Wenger: An unexpected plunge in a Windsor lake | MyWindsorNow.com

Wenger: An unexpected plunge in a Windsor lake

When I was getting dressed about 5:30 a.m. Friday, I was planning for some time in the air. I put on jeans and a sweatshirt, stuck my phone in my pocket and headed out into the cool morning for my second-ever hot air balloon ride.

I should have brought a swimsuit.

I was planning to write a feature for Windsor Now! and the Greeley Tribune about the balloon owners and their passion for the hobby. Some days my job allows me some cool opportunities.

It started out as balloon rides do. While Pat Newlin of Wyoming tested the fire in the basket that would allow us to lift into the air; others unloaded the balloon.

Newlin was participating in the Windsor Harvest Festival, when she and other balloon owners will lift off from Eastman Park in a flurry of color this weekend. I'm told this is one of the most popular events of the festival, even though spectators must arrive around 6:30 a.m. Saturday or Sunday during the festival.

We met at Eastman Park, but sprinklers were turned on and the balloon crews announced we'd be moving to another field because they didn't feel like getting wet.

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I didn't either.

Josh Polson, the Greeley Tribune photographer, stood on one side of the opening in the balloon while I stood on the other, allowing air to fill the balloon. Josh and I then clambered into the nearly 4-foot-tall basket — no small feat for my 5-foot self — and Newlin lit the burner at the top of our basket. We began to rise. The ground began to fall away.

The wind pulled us gently along as we rose above power lines and homes. While Josh took photos, I chatted with Newlin about my last experience in a hot air balloon, a couple years ago in my hometown of Westcliffe, Colo.

As I saw other balloons getting closer to the water in Water Valley, I mentioned I had seen another crew do a "splash and dash," where the bottom balloon basket is supposed to kiss the surface of the water, and it had not gone according to plan. The crew ended up with water up to their waists.

Newlin mentioned we might give the move a try.

As we passed over the green landscape dotted with ponds in Water Valley, I started taking a video, which is probably one reason I didn't notice just how fast we were dropping. I stopped the video, started another recording and turned the camera down, to get a view of the water below us. Suddenly it was rushing at us much faster than I expected.

The basket hit the water, but instead of lifting off again we plunged into the pond. Water rushed into the basket, and I clung to the side, trying to keep my camera out of the drink and, literally, keep my head above water.

Newlin held on and fired up the burner, keeping the balloon in the air and eventually lifting us out. I nearly slid out of the basket, but only ended up tangled in some rope at the bottom of the basket.

Josh was wide-eyed, still gripping the side of the basket for dear life. I found out later my face mirrored the shock of our "splash."

When I found out later our balloon was called "Sky Kisser," I thought of a new name, "Water Kisser," or Josh's suggestion,"Pond Puncher."

The two other balloons ahead of us floated to the next pond as we tried to recover from the adrenalin rush of our dip.

Our pilot decided to try again. Although feeling rather traumatized and concerned about our electronics, we kept silent as we were once again headed for a pond. This time, we lowered gently down and skimmed along the top of the pond in ankle-deep water before again lifting.

The rest of our journey was less eventful. We floated southeast and skimmed the tops of corn stalks before landing.

I pulled off my sweater, which had stretched almost to my knees after being soaked, and Josh and I helped re-pack the balloon, squishing in our wet shoes and sopping jeans. Both of us went straight to our homes to shower and put on some dry clothes.

I'm still a bit shaken by the adventure and more than a little concerned about the fate of my smartphone, which is currently soaking in rice. But I can't help but laugh.

Our adventure into the sky took an unexpected turn, but I'll have a story to tell other reporters for years to come.

I learned a good life lesson: You should always be prepared for a plunge into a pond, even if you were planning on a trip through the clouds.

— Emily Wenger is a reporter for Windsor Now! and The Tribune.

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