What an interesting word. It's used often enough that it's meaning has become worn and clouded, but sometimes, if you hold your mouth just right, you get the chance to really experience it.
I've been volunteering as ground/chase crew for a hot air balloon pilot here in town for a few weekends now, and it's quite the experience, being part of a crew.
What's interesting for me most right now, and humbling, is that the pilot, his wife, and their Ground Crewchief have all been flying together for 16 years now. And then along comes me, the neophyte. It's made for a very interestingly sharp learning curve.
You see, it's all new to me. All of it. Oh, I'm familiar with the principles of lighter-than-air craft, and how the basics work, but being welcomed into a group this tight is an interesting thing indeed. They work together as one person, and when one of them is tied up elsewhere and I'm along for the help it tends to slow a bit. Granted, I'm having a wonderful time anyway, and the pilot and his Chief are terribly supportive, which is what I need at this point in my ballooning career. *lol*
I've only had one real experience other than my own flight in SkyBird, but it was a blast. The initial assembly of gondola to envelope, burner to hardware, etc. was slowed only a little bit by Jim telling me what to put where, and which zippers to point in which direction. And my Protestant work ethic (compliments of my Dad) got in the way only a bit when I was trying to put the fan back in the trailer rather than helping to keep the newly-inflated balloon on the ground.
Live and learn.
The chase. That was almost as much fun as flying, surprisingly enough. It felt like Jim and I were trying to play a very slow game of catch, aided by a road map, knowledge of the back roads, a couple of radios and a fair idea of the wind direction. We kept turning and driving and spinning around, trying to stay not only in front of the balloon but also trying to find a good place to land.
The good place to land? Circumstances dictated it was going to be a freshly-harvested corn field, about two miles off the highway. The landing found Jim and I toting the balloon and it's pasengers about a hundred yards through the field, which in itself was almost surreal--David kept the balloon floating about five feet off the ground, and Jim and I simply grabbed the gondola handles and pulled. I wish I could have seen that from a distance--two men pulling a huge blue and orange and wicker contraption behind them. I could see the tilt of the gondola up to the top of the envelope and could see it tilted sharply, I could well imagine what it must have looked like standing off at a distance.
Patience and a good pair of boots got the gondola settled down on a tractor turning-row, in essence a grassy strip between fields of sharp corn-stalk bits, and a little fast footwork and some strained tugging and pushing got the envelope down without a scratch and more importantly, not resting on any of those punji-stake stalks.
That was when I finally really started feeling like Crew and less like a goof volunteering his Friday morning. The deflation of the envelope, the 'snaking,' the loading, all the little disassembly that I remembered from the first go-round and the assembly, it all soft of fell together a little more. I knew what I was doing, and instead of hindering I was working as part of the team, helping get the envelope back into it's big canvas bag, loading and securing the gondola, and all the little things to tidy up.
What a marvelous feeling.
This morning's flight was cancelled due to a low ceiling (ie tons of cloud) and a good chance of rain, but I'm anxiously awaiting next weekend. And the next.
And the next.