It had always been my dream to fly in a gas balloon over America. During the event of the Albuquerque International Balloonfiesta in New Mexico the America´s Challenge Gas Balloon Race was scheduled too. Stefanie Watermeier, Gerd Strasmann, Bettina and I flew together from Amstardam to the USA. Via Atlanta and Dallas we arrived at the Albuquerque (ABQ) airport. Four other teams planned the trip to ABQ. Hedi Nieland/Alfred Derks, Willi Eimers, Peter Krafczyk/Sepp Scherzer and Anja Kümmerlein/Volker Ricken, Marita Krafczyk, Werner Redeker, Thorsten Samsel.
All the people in the Fairfield Inn Hotel in ABQ formed one great German team.
The start was on Saturday the 2nd. All the balloons, the majority of them inflated by Thorsten Samsel (he worked very hard), were ready to start. Gerd and I started at 7.42 pm in a clear and cold night. ABQ is with 750.000 inhabitants very densly populated, and the sight of all the lights in the city is fabulous.
The hill Sandia is east of the launch field. The meteorologist had told us that at a higher altitude we were to expect wind to the east, so we decided to climb higher. At 13500 ft, we were above the Sandia, and our speed was getting higher and higher. –5°C at 1.00 am, 15000 ft. But we had a very good direction.
Our wives, who wanted to retrieve us, were sleeping in the hotel and would leave the next morning with the pickup car. In the night we heard some coyotes howling to the moon. By then we were in the middle of Texas. Speed 33kt, 90°. It was possible to make a very long flight to the coast. But we had a problem. After takeoff we had 19 bags of sand and 30 liters of water.
At 16500 ft (3.00 a.m. on Sunday) we had only 5 bags of sand left and the water in the basket. So we’d have to do our very best to reach a good destination. In Texas we saw a superb sunrise. The flight went on along the legendary route 66, but because of radio failure we couldn’t reach Bettina and Stefanie. Nevertheless they did a good job. No mobile telephone, satellite phone… Only the logger in our basket told them our position. David Strasmann in Germany helped via internet. During the flight we talked about it. What were the women doing? Were they behind us? We knew very well that both Bettina and Steffanie have the know-how to find us.
At a speed of 30 kts it was going directly to Oklahoma city. We realised that we wouldn’t be able to fly through a second night, even though we hadn’t spent any ballast for 10 hours. So Gerd an I decided to land in the vicinity of Oklahoma City. Bettina and Stefanie then were on highway 40 from ABQ to Oklahoma. At 3.15 pm on Sunday afternoon we landed safely in an field with 20 kts. Our mobile phone by then functioned very well and we contacted the chase car. They had seen our landing procedure and were to reach us in 5 minutes time. How proud we were of our wives! And the best thing was that they had thought of us and had managed to buy some bottles of beer (okay, to tell the truth, it was a really big box with 30 bottles…). Two very friendly American farmers saw us and came to help. Bettina and Stefanie thought we’d end in the first place. But two ballons still were in the air at that moment. Richard Abruzzo with the ex-governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson, and the Levin brothers David and Allan.
Both teams were flying through another night, and by doing so put us in the 3rd position. But for Bettina, Stefanie, Gerd and myself it had been a great event that we´ll never forget!
I hope it won’t be our last stay over there.
At the pricegiving ceremony on Saturday 9th Oct. we got the wonderful prices.
Our sincere thanks go to all the persons who helped us to have a very good time. Especially to Bettina Herkenhoff, Stefanie Watermeier, the organizing team with Pat Brake and Mark Sullivan and last but not least Thorsten Samsel. I think he inflated all the German gas balloons at the fiesta. Many thanks to Willi Eimers too, he let us use his (and Klaus') room to party afterwards, although the hotel security was not at all pleased with this…
Hope to see you all again next year!