Sunday, August 23, 2009

Up, Up, and Awaaaay....

I am now officially an aeronaut...or so says my official Certificat D'Ascension en Machine Aerostatique that I received after a near hour balloon ride (the "certificat" is en Francais, so I'm just taking the word of our pilot, really).

Let me tell you, is the ONLY way to fly.

Personally, I have an extreme fear of heights, especially the "unprotected" kind.  Not that I let my fear get in the way of doing what I want to do...hell, I fly for travel at least once or twice a year (though back in the 90s, it was always with a bit of "liquid fortification" if you catch my drift). But things like ski lifts or those damn mountain gondolas...I can barely stand to be on 'em, and I'm near paralyzed until they touch ground.  The thought of the cable breaking and that metal death box/chair plummeting 100'+ to the ground just f'ing terrifies me (no, I don't ski but I was on BOTH as recently as last weekend when we took the in-laws to Grouse Mountain outside Vancouver, BC).

The hot air balloon is nothing like it.

First off, there was less motion in the ascension than going up in an elevator.  The landing (expertly done by our pilot) was less bumpy than most plane landings I've had. The flight itself was smooth as silk and breathtaking, and the basket with its wicker and leather was solid, sturdy, and comfortable.

Even though we were suspended over 1300' in the air at some point there was (for lack of a better term) the illusion that if something were to happen, the balloon would deflate and come into land...well, at a survivable rate. Now I realize that plummeting from a thousand feet there's very little chance of surviving a balloon catastrophe...but our pilot exuded such confidence and competence that I never doubted our safety once.

Well, until we hit the tree at 25 miles per hour.  

But even THAT was planned and controlled in order to break our momentum so that we could land safely and comfortably in the field beyond. The tree bent and bounced back, waving like a palm in the wind as we looked behind us.  Simply amazing.

And the never gets to see the world like this. We stayed 500'-1200' most of the journey, sometimes as low as 200'-300'. Unlike a fixed wing aircraft you glide low enough and slow enough that all the world is revealed in detail but from an elevated view.  The only thing I imagine it compares to would be a zeppelin or  a hang glider.  The latter, of course, would have a descent over time issue compared to the balloon (at least, as long as the balloon has propane left in its tanks).

As for the zeppelins, well...I know I've mentioned before that one of my favorite movies of all time is The Life Aquatic, and mainly because I envy the life portrayed by the title character Steve Zissou.  Being captain of one's own boat? The freedom of the open sea? A crew that will follow you regardless of several (glaring) personal defects?  I have often said that my dream job would be Steve a zeppelin. My dream vacation would be to see the Great Pyramid of Giza from a zeppelin.  I get regular updates from the San Francisco based Airship Adventures company, and greatly desire to pilot one of these majestic crafts some day. Whether such will ever happen in my lifetime...well, a guy can dream, can't he?

Anyway, some folks may be wondering what the hell THIS post has to do with RPGs in general. Actually, two things. One: because a sunrise balloon voyage requires getting up at 5:30am (both to check the weather and to travel out of the city to BFE) I got even less sleep than usual and crashed hard after our return (adrenaline drop as much as lack of sleep). As such I slept till like 4 in the afternoon before getting up and doing some household errands; I offer this as an explanation of my lack of Sunday blogging.

Second: a year or so ago, a friend in Oregon mailed me a copy of his own "adventure module," called Blackrock Island. My buddy ("the Doctor," I like to call him) created a fairly cool and whimsical kind of adventure that would be FANTASTIC for B/X in my opinion (he wrote it for AD&D 1e...see, we didn't even know we were already part of the OSR at that point!).  Part of it involves a flying whale and an airship. It needs polish (and some non-copyrighted artwork), but I was already consider publishing a re-work of it, perhaps for Labyrinth Lord, perhaps through BHP (this was before BHP stopped doing LL stuff, of course). 

NOW, I am even more interested in re-working Blackrock Island for B/X and LL, but quite possibly emphasizing some of the airship sections. They are just so cool! And while not "medieval" in the slightest (the first balloon was piloted in the 1700s) they are fantastical, whimsical, and pulpy in nature...even in reality!

Now, of course, the Companion set is the priority writing work I'm completing. But Blackrock needs so little for use (a little clip art, some state re-writes, a plot overhaul), that maybe I can bang the two out simultaneously. I don't know...tomorrow's my day off and I'm feeling ambitious.

Damn, that balloon was cool....


  1. Ever since Ultima IV baloons have been firmly established in fantasy, have they not? :)

    Also, I think Brave Halfing is supporting Labyrinth Lord after all.

  2. I'm not familiar with any of the Ultima games, but I have read Pullman's "His Dark Materials" which I definitely throw in the fantasy basket.

    And that IS great new about BHP. Thanks!