Up! Up! & Away!

‘Jabberwocky’ Pilot Andy Barnum with hot air balloon team at the 2018 Marshall County Blueberry Festival. Hot air balloons float Sunday morning during the Marshall County Blueberry Festival.
Jamie Stoner
Staff Writer

As a very unexpected surprise I was allowed to take a ride in a hot air balloon during the Marshall County Blueberry Festival. My pilot for my ride on ‘Jabberwocky’ was Andy Barnum out of Ottawa Hills, Ohio. The ride was sponsored by The Pilot News.

When asked why his balloon was named ‘Jabberwocky’ Barnum confirmed, “It’s named after the poem written by C.S. Lewis.” The poem was contained in ‘Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There’.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Jabberwock, it was a fictional creature written about by Lewis that embodied fear. Though the boy depicted in the poem triumphed over the Jabberwock, the last verse of the poem was identical to the first. Some literary scholars suggest that, though the boy changed internally and overcame something outwardly, the rest of the world remained unchanged.

Though I attempt to remain grounded (emotionally) and keep a level head, I won’t deny I overcame some of my own ‘Jabberwocky’ fear during the very early hours of Sunday morning. I have wanted to ride in a hot air balloon since my childhood. I am however afraid of heights.

Those who were selected to ride Sunday morning were instructed to meet at the Riverside Intermediate School around 6 a.m. We gathered around a table of donuts and coffee and eagerly awaited the announcement as to whether we would be able to fly. Certain weather conditions must be met to make it safe. High winds or potential storms can result in the cancellation of the event for safety reasons.

Brian Kunze of Michiana Balloon Rides LLC conducted a weather assessment just after 7 a.m. as the sun was peaking out over the horizon. He shared the details of the assessment with the pilots present and let each decide if they wanted to fly. All the pilots present chose to fly.

Kunze explained that his balloon would be the ‘hare’. This meant that his balloon would be the first to inflate and take off for the target location. The rest of the balloons were ‘hounds’. Once Kunze took flight the rest of the balloons were instructed to inflate and fly.

Kunze landed in Lake of the Woods and placed a large target in the shape of an X in the yard of our hosts. The ‘hounds’ were invited to throw bean bags toward the target and the balloon team that hit the target closest would win.

Sponsors were linked to pilots. The Pilot News sponsored the ‘Jabberwocky’ flown by Pilot Andy Barnum. Barnum directed me to the last grey van at the end of a line of vehicles toward the far side of the Riverside lawn.

Barnum and his team prepped the balloon and had me sign the appropriate paperwork. Before long the ‘hare’ took off and the race was on. Balloons started inflating and rising around us. My hands and knees were shaking with a mix of fear and excitement though I am uncertain as to whether anyone else could tell.

It came time to climb in the basket large enough to hold two adults comfortably. I hopped in and after a few mere moments we were released from the tether.

The incline was smooth. Trees and cows appeared smaller and smaller beneath us until they looked like my children’s toys scattered on a green carpet rather than grass. The corn field began to look like an overgrown lawn that needed mowed rather than a crop. The ground below resembled 4-H models on display at the Marshall County Fair. What really took my breath away was the sky.

I have flown in commercial planes before but to feel the air directly on my face at that elevation was nothing I ever felt before. The shaking in my knees and hands finally calmed down enough for me to take some photos with my camera phone.

Barnum explained, “When you fly in a hot air balloon you don’t really feel the wind change. You can tell the wind changed direction because the balloon changes direction.” How true that can be of life itself.

Barnum grew up around hot air balloons. He is not only a hot air balloon pilot but is also a full time professional pilot. His father taught him about hot air balloons and Barnum is now passing the tradition on to his family.

Barnum encouraged me to look behind us at the balloons following. “Sometimes you have to look behind you to fully appreciate how far you have come.” I couldn’t have agreed more. What started out as a flight in a hot air balloon became a much appreciated philosophical contemplation about the journey we call life.

As we approached our target in Lake of the Woods Barnum managed to get us surprisingly close and launched our bean bags toward the target. We landed smoothly which came as a surprise to me as I was bracing myself for a much stronger thud that never came.

Barnum’s team pulled us over to a safe place to repack the balloon and my journey had come to an end. Though the balloon ride was over; the overcoming of fear was permanent. If we are being honest, we all have a ‘jabberwock’ in our lives - or ‘jabberwocky’ experiences that we need to overcome. Perhaps some are more serious than others and take more time to journey through than others. I will never forget my hot air balloon ride or the lesson, “Sometimes you have to look behind you to fully appreciate how far you have come.” Thank you Pilot News and Andy Barnum. This was an experience I will not ever forget.