange juice and bagels with cream cheese were served upon landing accompanyied by a traditional Irish prayer. "The winds have welcomed you with softness. The sun has blessed you with his hands. You've flown so high and so free that even God has joined you in laughter and has set you gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth". For further information, call (909)698-9772. For further information on this fabulous town, call 888-TEMECULA or www.temecula.org.

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