The alarm went off promptly at 6:00am. Tired from another late night, Sherry and I rolled out of bed and made our way upstairs to the TV. High Winds have been a problem for ballooning all week and today’s winds were forecast to be over the safety threshold as well.
Dancing around the dial of the four local TV stations in Louisville, we searched for a “Go/No Go” for the event. Good news, the race was on. However it was expected to be a short race with the winds expecting to pick up early in the race.
We headed out the door and made our way just outside the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center where the balloons were inflating on the East Lawn. We needed to get some gas and while we were pumping, the “Hare” balloon took off. The winds were projected to carry the balloons north over down town and into southern Indiana, but the winds were pushing the Hare north-east towards Shelby County along I-71.
A hot air balloon race isn’t about speed, its about accuracy. The race is played by launching a lead balloon, the “Hare”, first then a few minutes later all the “Chase” balloon’s head out hunting the hare. The hare balloon finds a field where it can land and puts a large X target on the ground. The hare balloon, piloted by last year’s winner, has to make sure the target location is safe for the balloons to descend and drop a bag of Kentucky Bluegrass seed at the target. Closest to the target wins. The target spot also has to provide the balloons a place to land after they make their drop attempt.
We headed down Preston Highway towards downtown. With the change in winds, and the hare balloon heading more east, we cut down Eastern Parkway before deciding we needed more speed, so we made our way back to the Watterson Expressway (I-264) and raced around Louisville to near where I-264 and I-71 meet. The hare balloon started heading down in a field behind a shopping center off of Brownsboro Road just past Anchorage.
We were following one of the official Kentucky Derby Festival vehicles until a red light at a left turn caught us. We found the shopping center as the chase balloons were starting to make their drop attempts. We found a road that looked like it would lead us behind the shopping center, but instead it took us further out towards some open farms. Dozens of vehicles were following along, each trying to figure out just where to go.
Frustration set in as we tried one way, then it appeared to be the wrong way, so we turned around to go back only to see more of the team’s chase vehicles going where we just came from. They didn’t have a clue either. Finally we decided to follow a group of three chase teams and the caravan of traffic with them. We came to a field where seven or eight balloons had landed and was probably near the drop point, but by that time, the balloons were down and the pilots and crew were already packing up waiting on the trucks to show up.
It was a lot of fun until the final 20 minutes of changing directions in the middle of some wooded wilderness.
Part of today’s expedition was to photograph horses so we headed back to that farm and photographed the horses for a few minutes.