For years, attending the New Jersey Festival of Ballooning at Solberg Airport in Readington, New Jersey has been on my bucket list. It’s never been high up on my husband’s list though and the tickets run about $30 each, so we’ve always let the festival weekend slip by. (There was one day about 10 years ago when we drove to Readington and waited on a church lawn with some friends to watch the evening ascension, but due to high winds the balloons never lifted off. Bummer.)
This year I had the great fortune of winning tickets for the festival. (While I consider myself lucky in life, I am not lucky when it comes to games of chance, drawings and the like. So, when I found out my name was picked for the tickets I felt like I had just won the Showcase Showdown on The Price Is Right. Yes, I was that excited!)
I immediately called my husband, G, to share the news. An hour later he called back to say that there were two ascension times – 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. (Hmm. He actually took the time to check the website. Maybe he was more into this than I thought.)
We decided to go for the 6:30 a.m. ascension on Sunday. This would mean waking up before 5 a.m. for the hour-long drive to Readington. The only other things we wake up that early for are trips to visit family in Massachusetts and vacations, so it added to the feeling that the balloon festival was something special.
On Sunday morning, our alarm went off at 4:45. We quickly woke the kids, got ready and jumped in the car. It had rained the night before, so the morning was cool and damp. The sky gradually lightened and the sun rose as we drove. (For us, the early morning ascension was the right move. Close to the airport the drive is mostly narrow local roads. I could imagine sitting in lots of traffic for the evening ascension.)
When we arrived at Solberg Airport just after 6:00 a.m., we were very efficiently ushered to a parking spot and followed the flow of the crowd past the vendor area to an open field sectioned off by a low fence.
There were a few trucks and vans in the field, but there wasn’t much movement. I was surprised to see how many people were already there, butts parked comfortably in camping chairs, waiting for the balloons. At first I wished I had remembered the blanket I had planned to bring, but we ended up walking around looking at the various balloons as they inflated.
It didn’t take long before we saw folks readying the baskets and balloons for inflation. The announcer informed us that the balloonists would be participating in a “fox and hound” race. This involves a lead balloon “the fox” taking off fifteen minutes before the rest of the balloons and laying out a large “X” in the field where they land. The other balloons “the hounds” endeavor to navigate the same path as the lead balloon and attempt to drop a sand bag onto the “X”. (There’s a decent amount of prize money involved in this contest!)
Soon, the lead balloon (a yellow and black beauty) was inflated and flying away to the tune “Up, Up and Away”. No long after there were balloons inflating all around us and lifting quietly into the sky. There were over 100 balloons! At one point, when about half of them were in the sky and half were inflated on the ground, I actually began to well up. It was absolutely breathtaking – more so than I could have imagined.
When the balloon ascension was over we wandered through the vendor area where there were plenty of snacks, drinks and artisans selling their wares. There were a number of national-brand vendors giving out samples of everything imaginable: coffee, iced tea, energy drinks, yogurt, ice pops, snacks, chips and… yes… even hemorrhoid wipes!
The sun was out at the beginning of the ascension, but the sky quickly turned and stayed gray. For us, the balloons were definitely the main event, so we didn’t stay very long after. Had the day been nicer, we might have stayed longer. Even so, my husband and I both agreed that watching the balloons alone was worth the price of the tickets. It is definitely an experience not to be missed and we will definitely go again. Maybe next time I can cross another item off the bucket list: Take a ride in a hot air balloon!
This is an original post for Jersey Moms Blog.