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Wednesday, August 12, 2009


So, you know I blog for the Indiana Insider blog, telling people all the great things there are to do in Indiana. I just finished a recap of a date night that Mike and I had a couple of weeks ago. We went to Conner Prairie for Symphony on the Prairie, which was wonderful as usual. We also went up in the new 1859 Balloon Voyage experience.

Now, let me be clear: EVERYTHING I wrote in the entry at Indiana Insider was truthful. However, because I try to maintain a professional presence over there, I may have left out a few pieces of truth in my recounting of our ascent in the giant, helium-filled balloon. So I thought I'd fill in the blanks here. Anything written in italics here is for your additional information. Skip down to #3 for the start of the truth-bearing.


A lot of what I talk about here on the Indiana Insider blog is great things for families to do in the Hoosier state. But every once in a while, my husband and I get away for a little grown-up time. Our last date (that didn’t involve going grocery shopping) was at Conner Prairie in Fishers (a northern suburb of Indianapolis) for a Marsh Symphony on the Prairie concert.

Marsh Symphony on the Prairie (from the Visit Indiana Flickr Stream)

Marsh Symphony on the Prairie (from the Visit Indiana Flickr Stream)

There are really three great things about Symphony on the Prairie:

1. The music: The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra has done an outstanding job of choosing a wide variety of musical genres to perform this summer. We attended the “Classical Mystery Tour” night, which had a Beatles-imitating band performing with the ISO. Some concerts are more classical symphony than others, but with a total of 13 weekends’ worth of performances, there is something for everyone.

2. The people watching: Someone recently described Symphony on the Prairie to me as “sophisticated tailgating” and it kind of is. You can rent tables and have dinner catered. Many people bring small, portable tables; ice buckets and long-stem wine glasses; candles (the cordless electric kind are nice) and chairs. Or you can go the simple route, which is what we chose. Picnic blanket, a small cooler with drinks and a few appetizers and a pizza we picked up on the way into the park. There’s no right or wrong way to “do” Symphony on the Prairie. But I enjoy looking around and seeing all the various approaches.

3. The 1859 Balloon Voyage: This is a new addition to Conner Prairie, as well as the symphony events. In addition to inviting me out to experience the symphony, Conner Prairie’s Angela Tuell arranged for Mike and me to go up in the 1859 Balloon Voyage. So before the concert began, I went to secure our flight time. I chose 8:30pm because I thought going up 350 feet into the air as the sun was setting would make for a romantic experience. Somehow I'd forgotten that I am really afraid of heights, as is Mike. Besides, I had a job to do. Ride the balloon, share the experience -- and I was gonna do it, by gum!

So after a few songs, Mike and I got up from our spot under the trees on the hill and headed over to the Balloon Voyage experience. We'd already polished off most of the pizza and sushi by then (a combination which would haunt me later that night).

We watched, admittedly a bit nervously, as a couple of groups made the ascent before us. But the “kid” working the ground confidently answered all of our questions, putting us at ease. (Turns out that “kid” is in charge of all the visitor experiences in the park!) Actually, I was pretty calm. This thing wasn't a roller coaster after all. We weren't going to be turned upside down and sideways going 50mph. Mike, however, agreed to go up in the balloon because of L-O-V-E. Isn't that nice?

When it was our turn, we walked right onto the balloon, making small talk with the people standing on either side of us. The balloon’s “basket” is actually kind of a donut shape with a hole in the center and can hold up to 20 people. Our pilot gave us a few tips, including that we would encounter a slight bump as we went up, and we were off.

I lasted about 50 feet. That’s when the sight of the ground disappearing beneath me started making me (want to scream "put me down!" "take me back!" and a few expletives that I won't repeat here because this is a (mostly) family blog) more than a little nervous. At about 75 feet, knowing we weren’t even halfway to the top, I did the best thing I could think of. I sat down on the ground. Actually, I think my knees kind of gave way underneath me, I sunk the floor and began practicing my lamaze breathing. No kidding.

So here is where I’d love to tell you that the rise to the top was exhilarating and the view was breathtaking. But in truth, my view was of the gray metal surrounding me as I sat on the floor of the balloon. I think they should paint a nice mural on the the interior of the basket walls so that if anyone else feels the urge to ride on their behind instead of their feet, they at least have something scenic to look at.

A very nice woman next to me kept encouraging me to look straight out, not down, but I wasn’t so sure. I thought she was completely nuts. Just to appease her, and again, because going up in this balloon was pretty much my job, I rose to my knees, poked my head up for about 15 seconds, said "oh cool!" and plopped right back down.

Somewhere around 150 or 200 feet is where Mike started to lose it. Only he didn't make it all the way to the floor. He just white knuckled the sides of the basket and bent over in an "oh my gosh, I might throw up" position. I think he kept saying to me "The air pressure is going to pop my hernia. I can feel it. I know it. My hernia is going to pop." (We have a flair for the dramatic in our house.)

Speaking of our house -- right about then, my phone rang. Knowing Annie was babysitting, I felt compelled to answer it. I'd barely gotten the word "hello" out of my mouth when she launched into...

"Mom! You said we could rent a movie on the TV, but I can't find the flicker. Do you know where it is?"

"Annie, I can't talk right now," I said kind of breathless. "I'm up in the balloon and I can't concentrate."

At which point I knew I was on speaker phone because Robbie started WAILING:

"Waaaaahhhh! I wanted to go up in the balloon. You said I could go up in the balloon! Waaaaahhhh! No fair!"

"Gotta go," I rushed. "Figure it out. Don't call again unless someone is bleeding or has bones sticking out." By this time, we were to the top:

However, once we made it all the way to the end of the tether — the full 350 feet — and we weren’t going any higher, I stood up and looked, though I was holding on so tightly, my hands were left with imprints of the side of the metal basket. Boy, am I glad I did. I think the lack of oxygen at 350 feet was an influence in making me stand up.

The sight below — 7,500 people on the lawn listening to the “Classical Mystery Tour” — and the sight out toward our home and to the Pyramids at 86th and Michigan were calm and beautiful. The sun was setting, the wind was calm and we could hear the distant strains of the orchestra.

I remained standing and gazing out for the entire descent back to level ground. Apparently 350 down isn’t as frightening to me as 350 feet up. When we reached the balloon platform again, I realized that I’d forgotten to take any pictures. Ok, true confession: I was too afraid to take any pictures. I had an irrational fear that I was going to drop the camera. Plus, there's no way I was getting any closer to the edge of the basket than I had to. This one is courtesy of Conner Prairie:

1859 Voyage Balloon glows against the night sky

1859 Voyage Balloon glows against the night sky

When we returned to our blanket, I laid back, listening to the symphony and watching as the illuminated balloon rose into the navy sky and gently returned over and over again. It was a truly serene moment, one that left me thinking I might go up again, this time brave enough to stay standing for the entire ride. Seriously, maybe it was the lamaze breathing, but it was kind of like labor. Once it was over, I looked back, saw how amazing it was and promptly forget the moments of agony and terror.

For more, non-terrifying information about Conner Prairie, check this out.


Eternal Lizdom said...

That is HILARIOUS!!!

I can see the balloon from my house. I'm not sure if I have a pic of it somewhere or not... but it certainly demonstrates how high up it goes!

Joanne said...

Lesson learned do not drink your tea when reading these posts!!! Ok back from cleaning my monitor.

Confession time I am also afraid of heights -- not sure if you saw my post back in the beginning of July when I did the zipline - wish I had your talent to write it much like you did this balloon trip. All I know is I could do the zipline but I am positive I can't do a balloon. We are heading to New Mexico in Oct for the Festival - I want to look but not touch.


Momza said...

You crack me up!
I know when I click on your blog I am going to have to read thru tears of laughter!
Love it!
When you take Robbie up, you can take pictures then, right?!

Marine Wife said...

That's hilarious!