HOT-AIR BALLOONING: UP, UP AND … OH, WAIT
by Todd Hartley
I’ve been fairly lucky in my life when it comes to experiencing different ways of getting around. In addition to cars, trains, boats and planes, I’ve ridden in or on motorcycles, helicopters, golf carts, carriages, pedicabs, scooters, jet skis, ATVs, horses, elephants and camels. I even got to ride in an ambulance a few weeks back. In all my years, however, there are two conveyances I’ve always wanted to try but never had the opportunity: hot-air balloons and Segways.
Fortunately, as luck would have it, I found myself in a position to knock the former off my list earlier this week. I was on an organized golf tour in Arizona, and one of the additional activities our hosts had planned for us was a balloon ride that I was very excited about.
The itinerary made it sound so appealing: “The Sonoran Desert is a unique and beautiful place when observed from ground level, but the view from above is astounding in its expansiveness and grandeur. The view from the balloon’s handcrafted wicker basket is virtually unobstructed — a photographer’s dream! Upon landing, you will be welcomed back to earth in the traditional manner with flutes of champagne and breakfast, a custom dating back more than 100 years.”
Yes, please! Sign me up for some of that.
So, with visions of expansiveness and grandeur in our heads, my fellow travelers and I woke up bright and extremely early the other morning and piled into a couple of vans for the trip to the launch site. On the way, our guide told us all about the amazing things we were going to see and what a fun time we were going to have. I was so psyched, I could barely contain myself.
As we approached the area where we would be disembarking, our van driver called someone on the phone to make sure we were headed for the right spot (apparently it changes depending on the weather conditions), and I heard him say, “Really? Well, OK, if you say so.” Then he turned to us and announced, “I’ve got some bad news. We can’t fly today. The winds are too strong.”
We all had a good laugh under the assumption that he was pulling our legs, but when he turned the van around and started heading back to the hotel, it dawned on us that this was no joke. We really weren’t going. There would be no balloon, no flutes of champagne, no breakfast, no 100-year-old customs, no expansiveness and no grandeur. To say I felt deflated would hardly do justice to the extent of my disappointment.
Bummed out and tired from waking up at 5:15 a.m., I slunk back to my room and made a meal of some cold, leftover pizza before crying myself back to sleep. A few hours later, I rose and got ready for that day’s round of golf, which sounded great but would, in my estimation, hardly make up for missing out on the ballooning.
When I got to the first tee, however, I learned that the Westin Kierland Resort has a unique program in which golfers can eschew traditional carts in favor of a different way of getting around the course — namely Segways — and there just so happened to be one available for my use.
Oh, happy day! There was one thing that could have lifted me out of my no-ballooning doldrums, and a Segway was it. I could barely believe how lucky I was.
The instructor gave me a quick lesson on how to properly operate the thing, and then he strapped my clubs to it and sent me out on the course completely unsupervised and with a better-than-average chance of severely injuring myself. I didn’t care, though; I was golfing and Segwaying, and I couldn’t have been happier about it.
The Segway experience, I found, was great fun mixed with just a little bit of terror, which was actually beneficial. You see, one of the worst things a golfer can do is think too much about his or her game, and with my mind sufficiently diverted by thoughts of staying alive, I ended up playing about as well as I ever have.
I’m pleased to report that despite tipping the Segway over a couple of times, I managed not to harm myself, although I have to admit there were a few instances when I was sure I was destined for the one mode of transportation I hope never to take: a hearse.
If you see Todd Hartley floating by in a lounge chair tied to 1,000 balloons, please don’t shoot him down.