Sunday, February 17, 2008

nutty & daisy's valentine's day

last year, daisy and I got married in juneau, alaska – on july 7th as it happens. not that we picked that particular date, it just happened to be the date of the humpback whale-watching boat trip we wanted to get married on.

fast forward to valentine’s day. a very cheesy affair. normally best avoided. restaurants double-booked. kitchens & staff worked off their arses and everyone stressed, so it’s not really very romantic for those working behind the scenes…but i realized that this would be 7 months and 7 days for us since doing the deed on the 7th of the 7th last year. we had to do something, so I came up with the idea of going up in a hot-air balloon.

we drove to strasburg (not the one in germany) but the much more glamourous and exotic one in virginia... and stayed at the very victorian hotel Strasburg with its terrible american victorian décor. we were very worried when we read that the chef’s culinary talents matched the décor…because the place was straight out of ‘the shining’.

never mind. we dropped our gear off and after daisy ripped the window blind opening it… we went to meet don (no, not don logan from ‘sexy beast) our balloonist. rebecca tells me that the meeting point is at 4:15pm at the burger king parking lot off the exit for woodstock. we arrive just after 4pm & we can’t see a burger king, so i call don. he says it’s at what i think is arby’s (er, very similar to burger king…). we go to arby’s. no sign of don. “hardee’s or arby’s?” there’s every fast-food restaurant around us, except hardee’s, just in case it’s hardee’s. it’s 4:20pm. my phone rings. it’s don. just as we see the sign for hardee’s a little bit up the road. two minutes later, we pull in to the parking lot and get out to meet don – senior, who is sporting a nice black toupee and a baseball cap, and his son, don, who reassuringly is actually a real pilot (as in flies aircraft as well as balloons).

we meet another couple who will be with us on our trip. luckily they are a happy duo. she has been in a ballon once, some 10 years ago, and this will be his first time, like us, and on top of that, he is terrified of heights… but has agreed to give it a go. pretty brave of him, i reckon. don (without hairpiece) sends a small party balloon up to test the wind speed and direction. we watch for a few minutes and we head off - to a church…and launch another balloon and fill out a disclaimer along with a no requirement for insurance. don doesn’t like the direction from this launch site so we set off for another, this time from a small grass airstrip. he does the same test again and this time perfect. in minutes the trailer is being unloaded and the balloon is being inflated. luckily, this guy knows exactly what he is doing…

if you ever want to go up in a hot-air balloon, i can definitely recommend these guys.

within minutes, we are up and away. brilliant. the husband isn’t looking too good and is clearly distressed, but is doing a good job of keeping a lid on it, and within a few minutes, he calms down a bit and is actually enjoying the flight.

we see a herd of deer below us moving through the trees and what a great way to see the landscape as the sun sets. because the wind speed was pretty slow, don was having a few problems finding easy landing locations (you are totally at the mercy of the wind), and after a couple of attempts and with rapidly fading light we set down in a field.

don senior is in radio contact in the chase vehicle (sounds exciting, doesn’t it?) there’s just one small problem – the gate to the property’s entrance road is locked and don can’t get the vehicle close to the balloon, so we have to get out of the ballon and very carefully ‘carry’ it, with don inside, slowy lifting-flying it over a fence, and maneuvering about a quarter mile or so, as far as we can get it down a dirt track on this guy’s farm for the next 20-30 mins. where we meet don walking up the other way. by now it is almost completely dark, save for the half moon giving us some much need light so we can pack up the ballon in the bag. there is nothing more we can do but to simply leave the balloon and the basket where it is and they will come back tomorrow and pick it up. we clamber over a fence avoiding cow pats in the dark and are thankful to get back in the vehicle and return to our cars. we celebrate with come apple cider and exchange e-mails so i can send some photos and daisy and i head back to hotel strasburg.

just as I was saying how memorable that all was, i look up at the very clear night sky, and i see a textbook perfect moon ring. this phenomenon, though not extremely rare, is caused by ice crystals in the upper atmosphere which refract the moon’s light into a ring, much like a rainbow.

it lasts for some five minutes i guess, but i don’t get a chance to get a photo since we’re on the highway. it disappears by the time we get back to strasburg. just as we arrive at the hotel, a black cat runs across the road in front of us…we need all the luck we can get. the chef’s culinary magic awaits.

we have an hour to kill, so we hit the bar after having a jacuzzi. that's right, a jacuzzi. it's a bit of a shock to walk in and find everybody smoking in a bar after being in d.c. but after a few whiskeys to warm us up, it's not too bad... we talk to a guy who has been all over colorado, camping, had ridden horseback in the mountains and was genuinely enthusiastic about living. time for us to eat and so we went to the restaurant and sat down. terrible decor. ugly giant paintings everywhere, a particularly nasty example was right beside our table.except upon closer inspection, i discovered that not all was as it seemed. take a good long look at this figure. notice anything unusual?

like his massive,
erect dong, for instance?

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