Showing off the flames
The Hudson Hot Air Affair is a weekend where hot air balloon enthusiasts come together for a weekend of balloon related events, including at least one launch per day. This year was the 21st Annual Hot Air Affair and took place February 5,6, and 7, 2010, in Hudson, Wisconsin and E. P. Rock Elementary School.
I attended one of the first annual balloons launches when I was little and again had the opportunity this weekend. I invited Bill (the_Bill) to cross the border to watch the launch with me, and introduce him to geocaching. The main launch of the day was set at 7:30 am, which meant we had to get up extra early on a Saturday to get there in time.
Wally mini balloon
We all met at the park and ride, in anticipation of few parking places. My mom and two of my friends also met us. It was a little windy this morning, so I was afraid the launch would be cancelled. There wasn’t really any way to know ahead of time, so we continued with the plan to meet up. It was cool - around 20 degrees with about a 10 mph wind. It wasn’t looking good.
The launch field was empty but a few balloonists had their baskets set up and were showing off their flames. Balloons use flames fueled by propane to make the hot air needed to lift the balloons.
The propane tanks are nestled into the basket, which generally holds a couple of people. There is no way to steer a balloon, its direction of travel is completely dependent on the wind. The pilots can only adjust up and down. Wind speeds greater than 8 mph are considered too dangerous to fly.
empty launch field
No one had their balloons pulled out, even though it didn’t feel very windy on the field. At 7:45 am, they set up a tester balloon - your standard birthday party balloon filled with helium. It rose quickly and the winds above quickly blew it west. This wasn’t good as it means the hot air balloons are more likely to float into the international air space of the Minneapolis International Airport, about 20 miles away. The decision was made to cancel the launch, but the conditions looked better for the 3 pm launch.
The balloonists from Wausau, Wisconsin, brought out their mini clownfish inflatable. They even had a man wearing a fish costume. It looked like Nemo, but due to copyrights, it was “Wally”.
two mini bank robbers
We stopped inside the school to warm up and look around the craft fair before heading back to our cars. One of the activities for the balloon launch was geocaching. Several new caches were set up around town and many geocachers had come to town for the events. I decided to take Bill around and show him about geocaching and take in the scenery of Hudson, along the St. Croix River.
We took in a couple of caches up near the Park and Ride and drove back by the balloon field.
One balloonist had taken out their balloon and had it partially inflated, but were putting it away. So we went on. We made our way down to the St. Croix River and the pier. The pier was actually the old toll bridge from Wisconsin to Minnesota from 1913-1951, when the current (Interstate) bridge was built. My aunt actually remembers going over the old toll bridge back in the day. We walked the half mile to the end of the pier with the wind blowing right through my layers.
By now we were hungry, so we walked up to Second Street, which is filled with little shops and cafes. We decided to try the San Pedro Café because of the large sign outside that said: “Breakfast”. It was fun to see the trucks parked on the street with hot air balloon baskets in the beds.
You just don’t see that very often. The cafe was packed and we grabbed a table next to the brick wall. After sitting down, we noticed there was a bar and counter we could have sat at. I didn’t pay attention to the name until I looked at the menu and noticed we would be having a Mexican Breakfast. Bill got French Toast and I got a Vegetable Frittata, or something like that. It said it had carrots and squash and I thought that sounded like fun for breakfast, since I’m pretty sure I’ve never had those for breakfast before. The food was really good, but I didn’t see any squash in mine. We didn’t stay long because I had promised to meet up with some fellow geocachers at 11, and it was already 11. But this was a nice little place that I’ll have to come back to when its warmer so I can try out the patio.
me and Bill and Wally
We were a little late meeting my friends and they were all heading out, so we just said hi and left.
The next stop was Birkmose Park, with Indian mounds and nice views of the St. Croix River. We met a geocaching couple up there and found a little nano cache in a wishing well. After a lengthy chat about ballooning, we were able to get away. We found some more caches along the St. Croix and then made our way to one called “St. Croix Swan Song”. This little place was known to have swans, so I wanted to go see them. And we were not disappointed. There were hundreds of swans, geese and ducks there. They had no fear of humans and in fact, seemed a little mad that we didn’t bring anything to feed them. They were on shore and in the water and were about 3 feet away. I joked that if the birds decided to gang up on us, we’d be screwed.
Aren't you forgetting something?
The birds just swam around, feeding and grooming and ignoring us.
We could hear the swans trumpeting, so I’m guessing they were trumpeter swans, but I could be wrong. What a neat sight to see. If you are afraid of birds, don’t come here. After quite awhile, we finally left to find some more caches. I dragged Bill to an old cemetery where we visited a neat marker of a stone tree stump with vines, mushrooms and broken limbs. We had to answer some questions about the marker and find our way to the next location. We must have missed something because we had trouble finding the final. Poor Bill didn’t have winter boots on and the snow was over a foot deep. But he never complained. We visited the cemetery across the street and found two more before heading back to the balloon field.
decorations in school cafeteria
We got there around 2:45 and found many more people here.
These were the people smart enough not to come to the earlier launch. It still felt as windy, but now the baskets were spread around the launch field waiting for the word. It looks like everyone wanted a launch, including the balloonists. The tester balloon was sent up and looked almost as bad as this morning. It still was blowing west, but maybe not as much. The decision was made to launch! Yay! Immediately balloons were rolled out and began inflating. We were standing next to the POW MIA balloon but had to move because they needed more space. This was just as well because we were actually too close to get any good pictures. So we moved to a back corner of the field where we had a pretty good overview of several balloons. One by one, the balloons inflated.
The baskets are tipped on the side during the inflation and as the balloon inflates, a group holds onto the rope on top of the balloon to keep it from blowing all over the place. As the balloon fills and rises, the baskets tip up and the pilot jumps in. The crew holds down the basket until everyone is in and the balloon is completely inflated. The crew then steps away and the balloon slowly rises the first few feet and then shoots up above everyone. We were right in the flight path of some of the balloons and they went right over our heads. Some of them looked like stained glass windows from beneath. An announcer would announce each balloon as it lifted, but we were a little far away to hear him clearly.
Boy Scout statue
We would take pictures as the balloon fills, then as it lifts and floats overhead, and then the next balloon was lifting.
As soon as they got a couple hundred feet in the air, they immediately were blown west and were soon too far away to see. I tried to take a picture of every balloon as it lifted but I may have missed some. At least 25 balloons launched that afternoon. As we got near the end, we noticed the Nemo/Wally fish balloon was just starting to inflate. I completely forgot about that one. They must have wanted to be the last balloon. We walked over to that balloon and bumped into someone I knew. By this time I was pretty cold. I had on big chopper mittens and had to have my hand out to take photos. My fingers got cold so I started taking photos with the mittens on. My legs were freezing and Bill's feet were cold and wet. But we watched the fish balloon and then the last balloon took off seconds later.
arch over pier/old toll bridge
Then we joined the masses heading for the cars.
Hudson on the St. Croix River
Bill took off and went to buy some dry socks for his drive home. I went back down the hill to meet some friends for a historic walking tour of downtown Hudson. We went to the old toll road again, then up to the County Courthouse. The road was lined with large homes with intricate woodwork, details and windows. We ended up at the Octagon House. I can’t remember the history of the house, but my friend’s parents were curators of the museum for a while and I got a free, behind the scenes tour a few years ago. I got to go up to the tower of windows, which is normally off limits. Its funny that I grew up in the next town over and never really spent much time here.
I never noticed how many large, beautiful homes are here. I wish the walking tour had included more information on these beautiful houses.
Island in the St. Croix
We walked back to the river and the swan place. I don’t know where all the birds went because only a few were left. It was getting dark, but we found a couple more caches before parting ways. My friends were off the finish the caches along the river that Bill and I did earlier today. So I drove off to get a few more up the hill and called it a day. It left my house at 6:20 am and got home at 8:20 pm. How’s that for a long day!? Most of it was spent outside, except for 3-4 hours scattered throughout the day driving and eating brunch.
looking upstream to the railroad bridge