Epic Adventures

The Great Race

I belong to a family of travelers. Midnight drives across the United States, watching sunbeams dance over a dew logged windshield as morning light graces the horizon. Waking up sometimes at two AM because our rickety car was bouncing across uneven roadways… it was a big part of my childhood.

My mom or my grandfather would turn to look at me as I rubbed sleep from my eyes. Attempting to make sense of where I had laid my head previously and trying to comprehend my new reality. Surrounding scenery engulfed in darkness at times.

My mom would say something like “Oh good! You’re up! Guess where we’re going?”

She would toss her head back to laugh over my confusion. Yet it was all so enchanting not knowing what was to come. My childhood of travel is why Nikolai has crossed so many states off his list. It makes coming home sweeter instead of being taken for granted. In his (now) young seven years of life… he has been to at least 25 States.

While browsing news articles one evening, I read about a magical balloon race starting in Helen Georgia and reaching all the way to the Atlantic. At two hundred and twenty five miles it was deemed as being one of the best long distance balloon races in America. When I laid eyes on the advertisement I knew Nikolai needed to experience it for himself.

Late one Wednesday evening in May, I booked a hotel, packed our vehicle, and buckled four-year-old Nikolai into his seat. I slid my body behind the wheel and smiled back at him. His sweet little face was full of confusion. His eyes asking questions his lips hadn’t caught up to.

Guess where we’re going?” I asked with a giggle

He hadn’t a clue. Just my boy and I set off to see spectacular things. We lugged belongings into our assigned hotel room with bags of snacks spilling out onto the red carpeted floor. I tucked him into bed, kissed his forehead with a promise of adventures to come in the morning. We skipped winding down over a glowing television screen for going to bed early and yet we barely slept a wink. Our exhaustion was evident when we missed our first wake-up alarm. Yet before the sun, we rose to greet the day. Slipped our shoes on and grabbed breakfast to take on the road. Nikolai’s little legs did a jig all the way to his surprise encounter.

Our car weaved around mountains. Patches of gold and pink fog billowing into the valley as I asked him which items he would take if he were setting out on a hot air balloon trek rather than watching it. Water, Snacks, binoculars, a picture of daddy (since he was working), and mommy would come with of course! My camera nestled into the passenger seat nearly slid to the floor as an idea for a photograph blossomed in my head.

We walked a winding blacktop following crowds of visitors. Birds fluttering about, having been disrupted of their routine. A nature path through woodlands opened to a grassy field full of baskets. Tipped balloons were graced with fire breathing contraptions. Nikolai’s eyes were wide in anticipation of lift off. Children held hands and ran through the meadow careful to stay out of the way. Pick-nick blankets covered fresh earth where families sat cross legged together. The scene similar to something I saw in film somewhere.

Tiny pests were waved away from morning meals in frustration and people of all nationalities held their breath. When the first balloon lifted, cheers erupted. Loud clapping and well wishes echoed through the forest. As I am terrified of heights, my fingers laced into sweaty fists. I couldn’t imagine seeing beautiful things from their advantage but I also couldn’t grasp how to avoid falling out of such a flimsy restraint.

I pictured myself dropping out of the blue sky and landing on someone’s house while mentally adding a parachute to my own personal list. If I was setting out on such an epic adventure, I would take my camera, my journal, chocolate (to calm a panic attack), several parachutes, my husband (someone has to help make flight repairs), and of course… my son. I’d also low-key kidnap (but later return) a therapist and pocket a large bottle of Xanax to swallow with my bottled water.

I doubt all of those things would even fit. Where would we go pee? While I love adventures, I am happiest watching ones that involve great heights from somewhere on the ground while cheering for those who are braver than myself. I couldn’t imagine getting caught at the mercy of a storm. Thunder and lightening wouldn’t make very good neighbors. I prefer to enjoy them from a location of safety.

We stayed until the last balloon lifted to the heavens. I sighed in contentment and folded our throw blanket over my arm. Nikolai put his tiny hand in mine, and I traced his fingers as we walked to our car. We got to see the balloons suspended over German architecture. We enjoyed cobble stone streets, listened to a rushing river, and grabbed lunch at a nearby cafe.

I ordered a hot cup of tea while Nikolai pocketed rocks he found along the way. When my husband and I visit Helen by ourselves, we sit along the river and look for heart shaped rocks to bring home to our boy. Nikolai likes to set them in odd places around our farm and throughout his bedroom. It’s a little tradition we do almost anywhere we go (but especially when visiting Helen).

When I asked my husband what he would bring if he came with us, he conveniently left out bringing any kind of tools what-so-ever. We had an amazing conversation about plunging to our deaths, hoping for the best, and panicking afterwards. He’s forever the rock when everything is on fire but quickly falls apart when life is back to some sense of normalcy again. I think it has a lot to do with his time spent as a soldier. That therapist on board would sure come in handy.

When we pulled into our driveway at home, Nikolai ran to his room to dig through his toy box. He grabbed his flight jacket, his flight goggles, and his pilot’s hat. Maps were drawn out of crayons, Moose (our farm dog) was forced into being a copilot, and together they flew past chickens who clucked their intense disapproval.

A long pink tongue rolled out of Moose’s mouth, but there was joy found in her eyes. Doodles (short for Doodle Bug, also known as Nikolai) was so worn out from the day’s activities he fell asleep early. Long lashes against soft peach skin and cupid bowed lips were slightly agape as he rested in a heap of blankets. A pilot’s hat still pulled down over his face and one arm draped over Moose’s belly.

Name 5 must-have essentials you might take on a long hot air balloon race! Are you adventurous? Do heights freak you out too? Could you guess what your spouse might bring? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

This image was shot in sections and blended together. The background was shot with a GoPro at sunset, the balloons were shot on race day individually, and Nikolai was photographed at home on our farm.
Nikolai & Moose
Two best friends ❤️

95 thoughts on “The Great Race”

  1. Oh, I love this. I love your writing, your sense of adventure, your parenting, your questions. I just love this. And I laughed out loud about your short-term therapist kidnapping. Hilarious!

    I would bring my kids, my camera, a journal, hot tea and my sense of wonder. 🙂

    Beautiful post that just made a wonderful difference to my day!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. 1. iphone/camera
    2. Parachute
    3. bottle rockets to shoot at other balloons
    4. As much water as can be carried
    5. A trumpet to sound battle cries, and play taps or whatever else might perplex and amuse other ballooners and citizenry below.

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  3. What a fun post! Who couldn’t love those pictures of him with his flight gear on? It’s fantastic that Nikolai has already visited that many states. My memory isn’t as good as it used to be, but I’ve never forgotten those times with a parent. I remember family trips, but the moments that stick out more are those one-on-one moments with a parent. My dad used to participate in bird-watching counts. I recall getting up at dawn and driving with him to some random back road in North Dakota. We’d share a cup of broth, and the count would begin. I was his recorder. He’d call off the birds, and I made tally marks on the score sheet. After three minutes, he’d drive a few more minutes down some dirt road, and we’d repeat the same thing for the next couple of hours. It wasn’t what we were doing that made it fun; it was special because I was sharing this moment with my dad.

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  4. I love the photos of Nikolai & Moose. The first image is excellent. Out here, you wear a jacket, gloves, ear warmers, and warm shoes because we take off from 5000 feet above sea level. It’s could at 10 to 12k feet out here. And, of course, you take cameras with a wide-angle zoom and telephoto zoom lenses.
    The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta starts the first of October. Many years ago when I flew with Carol Rhymer Davis in some of the events, we had to be as lean as possible. Carol was a great pilot and she won the events that I flew with her on. She was killed in a gas balloon accident in Italy in 2010.
    I have a press pass, which the event organizers give me every year. We live across the river from the balloon field, so I get a lot of great shots when the ballons fly over the house, and when they splash in the river. I don’t know if I’m going to go to the field this year or not. Since I’m one of the few people who has not had the covid cooties, I’m not sure I’m ready to go out on a field with a couple hundred thousand people. About a million people come to Albuquerque for the AIBF and 500 or more balloonists participate in the week-long event.

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    1. Oh wow Timothy that’s incredible!! I can’t wrap my head around the fact that I now know someone with that kind of experience!! I’m terrified of heights. I push myself to go to places like Tallulah falls here in Georgia where there’s a hanging rope bridge that leaves you dangling over a canyon… It’s not easy but I push through it 😆. I don’t think balloons are for me though. I’ll admire them from the ground 😛

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      1. You can certainly conqor your fears if you can get across a hanging rope bridge. I know people who are terrified of heights and would never make it to the edge of the canyon, let alone venture out onto a hanging rope bridge. I find rope bridges scary and I’m not afraid of heights.

        Floating around in a balloon is a bit boring. Take-off is fun, and the landings where we got dragged around the mesa by the wind were fun and exciting, but just floating in the air doesn’t do it for me. I like speed, so flying in jets is much more appealing.

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      2. I’ve had two RX-8s and my daughter has a 280ZX that she has pretty well restored. A mechanic friend has the 280ZX. He’s currently waiting for parts so we can get it back on the road. My wife drives a Mazdaspeed 3, and I’m driving a Mazda MX-5 RF.

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      1. Excellent question. You hang over the edge of the basket and hope 1) no one with a long lens is clicking on your moon, and 2) you don’t bomb someone below. Otherwise, you hold it, and then head for the nearest bush when you land.

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      2. ROFL. I’m dying of laughter and nearly choked on my donut 😂🍩 you made my morning. I can’t stop visualizing someone getting 💩 on from below now. “Oh my word is that pigeon poop?! Nope! It’s human.” 😂🤣😂😆🤪

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      3. I’m happy you got a good laugh to start your Friday. You wouldn’t want to be hit by a tumbling turd falling from ten-thousand feet. Oh man! Can you imagine trying to get it out of your hair? Ugh! Especially if it had corn in it.

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  5. What a seriously fun and beautiful post! The photos are simply adorable. I wish everyone had playful parents like you! The world needs more adventure and mystery.

    I’d absolutely go on a hot-air balloon race, but I’d have to leave most of my family behind because they are afraid of heights. It would be me and my boy (he’s 17, but I still consider him my boy). We’d probably bring a camera, notepads, a few board games, snacks and something silly like stuffed animals we could take photos of soaring in the clouds.

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      1. You’re too kind! I feel the exact same way. My internet is sketchy out here and we have storms today so it’s even more so. As soon as I’m in town to pick up my kiddo, I’ll give your feed some more love 💕😘

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  6. Lovely post. I don’t think I’m as worried about the heights than the fact that I’m being locked in somewhere for an extended amount of time. What if I need to go to the bathroom? What if the wind takes me somewhere I don’t want to go? Is there enough space to lie down? Lol. Another commenter, Timothy, has an interesting experience with balloons. What a read, both by you and him. Thanks for sharing, LaShelle!

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    1. Thanks for reading Stuart! Your comments always mean a lot to me ☺️. I think we should ask Timothy what they do when someone needs to 💩 😂 I’m sure men could just pee over the edge but I wonder if someone below might get hit?! 😂😆

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  7. Awww love those sweet pics of Nikolai!!! 💕I love that you grew up with so much adventure in your life – I didn’t quite have the same upbringing but I guess my siblings and I lived an unpredictable childhood (one that lacked much consistency) so in some ways, we had little adventures ourselves (imagined and real-life as well).. I love that you are passing that on to Nikolai though, instilling the importance of chasing adventure! Love it!! My husband and I love adventure and road trips- it doesn’t take much to satisfy our travel bug so I hope that gets passed down to Charlotte as well! 🙂

    Heights alone don’t necessarily freak me out, it’s heights without safety provisions that freak me the F out lol.. the craziest adventure we went on was hiking a 12-hour trail in Norway (Trolltunga) and hiking up another mountain trail (Preikestolen). Both a dream come true but treacherous to get to! LOL .. I would bring some sort of parachute vest/jacket, a cell phone with the best cell service ever lol, a snack, some water and first aid items LOL… hmmmmm upon reflecting on my list of 5 lol, you can realllly see how POSITIVE I am LOL

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    1. I’m so sorry your childhood was like that but I’ll bet that Charlotte will grow up with a much better one because of how much you wanted to change things for the better ☺️. I love the cellphone plan!! That’s a great idea and first aid… Why didn’t I think of that?! 😂

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  8. Wow, a wonderful experience for Nickolai great images…There is an annual balloon race in Somerset UK every year and I have a beautiful image of all the balloons going up that is a few years old now but what a marvellous sight it was…What would I take warm clothes, champagne, a camera, a pot to pee in and snacks…

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  9. My family must have been similar to yours. We didn’t travel anywhere unless it was in the wee hours of the morning. I would be filled with excitement and sleep all at the same time. The daredevil in me would love to travel by balloon . . . but I would also have myself tied so tightly to the side so that I wouldn’t fall over the side! Yes, a strange combination, a daredevil, and someone who is fearful of heights, all at the same time.

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  10. What a gorgeous blog! After two years of COVID, I think some of us have curtailed our sense of adventure. I have been in a hot air balloon twice, once in Melbourne, Victoria and the second time over the high country where I now live once again. Being in a balloon that tends to gently float across the sky doesn’t give me that feeling of vertigo that I get from looking over the edge from a tall building or cliff! Thanks for visiting my blog. I love meeting new bloggers like yourself!

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    1. Thanks so much for the thoughtful compliment! COVID was rough for sure. That’s so cool that you’ve been in a hot air balloon!! I haven’t been brave enough 😆. I love your blog too. So glad I discovered you! Thankful to be a new follower of yours 🥰❤️

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  11. How fun! I grew up traveling, too, though not as much as you, it seems. It’s something that has stayed with me my whole life – to see such beauty, to learn – just amazing. Glad you were able to share such a precious moment with your son.

    What would I take with me? Aside from something to eat and drink, probably nothing. I’d just look around in awe. Oh! A notebook with a pencil would help to keep track of cool things I’d see.

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    1. I am so glad that you got to experience that with your family as well. Thank you so much for your insight on what you would take with you! I loved your comment and I’m so glad you took time out of your busy day to read my blog 🥰

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  12. No heights for me. No balloon rides or skydiving or rollercoasters. I like my feet firmly on the ground, which may be boring, but that’s me. I like the photo of Nikolai & Moose. They look like best buds.

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  13. My husband’s first retirement gig last summer was crewing for a hot air balloon company. If they were ever short a person (for balance), he would get to fly. Personally, I could never, but he loved it! By the way, your photos are beyond gorgeous!

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  14. Oh wow – LaShelle, what a story of you and Nickolai! You gave him an experience he will never forget and that evident from the way he was ready to go on an adventure with Moose. I love the photos of the two of them and the goggles and bomber-style cap. That is amazing how you put that picture together of the balloon. As for me, I’d be worried to go up in a hot air balloon. We have a hot air balloon festival at Battle Creek – it has something to do with Kellogg’s Cereal (their main headquarters). I like seeing the pictures of the balloons. I wouldn’t do para-sailing either – too risky and I don’t know how to swim if I landed in the water. In high school my friends made me go on a roller coaster, though I didn’t want to – I went but hated that feeling of “what if?” What if the coaster goes too fast off the rails, or I fall out? I did the dangerous-type rides at Cedar Point for Senior Skip Day as a rite of passage, but that was once and done. Cluck, cluck, cluck – I’m a chicken.

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  15. First of all, your descriptions of Nikolai and his little excited body are always super cute. These photos are stunning ❤

    My husband wanted to go on a hot-air balloon ride, but then COVID. This description has put it back on my radar.

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      1. Don’t do that with me!! Say stuff!! 😂 I appreciate it immensely trust me. I’m so glad you noticed. Your comment about focusing on song lyrics really resonated with me and I had a much easier time understanding the concept. Another writer that I was reading today was talking about not using ing words and I’m totally willing to take on the challenge but also feeling slightly overwhelmed with wanting to improve but keep the flow of things. If you catch my drift. I like the fact that in writing it’s very similar in a way to photography whereas there are rules but you can also break the rules as long as there’s a purpose for it. I wish that I had somebody that could mentor me and give me advice. I’ve still been looking for classes or writing clubs to join. It’s tricky without internet. I just need to find something online or in person that’s during Nikolai’s school hours. I could easily sit at the coffee shop and carve out the time to learn to be better. The learning process feels a little bit like photography too. I want to make sure that if I pay somebody to help me learn that my money is well spent and not just things that I could figure out on my own. I taught myself how to do photography. I just need advice and a second set of eyes and maybe someone to mentor me a little.

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      2. LOL I shall, now that I have permission.

        And I get it about the photography comparison. I think most art is similar in process. If I come across any writing support, I’ll let you know. I know Writer’s Digest has courses that people praise and there’s also Coursera…have you heard of that?

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  16. I’m not terrified of heights but my body definitely doesn’t like them and I am pumped full of adrenaline as I hear the edge of very tall places. On a hiking trip to Kings Canyon I watched a young Japanese couple leap the guardrail and venture way out near the edge for a photo opportunity – they worried me so much with their foolhardy stunts.

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  17. Firstly, these photographs are absolutely stunning!! I’m just so in love with your writing style. It’s cozy and inviting. Also, traveling is magical. I love to travel to new and old places alike. Let’s seeee so, 5 must-have essentials for me would be water, my watch to monitor my heart beat just in case I freaked out and needed said water! Lol ! Lipgloss (it just makes me feel like I have everything under control once I use it, don’t know why! Haha! ), an apple or two and my phone for music. 🙂

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    1. Ahhh you made my night! There’s no greater compliment then being told a reader is in love with the way I write. Especially the cozy and inviting bit. I was so excited you said that, I had to take a screenshot to remind myself later when I think I’m terrible at it 🤪. Artists am I right?! Never satisfied! Thanks so much for complimenting my photography too!
      A girl who uses lipgloss to feel in control is a woman after my own heart. I swear some days I don’t care if my hair is a disaster but if I walk out to feed the farm and I can pop on some chapstick or lipgloss I feel incredibly productive 🤪. The fitness watch is a brilliant idea too! It would certainly be easier thank kidnap LOL 😆 then you’d know exactly when to pop a Xanax am I right? Love your answers.

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