Icarus ain’t got nothing on us
I crawled from the wicker basket on my hands and knees, the field caked in mud from the first rain we’ve seen all summer, my once white shirt now stained with red earth. The balloon was half deflated as our pilot, Bob Evans, slowly released the last gasps of hot air from inside the envelope, a word I’d learned that morning as we prepared for our balloon flight.
We had just experienced what Evans called a “hot landing.” Bruised, scraped and battered, my editor, Dee Ann Patterson, and I stood on shaky feet, still marveling at the ride we had just taken. Our basket had bounced not once, not twice, but three times before finally coming to rest on its side. It was definitely not the way a hot air balloon is supposed to land.
But hey, that’s what the liability waiver is for.
Thursday evening brought rain and winds to Lawton. The balloon flight that had been planned for the next morning looked like it might not happen as I went to bed that night. But Friday morning dawned cool and calm, the clouds had rolled out and, at 5 a.m. as I got in my car, the stars were shining in their heaven. A heaven that would soon be a little closer.
By the time I made it to the Apache Casino Hotel, where we were set to get a safety briefing, the sun was just starting to rise on the east side of Lawton. Evans and his crew, Richard Bodine, Tiffany Rheaume and Haven Boniol, were bright-eyed and cheerful as we piled into their car and caravanned, with two other balloons, about five miles into the country.
Turns out, all you really need to launch a hot air balloon is some flat, open land, which we found in the form of a few front yards at the Ranger Estates housing addition south of town. To check the wind streams, the crew let a helium balloon loose while Evans measured its direction with nothing but his eyes and a compass. The balloon floated due north, which meant we had found our launch zone.
After some quick conversations with the local homeowners, the crews began offloading baskets and unfurling balloons. Watching the crews was a spectacle all its own as they went through the well-practiced paces of getting ready for launch.
Our balloon for the day was the Jersey Lilly. She had a checkered envelope and a small, three-man basket. Evans had named her after Lily Langtry, the famed object of Judge Roy Bean’s affection.