Let me start by saying that setting one's alarm for 3:45 am is no joke. It makes it hard to go to sleep, because part of your brain is screaming "THAT'S THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT!" before you even close your eyes. Which it is, of course. But word on the street indicated that leaving later than 4:15 am was leaving too late. The morning sessions events aren't scheduled to really get going until 6:00 am, but when you factor in the tens of thousands of sleepy people wrangling for parking spots, it's wise to show up as early as possible. So we did.
Corn dogs for breakfast at 5:34 am were never considered, but we did briefly discuss ordering another funnel cake to split like we did on Saturday night. It has flour, right? In the end, we decided to pass, though.
There was a laser light show to keep people occupied while the Dawn Patrol balloons started setting up. We got tickled by this laser show, because we misunderstood its orientation the night before (read: were looking the wrong direction) and thought it was the lamest laser light show ever. Heh. It was actually pretty good.
We entered the field in exactly the right spot to have a good look at what was going on in the dark. Each morning a select number of hot air balloons participate in the Dawn Patrol, which is a coordinated launch that helps determine the wind conditions (and looks really cool in the dark). We didn't get to see them fly, because there wasn't enough wind at all so the eight balloons participating on Sunday morning were grounded. This was bad news, as we assumed that probably meant the whole mass ascension wouldn't be happening, either. But here's something we learned: ballooning is an ever-changing proposition.
Here's a few of the Dawn Patrol balloons glowing; it was great to be so close as they were setting up, but I might try to back up for a wider perspective before they light their burners for the glow next time.
The mass ascension was delayed for quite a while and we were beginning to think it wasn't going to happen, which was a huge bummer considering how far Wendy and Jake came to attend. It was exceptionally cloudy but clouds aren't the problem—rather, a lack of wind aloft (it has to be at least 20 mph to fly safely). But suddenly the yellow flag changed to green, and the entire field literally started buzzing to life!
Balloons were inflating everywhere and I have never seen so many people with cameras. Canon says this is one of the most photographed events in the world—I'm not sure how they measure that but I don't think anyone would argue after looking around. It was amazing to be so close to the action, and everyone (remember, we're talking in the tens of thousands) was friendly. I only saw a few people get chased away by Zebras for being in the way.
The piranha hails from Brazil and was the funniest balloon we saw. Yes, that's a finger in its mouth. All the "special shapes" balloons have special flying events later in the week, but a few were out on Sunday, too.
The Zebras don't wear the same thing, but they are very clearly zebras. I'm curious how people work their way up to being launch officials in this capacity—are they like the CFD Heels of the Balloon Fiesta? (Luckily, I know a full-time Balloon Fiesta employee who I will ask all my burning questions... AFTER it's all over.)
Not all the pilot trading cards were restocked in time, but the girls still collected a big stack of them. This was definitely a highlight, and I so enjoyed chatting with some of the pilots while the launch was on hold. Gracie spotted one on the top of her stack after it launched—match match!
This is Mr. Bup! Mr. Bup is from Belgium, and it was so much fun to chat with the couple that owns him. They had their little baby with them, who looked less than impressed with the early hour and second balloon festival since arriving in the United States three weeks ago for a big visit. I learned that Belgium has about 300 hot air balloonists (not bad for a country of 11 million people) and boasts the oldest balloon festival in the world.
You can imagine these are huge crowd pleasers : ) More shapes on Thursday, when we set our alarms for 3:45 am again!