Sunday, July 23, 2006

Balloon Race, The Michigan Challenge

The crowd waits impatiently on a hot summer evening in Howell, Michigan. It's the weekend of the Michigan Challenge, Hot Air Balloon Festival.

As the evening approaches, the competitors assemble on the field. The balloons only fly during the first 2 hours after sunrise and the last 2 hours before sunset. This particular weekend, the weather conditions were great. They got 5/5 launches in (Fri. evening, Sat. morning and evening and Sun. morning and evening).

Eventually, one of the crews starts to inflate their balloon. The crowd noise increases as people's excitement builds. There's anticipation in the air...

In just a few minutes the first balloon is inflated and on its way. The crowd cheers loudly as the basket lifts off the ground. This first balloon will set the target in a game called "Fox and Hounds". Its given a few minutes head start and then the other competitors will chase it and try to drop their marker on the target set by the first balloon captain.

The excitement builds as all of the other competitors race to get off the ground. It was my first time at a balloon launch and I expected each balloon to take off one at a time, like the first balloon did. But that was not the case! They all started at the same time. It's almost magical to watch the huge, colorful, graceful balloons take shape.

With the first balloon in the distance, those still on the ground work feverishly to get themselves airborne.

The kaleidoscope of colors is nothing short of spectacular!

The flames from the burners are loud and awesome to view. The element of danger is in the air. If the balloon were to catch on fire it would be nothing short of a disaster.

One after another the balloons fill with air and take to the skies. It's hard to take in all the visuals at once. So many balloons, so much excitement... the crowd cheers with each new balloon launch. It often looks like they'll bump into each other, and sometimes they do. But they just continue to launch!

This was my favorite balloon. I just love the rainbow of colors!

It's quite a sight to take in... in all, 53 balloons participated in the Michigan Challenge this year.

In just a few minutes the majority of balloons are off and on their way. The last few scramble to get themselves up, up, and away!

The last balloon took flight and with it's rise the crowd was on its feet. As the roaring applause died down so did the excitement. It was almost as if the crowd's enthusiasm deflated instantly. It was a lovely event, more exciting than I would have guessed it would be.