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Up, Up and Away

by Grant McOmie

Bio | Email | Follow: @KGWNews

kgw.com

Posted on July 10, 2009 at 1:00 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:35 PM

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The gas has been lit and the hot air balloon is growing larger so that this week, Grant McOmie can rise into the sky for a change of pace Grant's Getaway.

It's a place where hawks and eagles soar, a place that puts a smile on your face and brings joy to your heart as Grant goes Up, Up and Away to see Oregon wine country.

WATCH THE VIDEO VERSION

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In early morning, when the light is soft and the air is still, there's a sense of peace in the world.

But as dawn approaches at the Sportsmen's Airpark near Newberg, Oregon that serene silence is all too quickly broken.

For this is where Roger Anderson gathers folks who travel from all over the world to let their hearts soar on one of his unique adventures.

Anderson's Vista Balloon Adventures has been based in Newberg the past ten years.

Anderson and his wife, Catherine Anderson, specialize in giving people a bird's eye view to a corner of the greater Willamette Valley that stretches across Yamhill County.

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As Catherine noted, "People come with high (pardon the pun) expectations and preconceived notions of a flight in a hot air balloon, but the fact is that first timers cannot really compare it to anything they've ever done because it's so unique."

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The balloons are huge - big as houses. Each balloon requires five or six "crew" (volunteers who lend a hand) to assist with each morning's launch.

First, powerful fans blow cold air (the process is actually called a "cold-air inflate") into the nearly 200,000 cubic feet of nylon fabric.

How big is that?

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"Visualize 180,000 basketballs," offered Roger Anderson with a wink and a nod.

Once the balloon has been filled to its limit, ignition occurs as powerful propane gas burners light up and heat up the air inside the balloon.

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It's what gives the craft its lift.

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It's really a rather simple premise based upon the fact that hot air rises, but it gives passengers who ride aboard a different point of view to the landscape.

Catherine offered, "When you get up there, the overwhelming sensation is total quiet. It's really pretty cool!"

Our balloon was guided by Roger Anderson, a veteran pilot with more than two decades experience in lighter than air flight.

Roger noted, "The conditions for flying are perfect this morning. A light breeze and clear skies - so we'll be traveling across the Willamette River first and then head south towards Dayton and the wine country."

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Within moments of our easy lift off, we are two, four, then six hundred feet up in the air and the other "giants" soon appear as tiny, thimble-sized floats on the ground below.

Roger said that he learned about the wind and the weather (critical for balloon pilots) as a sailor. He logged more than 50,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean as a boat-sailing skipper.

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"One of the reasons I like to fly balloons is that they can get you into places you can't get any other way. Plus, you don't get in a balloon to go to a particular place, but instead you get in a balloon to be in a balloon. There's no 'have to get there quick' feeling, you just get to look at the world."

One of my fellow passengers, Brian Clapshaw, nodded in agreement and said, "It's quite amazing! I've never, ever had any experience like this ever before. I feel like I'm floating above the sky - I feel like I'm in a glass bubble."

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As we soared across the valley, sometimes mere feet above the ground, Roger pointed out something that I might never have noticed if my feet were firmly planted on the soil below.

"This part of the Willamette Valley was once a lake - Allison Lake - an ancient body of water that dates to 10,000 years ago and the time of the Missoula Floods era."

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Allison Lake was five hundred feet deep - and then the lake became a river - and from the balloon basket I could see how the ground rose and fell, just like a river bottom.

That wasn't all - it was easy to see how the valley near Newberg was ringed with hills - hills that grow grapes - in fact, wine grapes!

"There's the Dundee hills, Chehalem Ridge, Eola Hill; you can see it all and all of it produces some of the best wine in the world."

Roger added that there are hundreds of unique wines produced by scores of wineries and each is easily reached within fifteen minutes of Newberg.

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With a wry smile he added, "It can be even quicker by air."

But not on this fine July morning for the wind was building and the ground was heating up. If we waited too long, a soft landing could be - well, challenging!

And so, after an hour of delightful touring, the time had come for us to come back to the ground.

Catherine and her "chase crew" with their trailers in tow were a short radio conversation away to determine and co-ordinate on the best landing area.

Roger told me, "In twenty years of flying I haven't had two flights that have been the same. Once in a while people will ask do I like to fly by myself? I tell them not at all, because I have a skill set that's great to share."

We touched down in a recently cut "seed-grass" field ever so softly, without even a bounce to the remarkable landing.

"Welcome back to Mother Earth," cheered the proud Anderson.

Hot air ballooning is a lovely and magical way to see a beautiful corner of Oregon and build lasting memories through a unique outdoor adventure.

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You might consider making the "Up, Up and Away" adventure a part of your entry in a unique travel contest. It's called the Oregon 150 Challenge and it offers a unique dream vacation somewhere in Oregon as the grand prize. It's worth checking out!

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