My Hot Air Balloon Adventure

Last night (yes, on Easter!), I went on my very first hot air balloon ride! It was amazing, exhilarating, and so incredibly peaceful and cathartic for me on many personal levels. I’m writing an essay about this momentous balloon ride in the July issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, so be sure to pick up the issue on newsstands to read about the significance of this journey for me.

For now, I thought I’d share some photos from the evening. I can’t tell you how amazing it was. A big thanks to the Airial Balloon Company, especially Shannan, for being so lovely! (If you live in the Seattle-area, you should check them out!)

The evening started out at the office, where the balloon pilots assessed the wind speed. Balloon flights can be a little fickle. That is, you can schedule something, and then it might be canceled due to poor wind conditions (this is what happened to me—I was supposed to go up the night before, but it was too windy).

Fortunately, the wind was very calm on Sunday night, and we were able to embark on our journey. I was assigned a balloon basket with three other passengers. Our pilot was Tom, a wonderful former helicopter-pilot-turned-balloon-enthusiast who says the day he rode in his first hot air balloon in the 1980’s something “snapped” in his brain and he decided that’s what he wanted to do with his life (he also edited an entire magazine on hot air ballooning—so cool).

So we drove out to the launch site (a big green grassy field). My husband and our three boys tagged along to watch (which they thought was pretty awesome, including seeing a cow skeleton in the field somewhere. That was a big moment for three city boys!). The boys ran around the field like wild men.

As the pilots and crew members set up the balloons, we all watched with anticipation (and nerves!).

There were two balloons going up that night. They were both so beautiful! They set them out on the grass and then fire them up with hot air. It’s an amazing process to watch it go from a heap of fabric on the ground to a gorgeous round balloon. I also loved looking at the baskets, and commented to the pilot that I’d love to find an old one on eBay to convert into a cool couch or something!

I’m smiling here, but really I’m sort of … freaking out. I’m afraid of heights, for one. And then I kept thinking about all these silly things: What if my camera falls? What if I faint? What if I … fall out of the basket?

Watching the first balloon take off was good, because I saw how it glided into the air with no trouble at all. I thought, yes, I can do this!

Our balloon was up next. It just needed some final inflating.

And then it was time to climb in! At first I was calm…

And then, not so much…

And then, lift off! (I had to cover my head because the heat from the burners was pretty intense! Note to self: Next time, wear a hat!) I snapped this photo of my guys watching me from the ground as I lifted up in the balloon. Note, the older boys are mildly OK with this, but the baby is crying frantically. My two thoughts as I depart are: “Am I going to fall out of this basket?” and “eeks, am I totally traumatizing my baby right now?”

Here’s a shot my husband took of our balloon sailing up into the air—so gorgeous!

The views below were amazing! I kept thinking about how different the world looks from the perspective of a bird. It’s beyond gorgeous.

We traveled about 5 miles total, and got up to about 1,700 feet. The wind was calm and the air was perfectly warm. I loved seeing the shadow of our balloon on the hillside as the sun was getting ready to set.

At various points in the flight, the pilot would let the balloon dip down. And, at one point, we even grazed a few of the treetops which was kind of thrilling (you could reach out and touch them—I loved that!). And then, we got really close to the river, and my heart started to race. I thought, “is the pilot going to land this thing in the river??!” He didn’t. But he got us close enough that I could see the pebbles in the stream.

One of the highlights of the trip was being able to see the other balloon float along with us.

We saw two bald eagles, lots of curious cows looking up at us, and ended up landing in a plowed corn field, part of an organic vegetable farm. The “chaser” vans came to pick us up there.

I loved traveling along with Donna (below) and her co-workers who treated her to a balloon ride for her retirement present from Seattle Children’s Hospital. At 76 years old, she was so brave to go up (I think I was more nervous!).

I was very jittery about the landing, but it ended up being as smooth as silk. We touched ground with hardly even a bump, but then as the balloon settled, it was a little rocky (nobody fell, but I totally clutched the basket for dear life!). 🙂 It definitely made stepping out on land all the sweeter. We made it!

I will never forget my evening in the hot air balloon. It was surreal, and I kept feeling like I was a character in “The Wizard of Oz”—ha! I hope you get a chance to go someday. If you do, here’s my advice:

*Work with a company with a perfect safety record, like The Airial Balloon Company.

*Bring a jacket. They say it’s warm up there, and it is, but if you get chilled like I do, then you’ll want a sweater or a light jacket just in case.

*Make sure your camera has a strap. It’s amazing how many people accidentally drop their cameras in the fields below. Plus, you don’t want to worry about the camera the whole time. You just want to take a picture and then set it aside and not worry about losing it.

*Wear comfy clothes (duh).

*Bring a snack in case you get jittery up there, and a water bottle.

*Have a friend on the ground to video and take photos of your adventure.

*Be flexible. Because of wind conditions that are constantly changing, you may have to try two or three different days before finally getting up. Don’t give up! It’s so worth it.

Be sure to read my article in the July issue of O! I hope you enjoy it!


  • April 8, 2013

    Wow Sarah! It looks like you had so much fun. My hubby would love to take me up on a date, but I’m still thinking about it. We did parasailing 5 yrs ago in Hawaii and I had to conquer my fear for that. It was exhilarating and so peaceful when we were up, and afterwards I couldn’t believe I did it! 🙂

    Can’t wait for your new book…SOON 🙂

  • March 29, 2016

    I just read your post with my son and now he really wants to go ride in a hot air balloon. He is really adventurous, but I am pretty scared of heights. How were you able to overcome your fear of heights, get in that balloon and let it take off? Although you made it seem like you were nervous, I’d imagine myself having a heart attack up there and so I would definitely appreciate your advice on this.


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