Starting today, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta 2021 would have kicked off with the “Albuquerque Aloft” event, where pilots take their balloons to elementary schools around the Albuquerque metro area to demonstrate them for kids. Then the next morning would begin nine days of pure chaos, excitement, thrills, happiness, disappointment and in the end, exhaustion. I wasn’t able to fly in last year’s event because I was still recovering from my heart surgery, but I had planned to participate this fall.
This year, because of COVID-19, the event was cancelled. There will be a few local balloons flying around the city during the next week to honor the huge event, but it won’t be the same. As much as I sometimes dreaded it — the planning, scheduling, concern about weather and shrinking landing sites, always being on top of your game for passengers, crew and Fiesta officials, etc. — I will miss it.
The main thing I miss is just the “feeling” of the event. That feeling is comprised of many elements. The smells of vendor-row food and freshly cut wet grass on a chilly early morning on Fiesta Field, the angle of the sun on fall mornings, the darkening blue sky and turning leaves that say winter is just around the corner, the indescribable thrill when you launch from a field packed with thousands of cheering spectators, the satisfaction and adrenalin rush you get after every safe flight, the fun at your post-flight tailgate, seeing old friend and meeting new ones, etc.
Three of my most memorable things from Fiesta are:
–Flying the American flag off the field at daybreak while the Star Spangled banner is being sung over the PA system and a crowd of thousands below you is respectfully hushed until the song is over.
–Flying over the Rio Grande on a very cold morning when the river is still warm and steam and mist rise off the water and ducks and geese scoot below you, complaining with quacks and honks about you invading their airspace.
–And the smell of Cocoa Puffs. Yes, the cereal. General Mills has a cereal factory immediately south of Fiesta Field. When you reach a certain altitude as you drift southward, the smell that comes from the manufacturing of the cereal (which I can never remember eating myself) fills the air around you at 500 feet above the ground. I know that’s strange, but it’s part of the mix of sensations that I’ll miss this year.
Let’s all hope it’s back to normal next year, when I think I’ll give it another try to sniff Cocoa Puffs in the sky.