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SUNDAY, MAY 27, 2007
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“X” marks the spot, as balloons, flying on a clear and dry day,  attempt to hit a target, left by the “hare” balloon, with a bean bag during Saturday morning’s Hound and Hare event.
Daily photo by John Godbey
“X” marks the spot, as balloons, flying on a clear and dry day, attempt to hit a target, left by the “hare” balloon, with a bean bag during Saturday morning’s Hound and Hare event.

Chase
across the sky

Held aloft by a bubble of of hot air, balloonists quietly soar in Jubilee Hound and Hare race

By Tiffeny Hurtado
thurtado@decaturdaily.com · 340-2440

It’s just like floating on a cloud.

You wouldn’t believe how peaceful and quiet it is up there.

It’s just like a magic carpet ride.

That is what the veterans in the newsroom kept telling me in an attempt to calm my fears about my latest assignment.

I was to ride in one of the 60 hot air balloons set to take off Saturday morning to kick off the 30th Annual Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic.

Being adventurous, but still leery of floating up into the sky on a giant balloon, I decided to show up at the Hound and Hare Balloon Race at 6:30 a.m. and see what happened.

Before I knew it, the giant balloons were coming to life all around me, filling up with hot air and people ready for the ride.

Crews were rigging baskets and checking ropes and propane tanks, and pilots were firing up their burners.

Spectators, many more than were expected for the early morning flight, began to line the field with chairs and blankets and watched as the balloons readied for takeoff.

The Daikin balloon was designated as the “hare,” although many joked that the Energizer Bunny balloon seemed the obvious choice.

Before you could say, “Up, up, and away,” I was in the basket of the “Whispering Nimbus,” piloted by Roy Smith.

On hand was his crew, made up of two daughters, Stacy and Stella Smith, and their boyfriends, Matt Richards and Josh McAplin.

“The whole family has set up a tent and plans on staying all day,” said Stacy Smith.

The family is from Pell City, and Roy Smith says it was after attending several hot air balloon events with his family over the years that he was inspired to get into the sport himself.

“I just thought, ‘Hey, I’ve seen it done so often, surely I can do that,’ ” Smith said.

Smith has been piloting hot air balloons since 2003 and has traveled all over the Southeast participating in events.

With Smith at the helm of the balloon, which was now filled with 90,000 cubic feet of hot air, I felt eager to get in the air and join the other balloons that were following the “hare.”

Smith who has invested between $30,000 to $40,000 in his hot air balloon, talked about how the view from the top was the best part.

“It’s just completely different up here,” he said. “These views you just got to see.”

It seemed like the folks back at The Daily were right.

It was quite peaceful and serene, and it was just like having my private cloud to float on.

We crossed the Tennessee River and looked down at the boats gathered to watch the balloons drift by.

“Once the hare lands, they’ll mark an ‘X,’ and everyone has to try to throw their bean bag as close to it as possible,” Smith explained.

Cars began to slow down and pull over on the roadsides, and their occupants stared in awe as the balloons drifted by.

“We try not to cause accidents,” Smith joked.

When we finally reached the hare, Smith threw the bean bag, but unfortunately a few pilots were able to hit the middle of the target exactly, dipping low so their baskets hovered right over the X.

“Oh well, this isn’t for competition,” he said.

“This is just for fun.”

We floated over trees, close enough to feel the leaves brush the bottom of the basket, and Smith guided us down to a huge field where other balloons were landing.

“This could be the bumpy part,” he said.

We landed softly at the edge of a soybean patch and waited for the crew to help deflate the balloon. The crew, which had recruited the help of me and Daily photographer John Godbey, took the hot air balloon down and packed it into the trailer.

“This is a labor of love,” Smith said. “The setup and take down makes flying in the hot air balloon seem even better.”

The Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic also included a Fun Flight and Tether and a Balloon Glow later Saturday evening.

The Southland Flywheelers Tractors also were on hand during the day to wow crowds with their high-powered tractors at the T.C. Almon Recreation Center.

The Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic will continue through Sunday with the Lynn Layton Key Grab Race and another Fun Flight and Tether.

SUNDAY’S ALABAMA JUBILEE SCHEDULE

6 a.m. —Pilot briefing.

6:30 a.m. — Lynn Layton Key Grab Race; Jubilee Field.

8 a.m. to 6 p.m. — Decatur Art Guild’s arts and craft show; Point Mallard Pavilion (old ice rink).

10 a.m. to noon — Music by Green T.

11 a.m. to noon — Madison Tae-Kwan-Do.

1:30 to 2:30 p.m. — Music by Judge and Jury.

3 to 4 p.m. — Music by Chelsea Hale.

4:15 to 5 p.m. — Military Appreciation Event .

5 to 6 p.m. — Pilot briefing.

6 p.m. — Fun flight and tethered balloons.

6:30 to 7:30 p.m. — Music by Jeff Whitlow.

8 to 9 p.m. — Music by Natchez Trace.

9 p.m. — Fireworks.

9:30 to 10:30 p.m. — Music by Natchez Trace.

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