It's called the Red October-- the majestic hot air balloon that's going to take us soaring high into the sky.
"This is the first time I've flown at this event. Been all over the country and world, but never flown in Quechee," said Stan Hess of the U.S. Hot Air Balloon Team.
Flying for over 30 years, Hess from Pennsylvania is our pilot.
"I went for a balloon ride and just never stopped. Within six months of the ride I bought a balloon and the rest is history," he said.
Hess is the owner of the U.S. Hot Air Balloon Team, and if we don't feel safe with that title, he assures us that his white hair and more than 3,000 rides in places like the Swiss Alps and all over the U.S. should do the trick. We'll see about that. To build our trust, one of the first moves Hess makes is one he likes to call the splash and dash; just a quick touchdown on Dewey's Pond in Quechee.
With no steering wheel, maneuvering hot air balloons is complicated. Luckily, Hess is a master at gauging the wind; riding air currents in different directions and in different altitudes. With the pull of a lever, propane shoots heat into the balloon making it rise, also placing us in a different direction of wind. We'll burn through about 40 gallons of propane on this hour and a half ride. The clear day makes the views of Killington Mountain to our west along the Green Mountain Spine and Mount Ascutney to our south spectacular.
"This is great because it's home and you can take it all in," rider Darlene Snader said.
The breathtaking landmark of the Quechee Gorge was within view throughout the experience. And for those of us who can't afford to see the sights of the exclusive Lakeland Golf Course, this one's for you.
"I think this is incredible. This is so fun," said Ben McGrath of the U.S. Hot Air Balloon Team.
"I love it, just absolutely love it," Snader said.
The ride is smooth, not windy, and surprisingly quiet.
"The combination of weather and sun is just so beautiful," McGrath said.
It was incredible how close the hot air balloon could get to things; really, really close, especially when trying to find somewhere to land. There's no planned landing spot, just a general location. Wind currents make definite plans tricky.
Stan Hess: I always presume there's a place to land. Some are more ideal than others.
Reporter Gina Bullard: Is that a dangerous outlook?
Hess: It can be. But look here, if we get the wrong drift we can land in those trees. We don't want that, so we're going to try out best for that not to occur, so we can land in someone's backyard.
Don't worry we didn't land in someone's backyard; we actually landed in their front yard. And get this-- we ended up in another balloonist's yard. Fitting.
Hess' crew meets the Red October with the chase van; a team that doesn't mind working hard for him since they just so happen to be his family.
And what magical balloon ride would be complete without a customary toast to close it.
The Quechee Hot Air Balloon, Craft and Music Festival will go all weekend. This is a five-ride weekend which they say is the best you can get. Rides going out every morning and evening at 6.
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