Hot Air Balloon Rally returns to Pittsfield next weekend

  • Linda Rackley looks up as Joe Caputo fills his ballon at the 33rd Suncook Valley Rotary Club Hot Air Balloon Rally in Pittsfield Friday night at Drake Field. Although the balloons did not launch because of tricky winds, the balloonists did a Nightglow for the crowd. The rally continues today with a sunrise and sunset launch and a 5:30 a.m. launch on Sunday. Geoff Forester

  • Balloons fill up before the Nightglow presentation Friday night at the 33rd Annual Hot Air Balloon Rally sponsored by the Suncook Valley Rotary Club in downtown Pittsfield. Although weather and wind postponed the sunset launch, the balloonists treated the crowd with the Nightglow. The rally continues today with another sunset launch at 5:30 p.m. and a Sunday launch at 5:30 a.m. Geoff Forester

  • Despite a delay for winds, the balloons took off and made their way over the Suncook River as the sun set on the first evening of the Pittsfield Rotary Hot Air Balloon Rally at Drake Field in Pittsfield on August 2, 2013. Andrea Morales

  • Monitor file Monitor file

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    The hot air balloon "Wild Ride" falls behind a line of trees beyond the Suncook River in Pittsfield on Friday morning, August 4, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

  • ABOVE: Two balloons, Polar Dawn and Heaven Sent, flew tethered at Drake Field in Pittsfield in 2018.

Monitor columnist
Published: 7/27/2019 9:08:45 PM

Two decades ago, while helping her parents clear land to build the family’s new home in Pittsfield, a young girl from Massachusetts noticed a bunch of colorful objects floating gently in the sky.

And that was it. Fallon Reed fell in love with hot-air balloons, right there on the spot. That inspired her to volunteer, and now she’s one of the central organizers for the town’s Annual Hot Air Balloon Rally. The 38th installment is scheduled for Aug. 2-4 at Drake Field.

Reed said she’ll never forget what she saw that day so long ago.

“The balloons are coming over the property we just bought and it’s the craziest thing ever,” the 35-year-old Reed told me by phone. “We had only been in town for a few weeks, and I got hooked. I started going to the rally every year and volunteering. People have family parties and then they go to watch the balloon launch.”

Reed is the rally’s co-chairwoman and a member of the local Rotary Club. She said she’s proud that the rally raises money for local scholarships, as well as for fighting polio in the three countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria – that have yet to eradicate the disease.

This is her busiest time of year, when she’s making sure Pittsfield’s biggest event runs smoothly.

The festival will include free admission, food, helicopter and carnival rides, crafts, a dog demonstration, a corn-hole tournament, cow-chip Bingo (more on that later) and, of course, the feature presentation: those colorful, picturesque, people-carrying balloons, 13 of them, weather permitting.

According to Reed, too much wind will ground the fleet, as will a strong-enough storm within 100 miles from the starting point.

But if it’s calm, the show will go on. That will include some nifty maneuvering, as the pilots will descend far enough to skim the Suncook River with their baskets.

“We’re weather dependent,” Reed said. “We’re working with the pilots on that. The wind at ground level is different than 100 feet up. People think it’s fine at ground level, and they may not notice the big difference.”

If this portion of the festival is deflated due to wind, some of the other events listed above, while lacking the excitement and spectacle of seeing these giant balloons dot the sky, are sure to garner attention.

Start with the balloons, an awesome sight even without flight. The star of the fleet will be a pig-faced balloon, piloted by a professional from New Jersey.

Why a pig balloon? Reed explained: “It’s the year of the pig on the Chinese calendar. This guy the last couple of years has a number of specialty balloons, and I looked at the pig and thought that would be fun.”

And there’s more pig stuff on top of that. For one thing, the weekend theme is “When pigs fly, anything is possible.”

For another, the official festival program includes pig-related drawings and essays by local schoolchildren.

Plus, along with the usual burgers and hotdogs and breakfast, all supplied by the Suncook Valley Rotary Club, you can also enjoy pulled pork.

And, oh yes, about that aforementioned Bingo game, arranged by the local 4-H club, which used to stage the event annually before flushing it a few years ago.

Now, it’s back, with a $500 cash prize. Reed said 4-H members wanted to use pig chips to determine winners, but two factors played a part in changing to cows: One, cows have better aim.

“Pigs are not as good at hitting it,” said Reed, referring to the bingo-board squares.

And two, Reed mentioned something about aroma.

“Pig manure smells horrible,” Reed noted. “I can deal with cow manure smell, but not pig smell. I had pigs growing up in Pittsfield, on my parents’ property.”

Which brings us to that day about 20 years ago, when a middle school-aged girl, helping her parents clear land to make room for their new house, looked skyward and saw something in the distance, a vision that grew bigger, more surreal, more beautiful with each passing minute.

You’ll see this early next month, on clear, still days only, with liftoff on Aug. 2 and 3 at 5:30 p.m., and on the 4th at 5:30 a.m.

Reed said that last set of rides, the ones beginning early in the morning on that final day, will be the most peaceful and tranquil. Hot-air balloons fly by using fire-breathing burners to heat the air inside the balloon, making it less dense and lighter than the air around it.

And, ironically, the sound from that fiery blast cuts through the still air and provides a soothing effect.

“I know people don’t like getting up that early, but I went for the first time a couple of years ago and the morning flight is amazing, quiet and serene,” Reed told me. “It’s worth getting up because the only thing you hear is the burner from each balloon every few minutes.”

She’s seen it and heard it the past few years. And she saw it and heard it 20 years ago, as a little girl helping her parents outside, while these peaceful giants appeared in the distance and passed overhead.

“It feels like floating in big pillows,” Reed said. “And to see the other balloons in the early-morning flight, it’s simply gorgeous. I’ll always remember it.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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