I was privileged this past weekend with the neat opportunity to join an old friend and a new one, Bethany and Natalie, on a weekend road trip from Denver, CO down to Albuquerque, NM. Our primary purpose was to attend the 2018 International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. Our secondary purpose was to christen Bethany’s new vehicle on its first major road trip.
We all convened in the middle of Friday afternoon in Denver, and hit the road. Not to anyone’s surprise, we got stuck almost immediately in some very slowly progressing traffic. This lasted for quite some time, which is noticeable, especially when the route connecting the two cities is literally a single road–Interstate 25.
We eventually cleared free of the havoc, and covered some ground before stopping to refuel and get dinner in the small town of Trinidad, CO, just north of the border with New Mexico. Trinidad is a quaint little town from what we could tell. While looking for a restaurant online, an article heading informed me that Trinidad was known as the sex change capital of the U.S. (Reading more after my return home, I learned that is perhaps less of a title nowadays, but it had been one of the first places where sexual reassignment surgeries were performed with regularity and acceptance.) This had no effect on our stop, but was something that I had never heard previously.
After dinner, we made our way to Santa Fe for the night, arriving much later than anticipated due to earlier traffic. It was nearly midnight, and we finally arrived at a dispersed campsite just inside national forest, a spot we had decided on beforehand. I preferred tent camping while the ladies opted for glamping, with what I have to say was the most plush and comfortable looking bedding situation I had seen inside of a standard vehicle. It was late, and we had an early morning, so we hit the hay straightway.
I closed my eyes. Opened them. That feeling
I might spend half the night staring at the ceiling
Melatonin seeping into my bloodstream
R.E.M. occurs. We make a good team
They hit all of the high notes
Like streams of rolling, mad laughter
Haunting my sleep forever after
A brisk early morning rise
Much to my devastating surprise
A key component for a cup of Joe
Missing. Systems down! Coffee not a go
Commenced day with negative circumstance?
Mind pairs with heart for a mental dance
The choice to be okay I have elected
With grace, I am mostly unaffected
With nothing to brew, I stare at the sky
About a lot of things, I ask myself ‘why?’
And then by the Universe’s hospitality
An event to set the day’s mentality
With a glint remaining of the Milky Way
Just before the start of the day
I see a blue streak of light
A shooting star! …to perfectly end the night
We are on the go by 6 a.m. with an hour’s drive to get to Albuquerque for the 7 a.m. mass ascension of balloons. We necessarily stop for coffee, which to me is the worst. I absolutely love using my Jetboil on trips to brew drip and pressed coffee for whomever I am with. It is my therapy and joy. But on this one, I failed to pack an essential part for the process. Sadly, this would not be the last of my coffee failures over the weekend. …
We barreled down the interstate, south on I-25 yet again, with excitement in our veins. A few dots began to line the sky, still distant from us, but not far from the approaching horizon.
We progressed forward until abruptly needing to halt as we joined a nearly three-mile line of vehicles, all making their way, like giant mechanical inch-worms, into the city and any possible surface area that could be used as a parking spot. Traffic! Ugh. Well, yes, to be sure. But I have to say, I have never been more content to be stuck in traffic. For the windows were down, the air was still pure and refreshed from the night, crisp and pleasant to feel and breathe. And right along side of us, and directly in front of us as we neared, balloons were rising from the ground in force. Not forcefully, but in vast numbers, as a fleet of galactic star ships taking off in form. Only gently, as you would imagine, almost lazily. Some of them quite fluid in motion while others bobbed like a fishing lure’s indicator on a lake’s surface interrupted by an intermittent ripple from a breeze’s nosy prod. Widely represented were the typical balloons shaped like upside down eggs, popping with vivid hues against the morning sky. Others donned more extravagant shapes: a sitting dog (the basket underneath looking like a dangling turd) a flying pig (aka ‘when pigs fly’ — kudos to Natalie for putting that together), an elephant, an evil-looking black mouse, Colorado and Wyoming symbols, a fish with a cane and a monocle, a giant cow, Vincent Van Gogh, and the beloved Smokey the Bear. (Smokey made a lot of eye contact. You could with ease, imagine a long arm extending and a paw claw pointing directly at you as the infamous words dangle in the air, “only you!”)
The balloons rose in unison with the rising sun to the east. In this case, we barely noticed the sun, in favor of such an unusual spectacle of these strange birds, like spinning tops seemingly frozen, becoming a semi-permanent part of the stretching sky overhead. Nearly the entirety of the mass ascension ended up being viewed from the car due to our gross underestimation of just how popular and highly trafficked the event would be. We may have circled the city twice, just trying to navigate the madness until the mass ascent became the mass descent. As they say, what goes up, must come down.
The city kind of clears out between the morning and evening sessions. We made our way to ‘old town’ and walked around for a while. There was some magic in the air with blue skies and sunny warmth. I felt love going out from me toward every person I encountered. Not one passerby went without at least a kind smile. There were buses of tourists–filled to the brim with the elderly. I’m not sure anyone besides the elderly take bus tours. On one street corner while I was leaning against a telephone pole, a bus pulled right up next to me and they hobbled out and encompassed me. Along with the wafting, emanating smells of uncontrolled bowels. It was. An experience. One that brought me back to my days as a bell hop at the Copper River Princess Lodge in Alaska. We had tour buses nearly every day filled with retirees. Truth be told, apart from their smells and occasional grumpiness, I love and cherish the elderly.
Hunger crept in and we opted for some New Mexican cuisine. Our designated ‘Snacks and Naps’ captain of the trip located Taqueria Mexico which provided a delightful cultural element to our day. With a very small space within, there was a line most of the time we were there of people waiting outside to get in. A gentleman with a cowboy hat and beautiful guitar walked up and down between the tables, singing to all. I won’t speak for the others, but my shrimp, fish, and adovada tacos were top-notch.
My tired, introverted, 70-year-old-inside-man self voted to find a park for a bit and nap in the shade after lunch. Our designated driver located a truly great area-Roosevelt Park- with vivid green grass and large trees dispersed throughout. We grabbed some snacks and beverages and sat, snacked, journaled, and rested in and out of the shade.
Learning from the morning, we got back to the main area well before the evening session to ensure traffic avoidance and find good parking. We entered and walked down an endless path of white tents offering the same things over and over–heavy fried foods, exotic dishes, piñon coffee, and apparel. We walked through a large retail tent and I came across a booth of exceptional watches. I stopped to admire them and the woman running the booth engaged me in conversation, asking if the can of cold brew coffee I was sipping on was beer. With a mischievous, endearing smile, she did not believe me when I assured her it was coffee. She said she liked my boots and asked if I hiked, and if I was from Colorado, and if I had seen bears, and if you could hug them. I answered her string of questions and advised against hugging bears, though I absolutely understood and share the desire. We chatted for a little while and before I left, I suggested I wasn’t as soft, but requested that I would like to be her bear that day. We bear hugged for about 1/2 a minute, and when I began to pull away, she pulled me back and said “just a little while longer.” She was from Slovenia and objectively adorable, and we hugged each other like we meant it. We warmed each other’s souls and with that, I went my way.
We made our way to the main stadium field and sat in the grass, chatting, snacking, playing cards, and enjoying the day and each other’s company. The balloons were poised to set up and light all of their burners for a glowing event. Due to the pesky nature of wind, this did not happen. But we stuck around for the fireworks show, which was not necessarily the most robust show I have seen, but it had the most plot twists of any fireworks display I had seen, and I really loved that. My flask snuck itself in covertly in my backpack, provided the necessary whiskey elements for warmth and good mirth throughout the evening and night.
We had already reserved a parking spot for the night at the local Cracker Barrel where we would sleep in the car for the night. ‘Snacks and Naps’ had never been to a Cracker Barrel and I hadn’t been to one in ages. We had fun…loads of goofy conversation and joking. The extent of the lack of my sleep mixed with a healthy removal of inhibition from the whiskey had me in a playful place. It was probably a lot more enjoyable for me than the others, I imagine I was a bit over the top. Post dinner, we went to the bathrooms to change and get ready for bed. I was standing at the sink brushing my teeth, and I think humming or singing, when I guy walked in to pee. I felt the judgment on the back of my head and imagined the thought he may have had, “Look at this hobo, brushing his teeth in a restaurant bathroom. Despicable.” But on his way out, a kid came into the bathroom and proceeded to put a small bottle up to the soap dispenser. I assumed his parents sent him in from the camper to load up on extra soap. And I felt like I was part of something, a network of people who defy social norms and utilize alternative resources to accomplish things that the majority of people reserve for the privacy of their own home. I was washing my hands as the kid grabbed a paper towel. Then I realized he had just used the soap to clean out the cute little Cracker Barrel jar that came with syrup in it at his table. He started to turn toward the door and then suddenly stopped, and turned toward me and asked,
“Do you think its okay to take this bottle home as a souvi?”
Being far too removed from anything hip and cool, I didn’t realize we were calling them ‘souvi’s’ these days, so I first had to clarify that we were indeed talking about souvenirs. We were. I saw no harm in it and told him so. He then proposed,
“Wouldn’t it be cool to go around and collect these from different restaurants and have a collection?”
Being the uncool adult realist that I am, I suggested that I wasn’t so sure that many other restaurants used similar jars with syrup, but that I thought it was a cool idea. We bid each other goodnight and then I shuddered one last time at all of the Christmas stuff for sale on my way out the door.
We located what we presumed to be the optimum parking spot and set up for the night. It was…a cozy situation. It had been a long time since I had slept in a reclined front seat. But I figured I did it in a sedan years before so surely I could do it again. It would turn out that I am beyond that stage of life. I’m not convinced that I ever really fell asleep the whole night. But with some adjustments, we all managed…or at least survived the night.
We stopped briefly to fuel up and ‘snacks and naps’ got coffee for her and ‘driver.’ I with my ‘go-go-gadget’ arms, and a helpful spirit, saw her coming with a coffee in each hand and decided I’d just reach back and open the door for her. I hold that this was a solid plan, right up until she didn’t anticipate me doing that and I opened the door into one of her hands, which ended with that coffee flying to the ground and exiting its state of containment in the cup. There was an evident moment of frustration, but I was struck and impressed with her reaction. Circumstances and reactions can wreak havoc on traveling companions. But she shook it right off like Taylor Swift even proceeded to ask me if I’d like a coffee as well, and then went back in and replaced it. This was a defining moment of character over the weekend that caused me to truly appreciate the people I was with.
We got a great parking spot again and wound our way through hundreds of balloons as they all got ready for the mass ascension. It was fascinating and so fun to watch all of these teams erect their balloons, spreading out the envelope, the person holding taut or being dragged by the guide wire that connected to the top of the balloon, using a fan to fill the envelope with air, then light the burner and incrementally blast an 8-12 fiery stream into the envelope to give it the heat for vertical suspension.
The weather did not cooperate for the ascension, but it was still perfectly delightful. The event took place on a giant field of plush, green grass. We were free to walk in and around every team and balloon, as much as we pleased, though we learned it is unacceptable to leap over any portion of the balloon while setup occurs on the ground. There is a mountain in the background, the remaining moon crescent low in the sky, and torches of fire are being shot into the balloons like flame throwers, warming everything that is brisk in a 20 ft radius. It’s a good time, and I think we all felt like ecstatic kids enthralled with a giant balloon extravaganza!
The Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta– a yearly event that I would recommend to anyone to visit and enjoy.
Albuquerque, NM ¦¦ October 6-7, 2018
Copyright © 2018 Tack & Pine, All rights reserved.