By RICHARD F. BELISLE
7:57 PM EDT, August 3, 2012
Having reached age 84, Leatrice Shoemaker figured it was time she did something she always wanted to do.
Her chance came Friday evening, when she climbed into a basket below a 250,000-cubic-foot hot-air balloon and drifted away from the earth’s boundless gravity.
The basket she was in was the largest of about a dozen that were lifted off the ground Friday at the Green Grove Gardens Hot Air Balloon Festival 2012.
The event continues through Sunday. Helicopter rides are being offered today.
Shoemaker, of Waynesboro, Pa., was one of nine passengers in her basket. Included were her son and his wife, her granddaughter and Shoemaker’s great-grandson, Elijah, 6.
It was clear Elijah didn’t want to be there, judging from his wails as the craft was heading up, up up.
“The weather is perfect for flying this evening,” said Ed Barlak of Dansville, N.Y., flight director for the event. “The sun is out, the air is clear and the sky is blue.”
The balloons, about a dozen in all, were following a west-southwest wind across the sky at five to eight mph.
Chase cars and crews followed each to its landing site, connected by walkie-talkies. It’s their job to collect the passengers, crews and balloons and haul them back to Green Grove Gardens.
Flights cost $175 and take 45 minutes to an hour at about a thousand feet above the ground.
Hagerstown friends Laura Harsh and Becky Parody, like Leatrice Shoemaker, were making their maiden voyage Friday.
“We tried to go last year, but they were sold out,” Harsh said.
Parody said she passed the sign advertising this year’s festival and called Harsh.
“This is our first adventure together,” Harsh said. “We’re hot-air-balloon virgins.”
Chris Sommers of Allentown, Pa., owner of High On You Ballooning, has been flying balloons for 30 years. Like many other balloon company owners, he flies all year along the East Coast following good flying weather, up north in summer and Florida in winter.
“I fly 800 to 1,000 people a year,” he said.
Around 6:15 p.m. Friday, David Robinson, the “balloonmeister” for the event, was surrounded by a dozen fliers as two toy balloons, a black one and a green one, were set aloft to determine wind direction and flying conditions.
“We only fly mornings and evenings, never in the middle of the day,” he said. “When the sun is high, the air heats up and becomes unstable for balloons.”
If you go ...
What: Hot air balloon festival
When: Today, noon to dusk; Sunday, 3 p.m. to dusk
Where: Green Grove Gardens, 1032 Buchanan Trail East, Greencastle, Pa.
Cost: $15 per car
Info: Call 717-597-0800 or go to www.greengrovegardens.com
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