Burner the Balloon Guy

Ballon shadows on inflationBurner inflationThe luxurious life of travelling on the road like nomads following our bliss has been exceptionally exciting. Today would be no different, with waking to the sounds of the whistling wind tunnel vibrations as the sun was rising out of bed. This was our cue, parked in our Airstream at the edge of the landing area — our room with a view. We could hear the familiar sound of Gary ‘Burner’ Born — High But Dry Balloons — rumbling his way across the airport, with diesel truck and balloon trailer in tow, arriving to anxious passengers and skydivers waiting to make the sunrise airship flight to 5000 feet over the blossoming desert. Wanting to greet Burner with a big hug and a kiss after 4 years, slaDE and I wandered over to the launch point, happy to be back in our familiar zone of crewing, skydiving and in the company of our desert friends. Balloon parahuteWanting to watch the balloon lift off and help to inflate the 220 cubic feet beautiful dirigible, I was ecstatic to hear that Burner had a space left for a lone skydiver if I was up for the free jump, giving the second round of passengers a show for their money.  Balloon lift-offWithout a second thought, I ran to the truck and grabbed my rig, somewhat sad to think that I’d make my first balloon jump alone and without my husband. but Burner, never one to disappoint, called down to his crew, and said that if slaDE was wanting, he come jump on board as well! Literally jumping for joy, we were up for the challenge and in the truck, ready to go as quick as you could blink your eye. Yippee! A winter spent crewing for Burner had paid off, and we were on our way waiting to meet the landing balloon after the first set of skydivers landed back at the drop zone (not often that the winds up top allow for the jumpers to make it back). Chase vehicle driving on balloon shadowWith light winds, the balloon set down and in we climbed along with 4 new passengers, aloft just as quick as he had set down. The climb to altitude was breathtaking. Green pastures of desert spattering filled our view, from the Arizona vastness to the mountains in front of us. I’ve never seen it so lush! Obviously, the recent rains had sprung new life to the desert below. Approaching 4000 feet, Burner suggested that I climb around the basket rim to my husband at the other side of our compartment. Being afraid of heights, laughingly I scurried over to his side, without looking down. There is something about being completely motionless in a balloon up high, even with a parachute on my back knowing that i was just about to jump out, that had me frightened to climb up and move around the edge of the basket. Hard to describe, but nonetheless, I stood on the edge with my husband holding my hand, pointing out a suggested area to land below. And with a ‘Three, Two, One’, we stepped off at 5000 feet AGL. Talk about the sensation of falling! sKY & BurnerThere was no opportunity to scream, with stomach in my throat. The sensation of pure quiet to a screaming sound of freefall building was unmistakable and unbelievably surreal. Nothing in my 1300 jumps has come close to the blissfulness of jumping from a balloon. With a kiss pass at 3500, I deployed my parachute and landed a few minutes later with no wind on a beautiful flat hard-packed desert runway. Thankfully I was able to touch down in a run. If I had biffed in, I’m certain that I would have hurt some appendage on my body. Despite the recent rain, the desert was as hard as asphalt for the sprinklings of thorny bushes everywhere. Been there, done that, have the thorn-buried scars to prove it.

Skydive AZ from 1000 feetHelping to back up the balloon was a pleasure. I think this high of jump # 1301 will have me riding in cloud 9 all day long. WOW.  Déjà vu of many crew clean ups had us out of there in record time, and for old times sake, slaDE, myself and Bruce rode in the basket, now secured tightly on the trailer, with Brian blazing trails of dust into the morning light, ready for a day of jumping ahead of uS.

Packing up the balloonWe managed to fit in a few more jumps today, one organized by a Skydive Chicago old-time friend and the second as a four way, launching a real cool steep exit out of the tailgate of the Skyvan. Yippee! All my jumps today had me blazing in screaming hot on landing (jumping a Spectre 135, no less). With no wind (unusual in a thermally bumpy Arizona afternoon) and fixed landing paths in the 2 different landing areas, I was extremely cautious of the mass exodus of canopies landing around me. With much luck and perhaps a little skill, I managed to run out each of my landings with no harm but dust covered canopy and jumpsuit. Not so lucky was our friend Tim on our final jump of the day. He skidded and tripped on a desert mound and slid in on previously injured left shoulder, re-dislocating it. Oh gosh, accidents such as this leave me painfully aware of the dangers of our sport — I could so feel his pain, with images of my own shoulder injury coming back to haunt and remind me of the high speeds we are generating in this sport, both in the air and over the ground. A good lesson in humble gratitude for the privileges we have in jumping out of airplanes. Amen!

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