Flight of Serendipity, cont.

At the top, the panoramic view of the valley from 1,200 feet. Yes, it was somewhat scary to realize you were up that high in a wicker basket. Moravian’s Main Street campus is in the middle distance on the right side of the photo. The triangular white gable of the Breidegam Field House is probably the easiest feature to notice first, framed by the curve of buildings along Monocacy Creek. To its left is Johnston Hall, then Reeves Library, Comenius Hall, and across Main Street, Colonial Hall. The Priscilla Payne Hurd Complex is just above Comenius Hall.

The wind seemed very cooperative until the very day before our scheduled flight. Then it veered round to the north and northwest. I asked Sean Tallarico, director of campus safety, if we could take off from one of the parking lots north of Elizabeth Avenue. “No way!” said Sean, “there isn’t any way we can clear those lots in time. Why don’t you ask the city if you can use the parking lot at the municipal ice rink?”

The City of Bethlehem was extremely helpful about issuing us a permit on short notice, but there was a mad scramble to get a certificate from Fred’s insurance company listing the city as a named insured.

I was still dazzled by my vision of people on the ground waving up at the photographer. Students don’t usually get out at the crack of dawn. How to entice them out? How about a chance to ride in the balloon? We handed out raffle tickets in the HUB at mealtimes to anyone adventurous enough to take them. “Remember, you have to be present to win: 6:00 a.m. in the parking lot behind Colonial.” Naively, I supposed that everyone who had a ticket would come for the drawing, and once they were up they would stay up to watch the balloon fly over.

On the morning of October 24, we found that only the half-dozen people who really, really wanted to ride in the balloon had ventured out. Neil Dobracki ’05 was the lucky guy. The disappointed riders faded away. Nobody else was out.

Fred released a small black helium balloon, and we all watched it wobble up into the sky. From the path it took, it seemed that the wind might have swung back to the southwest after all. Maybe we should try the soccer field.

So over past the HUB we drove, and released another helium balloon. This one went south. We decided it was a good thing we had gotten that permit from the city, and bundled ourselves off to the municipal ice rink.

The helium balloon we released at the rink drifted east and then south. Would we be able to make it to Moravian? Would we be blown too far east before we got far enough south? There was only one way to find out. We started setting up the hot-air balloon.

Charlie, Josh, Brian, and Marc stretched the balloon out across the parking lot as the rest of us fastened its cables to the wicker gondola and attached the two propane burners to their frame. Two of Fred’s assistants started a gas-fired fan to blow air into the balloon’s opening. Once the balloon was partially inflated with cold air, a burner was fired up, sending its 10-foot plume of flame into the interior. Within 15 minutes the balloon was fully buoyant and tugging at its moorings. Fred, John, Neil, and I climbed into the gondola. Fred called the airport tower to get clearance for takeoff, and before we knew it, the ground was far away.

But, oh no, we were going too far east! At this point, Fred showed his skill as a balloon pilot. After a brief phone call to the airport tower, he gave the burner an extra blast, and took us to 1,200 feet, where the true north wind blew us straight toward the center of the Main Street campus and the Priscilla Payne Hurd Complex. The panoramic views of campus were spectacular: the buildings shone in the early sunlight, and we could even see all the way down Main Street to Church Street and the Brethren’s House.

We provoked a buzz of excitement among the office workers in Martin Tower as we floated south. As we approached Moravian, Fred let the balloon lose some altitude, and the lower-level wind began blowing us east again, at just the right angle to catch the the glowing front of Comenius Hall and Colonial Hall’s gleaming pearl-white cupola. Farther east, a few residents of Lorain Avenue came out to watch us go over (one, Carol Dague, took some photos), and we came to a perfect landing in Gillespie Field as the women’s lacrosse team wound up its early-morning practice.

As we waited for our ground crew to catch up with us, I thought, “We didn’t get the shots I planned, but we got others I never dreamed of.” Our flight plan was “written on the wind,” and what the wind sent was pure serendipity.

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Above, the view all the way to the Brethren’s House, a bit blue in the distance, and the spire of Central Moravian Church. In the middle, Comenius Hall, and below, Colonial Hall.

Photos: John Kish IV

 

Above, our balloon as it traveled over Lorain Avenue.

Photo: Carol Dague