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.