Tag Archives: ride

Taking a Ride in a Balloon

My visit to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta was for an article I was going to write and, since I was there on a media pass, the organizers made a flight available.  I didn’t know who I would be flying with until close to the time but the opportunity was one I was really excited about.  When the time came, I was set up with a balloon crew from near Ottawa in Canada.  The pilot spoke mainly French with very little English but we managed to find a way to communicate well anyway.  Nancy was able to hang out with the ground crew.

I asked what I could do to help but they had things well sorted out and I was likely to be a hindrance rather than a help.  Besides, it did mean I could photograph everything that was going on.  The inflation of the envelope and then heating it up and getting it upright was great to see close up.  Then it was time to climb onboard and await our designated takeoff time.

When the wind is blowing in a certain direction, the balloons will fly off towards the river and is is common for them to drop down to the water and touch it with the basket before lifting off again.  I was hoping that this would be something we could do but the winds were not coming from that direction on this occasion.  Instead, they were doing something that is not uncommon at Albuquerque but is actually really cool.

The field is aligned north to south and, when the wind is blowing the right way, something they call the box is formed.  At about 1,000’ the wind is blowing north to south but, at about 2,000’ it reverses to south to north.  Consequently, you can climb up to 1,000’ and head south for a while before climbing up to 2,000’ and reversing course.  Once you get far enough north, you can descend and repeat the whole process.

Having never flown in a balloon before, I knew little about the process.  You can’t see upwards because the envelope is above you.  However, you can see sideways and down very clearly.  Therefore, the balloon above is responsible for maintaining separation from any balloons below.  We were all required to keep an eye on everything around is to be sure we stayed suitably separated.  Looking directly down on balloons with the ground behind them was something I found really cool.

The other thing I wasn’t prepared for was how quiet it was.  Sure, when the burner fires, the noise is loud.  However, most of the time you are drifting along with the wind so there is no breeze and everything feels remarkably still.  The main noise is other people’s burners or the conversation in the baskets nearest you.  You can hear a lot of other chatter.  It is a very peaceful experience and the views are lovely.  No windows between you and the view so a totally immersive experience.

After making our way around the box a couple of times, it was time to land.  Normally a balloon flight involves the ground crew tracking you across the sky and aiming to get to your landing zone when you do.  Flying the box meant we were able to land about 50 yards from where we had taken off and they could just wait for us to come back.  We drifted back down and touched down without any issues and it was time to jump out and let them deflate the envelope (which happened surprisingly quickly).

This is, so far, my first and only balloon flight.  I would be very happy to do it again.  I am not so sure that I would want to be in one of the large balloons that we see flying around here with big baskets to carry lots of passengers since that might feel slightly less relaxing but I would like to go again at some point.

Closing the Viaduct and Opening the Tunnel

For decades, the dominant feature of the Seattle waterfront has been the Alaskan Way Viaduct.  This carried Route 99 from the south side of the city along the waterfront before diving into the Battery Street Tunnel and then popping above ground to continue to the north.  It was a double deck viaduct with the northbound traffic on top and the southbound traffic on the lower level.  The viaduct suffered damage in the Nisqually Earthquake and further investigation showed just how vulnerable it was so the replacement process commenced.

The replacement is a tunnel.  Building the tunnel under the city was not an easy task.  A tunnel boring machine named Big Bertha was brought in to cut the tunnel.  Unfortunately, at some point it struck a hard object which damaged the main bearing for the cutting head.  A hole had to be dug and the machine extracted, repaired and reinserted.  This added years to the project but finally, in January 2019, the viaduct was closed.  A three-week period was set aside between closure of the viaduct and opening of the tunnel to allow reconfiguration of the approaches at each end.

On the weekend before the tunnel opened for traffic, WSDOT held celebrations.  A fun run took place on the Saturday and the Sunday included a bike ride.  This included riding both directions through the new tunnel as well as both directions on the old viaduct.  I signed up to take part.  Tons of cyclists also took the opportunity and the event was sold out well in advance.  The number of people mean things were pretty crowded and it could be congested at times.  The long descent in the opening tunnel section could have been quite fast but it wasn’t possible to speed along given how many people there were.

The new tunnel sections were nice and well let.  We actually rode quite a distance south after popping out near the Coast Guard base in the harbor and the wind was in our faces but that meant the run back was a lot easier.  The second part of the tunnel had to be a climb given the descent we had made originally but it wasn’t too bad.  Then we turned and were directed on to the streets to enter the Battery Street Tunnel.

This was a far more dismal experience.  It is a dark and dirty tunnel and I was pleased to get through it quickly.  We actually went through it the wrong way and we went south on the northbound part of the viaduct before diverting off and coming back on the lower level.  One last run through the dirty tunnel and we had completed the ride.  As I exited, plenty of riders were just starting.  It would have been possible to do it all again but I was happy to have done it and decided it was time to go home.  Later that day a serious (for Seattle) snow storm swept in so we had been lucky to get the ride done without any disruption.

Paris on a Bike

22.jpgWhen we still lived in the UK, I took part in a charity bike ride. The ride was from London to Paris and was in aid of the Royal British Legion. Spread over 4 days, the first leg was from London to Dover and over on the ferry to Calais, the second leg was from Calais to Abbeville, the third was Abbeville to Beauvais and the last was Beauvais to Paris. The first leg was not a lot of fun. Eighty miles through the south east on some busy roads when you were pretty much left to your own devices was not too relaxing. The trip through France was a totally different story.

12.jpgFor our whole ride through France we were escorted by motor cyclists. It was like being in the Tour de France. As we approached, the traffic pulled aside and the motor bikes cleared our path. Red lights and stop signs meant nothing. In each town at which we stopped, the town would turn out to provide us with food and wine (not a good idea when there is a big climb straight after lunch) and entertainment. Everyone was unbelievably welcoming and we were constantly being cheered along by anyone we passed.

03.jpgEach town we stopped overnight in would have a parade. The remembrance ceremony each time would be a really well supported event and I felt like I knew the Marseillaise by heart by the end of the trip. The first two days were eighty miles each, the third was a slightly easier seventy miles and the last day was under sixty. I had always thought of northern France as quite flat. I will never make that mistake again.

28.jpgThe final day was pretty impressive. We rode through the outskirts of Paris coming through areas I had heard of before but never visited. Then we were running in to the center of the city itself. The run up to l’arc de Triomphe with all of the traffic was an amazing feeling. The whole group together with our police escort stopped Paris traffic. We rode around the monument before parking our bikes and then walking up the Champs Elysée before holding a final remembrance ceremony under the arch itself. Quite an impressive event and one that really meant something after the effort to get there.

19.jpgI only had a small film camera with me so there aren’t too many shots and they were taken while on the move.   Hopefully they will convey something of what was a really cool trip.

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Flying Over Chicago

wpid8223-C59F1956.jpgOne thing I have been thinking about for a while is doing a flight across Chicago in a helicopter.  I had contemplated this on and off for a while but never got around to doing it.  Then I got an offer that was impossible to pass up.  Someone I have been working with on a couple of things was going to be doing some flying across the city on another project and asked if I wanted to ride along.  Let me think about that for a second…

wpid8215-AU0E1838.jpgThe day was not the best for photography sadly.  The city was shrouded in low cloud with the tops of the taller buildings in the clouds.  This didn’t harm the work they had planned but it did change the perspective on things a bit.  However, the city was still there and I was still in a helicopter – one with an opening window no less – so time to make the most of it.

wpid8233-AU0E2090.jpgWith our departure from the city not far in the future at this point, it really was a great time to get a view like this.  I have been on plenty of tall buildings in the city working with the helicopter crews so I have seen some great sights but heading around the city to different spots gives you so much more of interest.  I grabbed as many shots as I could while the guys got on with the reason for being there.  They were great to fly with and a very professional crew.  Thanks for taking me along.