Red River Balloon Rally and National Championship, and Challenge Coin, Shreveport, Louisiana

I arrived in Shreveport for the Red River Balloon Rally and National Championship on July 12th. The Rally begins on July 13th and I have signed up to crew for several days. This is the first year Shreveport is hosting the National Championship. It changes locations every three or four years. In the previous story I wrote about my journey to Shreveport and some of the things I have been doing since I arrived here. I created a photo album with pictures I have taken at this event.

For the morning shifts, I have been assigned to a pilot named Jayson Kimball, who is from Napa Valley, California. He has been a commercial balloon pilot for about 20 years, but this is his first time in a national competition. His balloon is named Turbo. Helping him is his brother Colby and also Odin who happens to be the Mexican National Champion who will be going to Japan this year to compete in the World Competitions. And then there’s me. It’s the four of us on this team and we seem to work well together. Jayson is really excited that he is here and getting to participate. Jayson comes from a family of long time balloonists. There are about 36 balloons at this event. I found this page on the website that shows the names of the pilots and a picture of their balloon. Odin flew all the way from Mexico to help Jayson with his first national championship, that is a great friend!!!

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Since we all go in different directions in the morning trying to find the best location to launch in order to have a good flight to the various targets every day I am not able to get many pictures. Also, with just the four of us as crew we are very busy inflating, and then packing up and being the chase crew. Colby is in the basket with Jayson so it’s just Odin and me in the vehicle and we are also packing up the trailer after Jayson lifts off.

I have been getting up at 4:00 a.m. and about 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. when we get back it feels like it should be mid-afternoon and I’m ready for a nap. Friday and Saturday in addition to crewing in the morning, I will be volunteering as a crew member in the afternoon. It’s nice to meet new pilots because they all seem to do something a little bit different, but it’s also nice to work with a pilot I’m familiar with because I know a little how they work and what they want me to do. However, that also is determined by how many crew members there are. I didn’t really want to pack up everything in my camper and drive a few miles to the LSU campus where the Friday and Saturday afternoon and evening events take place. I asked one of the volunteers who lives in town if she could swing by and pick me up and she said she would, it’s sort of on her way to LSU. I thanked her very much. This is her first time volunteering at a balloon rally and she loves it!!!

I saw Al Nels from Ohio who is a several time National Champion. I crewed for him in Longview, Texas, last year. His balloon is the one with the blue top and green grass. You can read the story about his special balloon in July 2015 Great Texas Balloon Race story if you are interested. Everything on his balloon has family meaning. The balloon with the multi-colored squares in a geometric design is Jayson’s balloon, this is the one I am crewing for this year. The pictures  of Jayson’s balloon are as he is coming in over the targets during practice on Wednesday morning.

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Jayson is a commercial hot air balloon pilot, he says that he frequently pilots a balloon that is 300,000 cubic feet and it holds 24 passengers. The balloon he is flying here is about 56,000 cubic feet and it’s a racing balloon which reacts very quickly to the propane burners rather than the larger balloon envelope which reacts more slowly. In fact, it was interesting watching the balloons this morning, the winds were very different in the air and many of the balloons were affected by this difference. The top and bottom of the balloon looked like they were at an angle rather than straight due to the wind differences. I don’t have a picture of this, and it’s a bit difficult to explain. I guess if you look at the pictures above you can see a slight slant to the balloon envelope. Sometimes, if the winds are blowing a lot the balloon even looks like it’s collapsing on one side as it’s swayed by the winds. On Thursday, July 14th, the winds were really picking up and when Jayson landed he came in pretty fast and hard, and there were only two of us to try and stop the basket. We got it done and got the balloon envelope down quickly. I’m glad I wasn’t in the basket when it landed.

Friday, July 15th: The winds were not the best for flying, but these balloon pilots are determined to compete whenever the conditions are safe. The winds were supposed to be getting worse as the morning progressed so the pilots and crew all rushed to their vehicles after pilot briefing and we went to the best location for launching and being able to fly to the targets. Many of the balloon teams went to the same location which was a church with a very large grassy lot next to it. I’m guessing there were about 14 balloons that launched from this site. When I was talking with my friend Jeanie in the afternoon it turns out her team launched from the same site as my team. I was able to get lots of good pictures today. Also, Colby gave me a few pictures he took from the air, and also one of me holding the balloon envelope open while the balloon was inflating. There is a yellow balloon that has cats on the balloon, it’s pretty cool to look at. There are many balloons that I have not seen at other balloon events.

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We went to the LSUS campus in the afternoon for the evening glow and concert, but the weather did not cooperate and the winds were really high, then instead of the balloon glow, concert, and fireworks show that was supposed to happen later on tonight, God decided to give us a big display of lights, sound, and wind, provided by Nature. There were high winds, lightning, and then heavy rain. Jeanie and I ran to her car but we still got soaked. It was really sad because all of the people came out to see the show and some wanted tethered rides. We will try again on Saturday. Before the event was canceled, we all went into the gym to wait and see if the storm would pass and allow us to set up the balloons for the glow, but it turns out after about an hour or so it was only getting worse.

While we were in the hallway at the gym, I saw a young boy, probably about a year old in a wheelchair and there was a sign on the chair saying: Please do not touch me, my bones are brittle and break easily. I prayed for the little boy and his family and thought of all of the things he would not be able to do and how carefully he had to be handled for any activity or life experience, even changing his diaper, or dressing him. Once again, I got to be extremely grateful for my life and physical condition. Before I left home I was in a lot of pain, and I prayed and asked God to please lessen my pain. So far, God has been answering my prayer. The pain has not been too bad and I am able to take my medicine when it is and just relax and not drive.

Saturday, July 16th: I got up in the morning and went to the hotel lobby and found out that the winds and weather were not good for flying so the morning event was canceled. The organizers said that they could use help going to the field and getting it ready for the evening events, so I went and helped. The field was wet and the barricades blew over, but other than that things were okay. The rain really cooled the temperatures, it was 75 degrees at about 7:00 a.m. which felt really good after the high 90’s we have been having. The little fridge in my camper is having trouble staying cool with the hot temperature and me not having electrical connections. So, I went into the hotel restaurant and got some ice in a few small containers I have and I put them in the fridge. I change the melted ice for real ice twice a day and it seems to be helping to keep the fridge cooler. I have a little bit of food that I don’t feel safe eating because the fridge thermometer was not in the zone that I felt was food safe. I also run the generator for about half hour in the morning and afternoon to charge the batteries and also I think it helps the fridge to operate better, at least I hope it does.

Saturday evening: Tonight is beautiful weather for the evening events. There was live entertainment and as it got dark approximately 32 hot air balloons inflated and glowed for about an hour. It was an awesome site to see. I crewed for Jayson and since we have all been working together all week I know more about how he likes things done. After the balloons were packed up the fireworks show began and fireworks exploded in the sky producing a beautiful light show for about 20 minutes. When Jeanie and I arrived at the LSUS parking lot we parked in a spot that would allow us to leave easily without waiting in long lines of traffic and it worked great. Partway though the fireworks display we began walking to the car to get ahead of the crowd and we would stop every now and then to watch the fireworks. By the time they were finished we were at the car. I wish the weather last night was this good, but I guess we needed the rain last night.

I am still getting used to my new camera and when it’s dark I can’t see the settings to change them for night pictures, so the evening photos are using the automatic setting. I didn’t take pictures of the fireworks. I know the camera has a fireworks setting, I need to practice finding it so I can take fireworks pictures in Albuquerque where they have five nights of spectacular fireworks. Sometimes when I take pictures I turn the camera sideways to take a picture. I download it to my computer and the pictures all look like they are the correct way, nothing looks sideways. However, after I insert pictures in my post, for some strange reason, the ones I took holding the camera sideways the pictures look that way, and I have to go into edit and rotate them. It also does the same thing in the photo album sometimes. This is a bit frustrating and also time consuming to rotate the pictures but I want to do that so that when you look at the pictures they are facing the correct way. I took a short 25 second video of the balloons flying over the target but the file was too large to insert in this post. It’s at the end of the photo album pictures.

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Sunday, July 17th: I met Jayson in the lobby in the morning and we drove to the location he wanted to launch from. There were several balloons launching from this spot, but not as many as the other morning. As soon as Odin finished tying down the equipment we began our journey following the balloon to the first target location. We arrived in time to watch quite a few pilots fly over the target and throw their markers. It’s really interesting to watch the pilots navigate the winds from a few miles away and actually get to where the target which is X is on the ground, or where a pole is that they drop a plastic ring about 12″ in diameter over the end of the pole. There is a lot of skill and knowledge involved in competition.

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After watching the pilots trying to get their bean bags on the target, we kept going until we arrived where Jayson decided to land his balloon. He landed in some red dirt on a road where we were not able to get the vehicle down due to a gate. So, Odin and I walked around the gate and go to the balloon and Jayson kept it slightly off the ground while Odin and I walked it down the road and over a few mounds of high grass and dirt to a flat dirt field where we could lay the balloon down and pack it. Our shoes and the balloon envelope had a layer of red dirt, but that’s part of ballooning, we never know where the landing places will be until it happens.

I decided to stay here until Monday so that I could crew for Jayson one more day to make it easier for him. I got more ice for my little fridge to help it stay a bit cooler and I threw away some food that I didn’t feel safe eating since the temperature was not in the safe food zone.

On Monday, after I finish crewing for Jayson, I will leave Shreveport and head towards Longview, Texas, which is about an hour and a half or so west of here. I am updating this story at 3:30 p.m., on Sunday, July 17th.

Monday, July 18th: When I showed up to sign in for crewing this morning John Storey, who also goes by Stormy, asked if today was my last day at this event and I said it was. He reached into his pocket and presented me with a Challenge Coin. He said he was a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force and when he retired after 27 years he had these Challenge Coins made with the name he was known by which is Stormy. He said that these coins are given out to to people who go above and beyond and do something extra special. John was a volunteer at this balloon event and was mostly in charge of the crew volunteers, among other responsibilities. He said that he had these coins made in Turkey by a friend that makes them because he didn’t want to be restricted to giving them out like the Air Force requirements state. I was extremely surprised that he gave me this very special coin and the honor I felt for receiving it was overwhelming and a huge surprise. I didn’t know about these types of coins. I stayed a few extra days and worked a few extra shifts to make it easier for John and the pilots and I also did other tasks when it was needed.

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After this unexpected surprise by John, I met my pilot Jayson and went to crew for him. Since today was my last day, John assigned Robin to help us because she could crew for Jayson the rest of the days of competition. I introduced her to Jayson, Colby, and Odin and explained what we needed to do to help them with the balloon and chase crew. Robin said this is her first time being involved with hot air balloons and she was so excited to join us and help. Watching her joy and wonder as she saw the balloons laid out, inflating, and flying was contagious. Odin drove and we tried to keep track of the balloon and we got to some of the targets to watch the balloons fly over them. Robin took lots of pictures, including some of me. It was a fun day and we got to enjoy our time together before I left for the balloon rally in Longview, Texas.

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1 Response to Red River Balloon Rally and National Championship, and Challenge Coin, Shreveport, Louisiana

  1. Thanks so much Carol for showing me the ropes. I had an absolutely wonderful time!

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