Sunday, September 09, 2012

The Reno Great Balloon Races 2012

All week John was in Bend, OR for the 2012 USA Cycling Masters Road National Championships.  Because the races were scattered throughout the week, I could not get away from work to attend the event with him (had it been on a different week, I probably could have).  Not only would I have liked to be there to support him but I also enjoy watching the competitions myself.
John waves as he hits the road for Nationals.

I love to take photos (though that doesn't mean I'm good at it, LOL) and one of the reasons is because cycling is a colorful sport.  I like to see the myriad of colors from the riders' kits which are as lively as the action whizzing by in front of me.

This weekend, I watched a different kind of race that was equally as colorful but the competitors fly by at a much slower pace, the 30th annual Reno Great Balloon Races!  Now you many wonder how a balloon race is similar to a road bike race, but in many ways it is.

When John started racing, we would get up super early because his group was usually the first to start.  There was no sleeping in for me this past Saturday morning.  I had to wake up before dawn to get to the balloon race.  How early?  About 3:40 a.m. because the Glow Show would start at 5 a.m.  I didn't make it to the Rancho San Rafael Park in time to see it but there are photos of it like this one.

What I did see was the launch of The Dawn Patrol where a handful of balloons qualified to fly in the dark put on a show.  Flying at this time is dangerous because atmospheric conditions change drastically as the sun begins to rise.  As still as the morning air seems, it wasn't calm enough for a simultaneous launch of the balloons so one by one, they rose up to the sky in sequence.  The balloons glowed, twinkled, and burned to synchronized music.  It was like watching fireflies.

By burning propane that is no preheated, the special glow effect creates a flame that is more yellow and bright, though less hot and less noisy than the regular burner used to control altitude (which is more efficient but makes more noise).
Glow, twinkle, and burn show by The Dawn Patrol.

Then the balloons landed back near the area where they launch, which to me was pretty impressive considering hot air balloons have no steering mechanisms or propellers.  Hot air balloon pilots can somewhat control the direction and speed of their balloon by adjusting their balloon’s altitude and using the different wind currents to move the balloon where they want it to go and at what speed.  
The Dawn Patrol landing on the field.

All this and it wasn't even 7 a.m. yet!  The schedule of events continued with the flying of the American flag over the crowd below...of course, hanging off the basket of the balloon named Patriot.  A young lady sang the national anthem, her voice as chilling (in a good way) as the morning twilight.  Then there was a T-6 "Missing Man" formation fly over to remember those who lost their lives during the tragic Reno Air Races last year.  Next weekend the annual air races begins but I will not be there in person to watch.
The American Flag hangs off the basket of the Patriot balloon for the singing of the national anthem.
Perhaps the most anticipated part of the event, like road bike racing, is the mass start.  One or two large inflator fans are used to fill the envelope (the vibrant, colorful part of a balloon that inflates) with air.  Most envelopes at this year’s race hold between 77,000 to 105,000 cubic feet of air inside. That is the same amount of air that would fill 4 to 7 - 2,000 sq. ft. homes!  
Once the balloon is filled with enough air then the air is heated with a burner.  Watching this was like watching a bunch of sleepy kids wake up from a nap and sit upright, LOL.  As the air inside the envelope continued to be heated, the balloons soon lifted off the ground.
Mass ascension launch of the Reno Great Balloon Races
It was MAGICAL.  Balloons were everywhere in the Sierra skies!! Special shaped balloons Darth Vader, Party Panda, Sushi (a fish balloon I didn't get to see), Smokey Bear, Annie the Ladybug, Strawberry Heights, Soccer Ball, and Pencil Boy to name a few.  Just like in a road bike race, Pepsi and Cent're Stage nearly collided!!  All in all there were about 87 balloons and you can see a list of the participating balloons and pilots here.

This is a 'balloon race' after all, filled with several competitions including Balloon Blackjack.  Pilots try their hand at throwing markers at jumbo-sized playing cards placed on the field. Those hitting 21, by hitting the closest to the center of the cards win the hand of the day.

 It was surreal...all of the balloons in the air, hovering around like big birthday balloons or UFOs.
The balloon race fills the Reno skyline.
From where we live, you could see the balloons on the horizon. And Friday I saw several balloons as I was riding my scooter through downtown on my way to work.
Balloons can be spotted from downtown Reno.
Although I wasn't able to watch John race, I am glad that I was able to catch the Reno Great Balloon Races.  I definitely hope to be able to see all of the events next year, the Glow Show and Balloon Boulevard.  Hopefully it won't conflict with the Master's Road National Championships so John could see it too.

By the way, John had a rough week in the time trial, road race, and criterium competition.  He is racing with a tougher group since his upgrade to the Men's Cat 2.  Although he crashed twice during the downtown crit, he crossed the line which 22 others in the same race were not able to do.  He has lost a lot of skin and I am sure it is a painful seven-hour drive home today.  We all are proud of him and miss him so we will be happy to have him home.

On the bright side, I will share these photos with him to help cheer him up.

There are many other awesome photos from this great event (it is free to the community).  Here are links to a few:
  4. Event info:


Anonymous said...

Sorry for Johns bad luck! But congrats on moving to Cat 2! The balloons are beautiful our local race is Memorial Day weekend. Y'all should check out the Reno Air Races, going on all this week. I've always wanted to come out for them but have never been able to. Hope you had a great summer, still miss you on MS!

Brent and KJ

JoeinVegas said...

We got to see many balloon races when we lived down in Temecula, I used to catch one balloon going up early mornings here in Vegas way on the west side.

Daly said...

@Brent and KJ: thanks for the congrats you guys. It would have been a sight to see over there for Memorial Weekend. Summer wasn't long enough, I will make sure to take advantage next year. And next year, I'll take more photos for MS. I hope you had a great summer as well!

@Joe: I didn't think much of hot air balloons but seeing them in person and so many was really neat! Bet the races were beautiful in Temecula. I haven't spotted the one in Vegas and next time I'm there, I'll remember to look towards the sky.