Stacey D. Atkinson


Today I floated above the city in a hot air balloon. How did someone like me, who's afraid of heights and gets motion sick, do such a crazy thing?

Sometimes the universe presents you with a gift and you have to be aware enough to grab hold of it. That's what happened to me last week when a letter carrier arrived at my door and asked if I could accept a package on behalf of my neighbour.

"Sure," I said. "Why not."

About a hour later, my neighbour Norm came over and knocked on my door. He'd found the note in his mailbox saying I had a package for him. I handed him the box and since we hadn't seen each other in a few weeks because of summer vacations, we began to make small talk. Then he happened to mention his plans for the weekend, to attend the Festival de montgolfières de Gatineau, otherwise known as the Hot Air Balloon Fest. 

"Wow," I said. "I've always wanted to go, ever since I moved to the city 10 years ago. But I'm too scared to go up in one of those balloons."

"I go every year," Norm said. "I volunteer as a photographer."

There was a glint in my eye and Norm saw it. 

"You wanna come with me? I can get you in. Do you like to take pictures?" he asked.

"I love to take photos...and I've got all the gear, too."

"Done," he said. "Let me call the organizer right now and confirm you're in."

Over the next few days, I began to regret my hasty decision to volunteer for the festival. I learned that I'd have to get up at 5 a.m. to photograph the morning flight and that I might be asked to take a balloon ride and photograph the festival grounds from the air (gasp!). I panicked and thought about not showing up for my shift, but as the week passed by, I resolved to suck it up and make good on my word.

Friday arrived and I made my way to the festival in the early morning light. I was given a volunteer orientation and asked to photograph the balloons taking off in section B...and then to jump on board the Skyward balloon and take pictures from above. I began to get nervous and my knees buckled. I thought about running away but finally settled for a jog to the porta-pottie for a nervous pee.

Hot air balloon

I watched as the crew inflated the massive yellow and red balloon with spurts of flames from the four gas burners. Everyone was excited and ready to launch, and then finally we all jumped into the basket. It was now of never. We received the thumbs-up from the flight director to take off. Before I even realized it, we gently lifted into the air with the moving wind. I watched as the people on the ground became small figurines, waving as we drifted away. I took photos of the balloons, the crew, and the festival grounds. I looked out at the horizon and shot the cityscape and winding river. I looked around at the other people in the basket and saw their smiling faces and realized I was smiling, too.

Hot air balloon burners

Just like that, I was floating hundreds of feet above the city and loving it--no vertigo, no motion sickness. It was a gentle, steady ride the whole way. A truly Zen experience. Then I was struck by how closely I came to not taking this ride at all. How I almost let my doubts and fears and "what ifs" keep me grounded. I had imagined what the ride would be like (i.e., nauseating) and I'd convinced myself it was true, when in fact it was just a scenario I'd made up in my head. What I had imagined the ride to be could not have been farther from the truth.

Fesetival Montgolfieres Gatineau - Hot Air Balloon Festival Gatineau

So, fellow writers, I urge you to take chances in life and in your writing. Try something new, knock down those artificial boundaries about what you can and can't do or write about. Nothing is more damaging to the psyche than dull routine. Step outside your comfort zone from time to time and live a little. I promise, it will give you a whole new perspective on things and so many new ideas to write about.

Hot air balloon ride - Stacey D. Atkinson 

Stacey D. Atkinson is a freelance editor and author of Stuck, a novel she published via her independent company Mirror Image Publishing.

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