Balloon Bust

I’ve been to the Quechee Balloon Festival three times before, the first time in 2012, when I got a ride sort of by accident, then again in 2013, and again five years ago in 2018, when I took the motorcycle up and visited the Calvin Coolidge birthplace. All three times we had wonderful early summer weather, I got to go up in a balloon, and I had a great time. I didn’t realize it, but I was spoiled.

I decided it was high time to try it again this year. I wanted to book a flight, see The Glow, and also get some pictures of the balloons lifting off from the standpoint of the festival-goer, which, for various reasons, I hadn’t done yet. I figured I’d take the bike up, do the balloons, then ride around Vermont some.

I ended up booking a flight for Saturday night, and had to book my stay for Friday night and Saturday. I ended up staying at the Quechee Inn at Marshland Farms, which was an old fashioned inn only a short way from the festival grounds. The original house was built in 1793 and converted to an inn in 1975; I noticed all the floors in my room slanted.

I started paying attention to the weather mid week, and was dismayed to hear that it sounded like rain was in the forecast. I ended up driving up rather than riding up because I didn’t feel like spending hours in the saddle in the rain.

I got up to Quechee about four-ish; I checked in, and then headed over to the festival grounds. When I arrived at the inn, it was cloudy, but dry, but radar showed showers prowling the area nearby. I headed over to the festival grounds, hoping to see the Friday night flight take off.

They tried, they tried waiting for the winds to drop, they tried waiting for the showers to disperse, but hot air balloons require nearly perfect weather conditions. The balloons were supposed to go up at 6; they waited until around 7:30 before bowing to the inevitable: there would be no ascension flights tonight; instead a couple of balloons would offer tethered flights, then, around 8:30. about six of the balloons would be inflated and would fire off their burners to illuminate the balloon envelope; they call this The Glow.

The Glow. The iPhone is actually lightening this up a bit; it was quite dusky.

I awoke the next morning to light rain. With a flight scheduled for Saturday evening, trying to figure out what to do all day was always going to be a problem… and now I had to do it in the rain. I ended up doing a lot of driving, and a lot of window shopping. There’s a small strip mall with a toy museum and antique store nearby, so that was the first stop, and I killed an hour there. Next up was the Simon Pearce outlet in Quechee; you can watch them do glassblowing there. I spent some time there, but I’d also spent a fair amount of time there five years ago, so I moved on.

I decided to travel up Route 4. I saw the signs for the Coolidge Birthplace, but again, I’d done it five years ago, and I was also aware that it would be uncomfortable in the rain, which had increased. I ended up going to a pub for late lunch, then driving up to Woodstock and window shopping there, then back to the inn to check the radar. Lots of rain all over the place. Around 5:15, I headed back to the festival; the ticket material indicated you needed to have checked in to get a weather refund. So I headed over, and discovered that the main parking lot had been closed because it had turned to mud, and that parking was now up a steep hill by the school. So parked the car, grabbed the umbrella and trudged down the hill, through the nearly abandoned festival grounds — there was a band, still gamely playing, with a few people under a tent watching them — to the festival office where I was informed that all flights were scrubbed for the night. No need to stick around, there was no way it was going to happen.

I’d slept fitfully the night before, so I decided to see if I could get up around 5:15 this morning to see if they were able to get the balloons off this morning. Nope. The rain had stopped, but the wind hadn’t, plus there were issues with water in the field. Back to the inn to try to snooze for a couple of hours, have breakfast, and head out.

So, aside from The Glow Friday night, this year was a washout. I think it would have been a better weekend if I hadn’t been by myself, just to be hanging out with someone. I was surprised on Saturday to see quite a few motorcycles out and about; I do need to get some raingear, but even if I had it, I’m not sure I would have started out on a long trip knowing rain was on the way. I did take the scenic route back home, via Route 12, and I think if I take the motorcycle up next time, I’ll spend more time on it.

But preferably, in the sunshine.

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