AN ALTERNATIVE GRADUATION: HOT AIR BALLOONING
I’m a college graduate, guys.
I’M A COLLEGE GRADUATE.
Whew. What a weekend.
Last week my pending graduation was finally beginning to hit me. My Facebook feed was filled with classmates taking pictures around campus in their green & white cap and gowns, each of us anxiously awaiting the weekend to finally be able to call ourselves Michigan State University alumnus.
I was the only one I knew that did not plan on attending the graduation ceremony on Friday evening. Instead, I wanted to push something I would call an “alternative graduation”. We are about to leave everything we know behind, so why not celebrate it with something that pushes us out of our comfort zone and onto a new adventure.
Crossing my fingers for good weather and low winds, the graduation gods answered my prayers to be able to fly at the exact moment of my ceremony. On Friday afternoon I left crowded East Lansing behind to head to Sky Adventures Ballooning in Oxford.
As I drove down Grand River Avenue, I passed crowded sidewalks of eager graduates followed by their families. The day was absolutely beautiful, and with my windows down and music blaring I hopped on the freeway, letting this chapter close behind me.
Dennis, the owner of Sky Adventure Ballooning, has been flying the balloons and running the company for 41 years. During these 41 years, the company has taken over 40,000 people on an adventure of a lifetime.
“The first flyer in a cap and gown” was a title I was happy to take.
Three balloons were packed to head out that evening. The first was named Fiesta, the second named Ragtime, and the third named Mini Phi. Each beautiful and pattered, they looked even more stunning up close than when I would see them float in the sky.
After the balloons were unloaded from the trucks, it took about fifteen minutes to prep them, and then about five minutes to inflate each one. After Fiesta took off, we helped inflate Ragtime, which was our balloon for the evening.
The first thing Josh noticed was how low the baskets were. There are no seatbelts or ties to keep you in place, so lean a little too far forward and you could take a nice fall down to the forest.
Up in the air was a whole other world. Peaceful, quiet, fulfilling. The sun slowly set to the west, as we looked down upon lakes, rivers, forests, and farms. Sailing high then floating low, we’d wave at cars on the highway, who would happily honk back. A small plane joined us for a few minutes, dipping in and out as it tilted a wing for a friendly hello.
Our maximum altitude was 4,100 feet. From this high, you could see the Detroit skyline in the distance. It was an astounding 58 miles from our location, but the higher we went, the easier it was to see.
It was special. The best way to describe it.
After taking a fair amount of pictures, I put my camera away to simply enjoy the experience. I felt lucky to be there, in a small basket watching a beautiful sunset instead of being cooped up in an enclosed gymnasium that was now some 67 miles away. I thought about how happy an alternative graduation made me because it was the best way I could imagine beginning the next chapter of my life.
In a little less than an hour, we covered 3.51 miles with an average speed of 3.6 miles per hour. Landing the balloon proved to be the most exciting part, as you never know where you will end. Hot air balloon navigation relies primarily on the direction and speed of the wind, and there is no steering wheel.
We landed in a family’s front yard, right in front of their garage. How they were able to land it in such a small area is a talent I don’t quite understand, but impressive to say the least. Kids and adults welcomed our landing with excitement and photos. I couldn’t stop smiling from the ride.
Everyone who rode a balloon that day went to Red Knapps restaurant in Oxford for champagne and dinner. We talked, laughed, and discussed each of our rides. Dennis gave everyone a couple souvenirs to remember the experience. What a great group of people it was.
I did an alternative graduation for my graduation, but it was not for myself. We often follow the path we are expected to take. A graduation ceremony, for example. But there is always another path that is scarier, but more exciting. The path less traveled.
Journeying down the path less traveled is a common phrase, but not a common practice. Challenging yourself on that path is what makes life worth living. The freeway is always easier, but the dirt road makes the better story.
Hot air ballooning was a story for the books, but my favorite part was that I had the chance to meet Dennis. The most genuine, kind, and enjoyable person that I have had the chance to meet in a long time. On the phone before the flight, he said: “I want those who fly with me to know that I am also enjoying the experience because it is them who allow me to live my dreams.”
Well said, Dennis. Well said.
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*This incredible experience was compensated by Sky Adventures Hot Air Ballooning. However, as always, all opinions and stories are my own. Thank you Dennis!*