Wayne's Weekly Reader

by Wayne Klick

October 7, 1998

You get up at 4:30am when the sky is still dark. You don't take a shower because it takes too much time. You pull on jeans and a long sleeve shirt. This is not only the earliest morning of the year but generally the first cold one for you because it is so early. You find your baseball cap because your hair is unwashed.

You head to the north side of Albuquerque, either in a car or a park-n-ride bus. (I've actually done it on a bicycle a couple of times.) As you go up I-25 you notice an odd, UFOish visage in the dark sky. (It's a good thing you know what it is.) What you see are flashes of light -- muffled flames within big, bulbous, semi-transparent containers.

You know that this is the "dawn patrol" -- the balloons sent up early, before the sunrise "mass ascension" of hundreds of hot air balloons at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The flashes of light occur when the pilot fires the propane jets that provide flight-rendering hot air to the balloon. They send a few up early to test conditions, and to provide a beacon for those hundreds of thousands of people on their way to Fiesta Field.

I've taken on some challenging subject matter for my first column on Start@Fotter.com. There is no way to fully describe, either with spoken or written word, what it's like seeing, hearing, and feeling 870 hot air balloons (that's this year's official count) all take off into the daybreak sky, most within 30-45 minutes of each other.

This AIBF mass ascension is almost too big to comprehend. The number of balloons combined with their individual size, and in many cases shapes, are what makes reality stretch your imagination. Your belief system has a hard time with a 45-foot tall bottle of Mrs. Butterworth's pancake syrup taking off and flying away. Your soul transforms as you watch a Viewsonic computer monitor with birds perched on its side, inflate to 30 feet across and rise off the ground. The surreality of a huge can of Mountain Dew flying far overhead, right next to a tennis shoe the size of a McDonald's, makes your whole perspective on life change.

You don't have to watch from a distance unless you want to. You walk right in amongst the aircraft as they inflate, feeling the heat come off the propane flames. Once in a while you will turn away for some reason and notice that all of those hundreds of thousands of people are standing there, heads cocked at a 45° angle, with big shit-eatin' grins on their faces. And in that moment, you really experience the shit-eatin' grin on your own face.

You know that when the first weekend in October approaches next year, you'll dread it a little bit because you'll have to get up at 4:30am. But you'll know it will be worth it.

Many thanks to my Maine man Matt for asking me to write this column. This Weekly Reader will not have a heck of a lot in common with the grade school publication -- I don't think. Except for maybe this week. I honestly hope that each Wednesday, you will come back here thinking to yourself, "I wonder what he came up with this time..." Thank you for giving my words a taste. I hope you like the flavor and come back every week. And please email with your comments. I'll do my best to respond as long as you're nice.
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