|Smoky dawn in Reno.
|The sky was full of balloons and the meadow was full of people.
After an easy three-day weekend in the Sierra came three accelerated days, when
it was necessary to unpack, do laundry, pack again, and release children from
school; we were headed back to the Sierra on Thursday after lunch. This time to
attend balloons in Reno. We sought to avoid the most frequented freeways across
Sacramento, and opted for eighty-eight through Kirkwood. When we got close to
Jackson, a large black cloud appeared on the horizon. First we guessed it to be
a storm, but unfortunately it turned out to be a wildfire erupting right
. We did not have a clue what was going on, even when we stopped at a
gas station for a bathroom break and a man in a reflective vest appeared to
organize the incredible line formed to the pump. We did not need gas, but we
noticed the commotion on Thursday afternoon at this station as somewhat unusual.
We had wanted to eat at Giant Burger
in Pine Grove a but up the road from
the station, and only there we realized the extent of the fire and the line at
the pump — the whole town was without power, all southern turn-offs from
the highway were blocked with barriers and firemen would not let anyone pass.
Parking lots were filling with motor-homes, pick-ups with campers and regular
cars — and evacuated people. We began to fear whether we'd succeed to
drive through to the east, but the eighty-eight is a main connector and in the
end it never got closed.
We were feeling pretty hungry by the time we reached Kirkwood, and so we voted
to detour through South Lake Tahoe and a dinner there — we would be too
late to eat in Reno once we got there, and thus we extended our trip a bit.
We had to search for our hotel in Reno — online reservations for our
favorite Best Western at the airport had offered only smoking rooms;
disappointed we tried an obscure Quality Inn. It was cheaper and offered
breakfast, but after we saw it on our own eyes, we realized that the lower price
was indeed justified. It was rather very used-up and quite noisy.
|Conclusion of Friday's Mass Ascent.
|Dragon Moon is getting ready for Saturday's Dawn Patrol.
Friday was the first day of
Great Reno Balloon Race
We were getting up reasonably late, at five a.m. The front desk clerk unlocked their fridge
and thus we could issue ourselves some yogurts and spreadable cheese — and coffee was also
ready. We were bound to park in a public lot, pay ten dollars, and cross a part of the park to the
meadow with the balloons. Well, at least we could try how it is done by regular mortals. Then,
everything went like clockwork, balloons flew, there was chatting, meeting friends and so on.
Lisa had sadly watched fair attractions for kids — with her broken little toe she naturally
could not go jump somewhere, and even around the balloons she could not make herself useful that
much, for with a foot in a brace she was not very mobile. I lowered my guard and as a consolation
prize I bought her a beach ball in the shape of a hot air balloon. By ten o'clock it all ended
and we went to have lunch. For the lack of inspiration, we crawled back to "our" old
Best Western, which had not have non-smoking rooms. There, they would not only give us a lunch menu
at breakfast time, but also pour us beer; they also confirmed that the lack of non-smoking rooms
was some corporate online nonsense (perhaps, no-one wants to take their smelly pads),
and recommended calling directly next time. Then we had ordered bed-time, pulled the curtains
closed, and although the kids protested this forced sleep, they went unconscious within five
We were back up by two, and some of us even ready for action. Hippo was proposing to go to see a
movie, and I was desperately unwilling. It was my third week in the mode of having to always be
somewhere, to keep up with things, to organize and be organized; I wanted to have one afternoon
when I DON'T HAVE TO. Eventually I had thus dropped Sid and the kids off in front of the local
movie theater (they went to see Minions
), and went to buy covers for our tablets and ear
plugs, and discovered an ice cream parlor. I even managed to read a bit at the hotel, and then I
went back to get the rest of my family, and have dinner, and ice cream.
|Family on the ground...
|...family in the air.
Saturday getting up at three thirty in the morning was understandably brutal. This time we were
issued a VIP parking voucher by our pilot, and had quick access to the ballooning meadow. Erecting
baloons and knocking over each other in the darkness ensued, and then there were beautiful balloons
lighting up the dark sky. Dawn Patrol
is our favorite part of the whole happening, despite
the cost of the crazy early getting up.
It also means alternating depressive inactivity with frantic efforts — the balloon gets
erected and it flies away; one hangs around for a while, but then the chase crew must drive off to
a landing spot to pack the balloon and return with it back to the meadow in time for the mass
ascent at seven o'clock. This time Lisa drew the lucky lot and got invited into the basket with
clients — I was threatening her with returning her consolation prize, but it had no effect.
Jeanne managed a masterful move and she had landed in time at the lower end of the same meadow,
set the clients out, and picked me and Tom up for a short hop, to get from a dried pond to a
slightly drier piece of land. Hence both of our children were happy, as they had flown in Reno.
An early lunch and noon-spanning sleep followed, and then we went to visit Kris and Lance and their
two labrador dogs. Kris and Lance are balloonists, too, and it was obvious that our visit must fit
just between siesta and their early departure to bed, so that we all would be able to get up
on Sunday again by three thirty.
|Over port-a-potties, balloons, and vendor booths.
|Over Dee III and a flat Darth Vader.
During Sunday's Dawn Patrol, a gentle breeze would occasionally chase down the meadow. Notably,
an inflated balloon represents a considerable sail area, and it made very little difference that
Sid had leaned into the crown line with his all (also considerable) weight, subsequently extended
by two more volunteers; they all got whipped through a cluster of gawkers like a knife through
butter, leaving only upturned chairs and knocked-over picnic baskets in their wake.
As much this affair is supposed to be for the public, I am quite upset how much the spectators
ignore all basic rules. We can keep explaining forever that the area between the end of the crown
line and the balloon is ill suited for a picnic, they still spread out there. Just like the order
that prohibits dogs and baby strollers on the meadow. Perhaps only the smoking ban is more or less
respected (due to the ubiquitous propane tanks and burners).
Eventually all the balloons had taken off, our chase crew had departed, and we wandered the
premises, finished our field breakfast, and bid our time. And watched as the gentle breeze picks
up, gently. It culminated in a moment when we were helping with another balloon take-off, which
raced up like a champagne cork and disappeared toward Reno downtown. It began to look worrisome
— balloons that had already taken off were mercilessly driven over well developed parts
— fortunately Reno is not really large, and so they had a chance to land on the other side.
Some crews had given up before taking off, and natually all tethered rides had to be cancelled.
Thanks to our delay due to returning from Dawn Patrol, we did not even bother to erect our balloon.
The pilots were cursing the weather forecasters — such wind was not anticipated, alghough some
turmoil with the approaching front could be expected.
|Sunday's Dawn Patrol is ready.
|Wild mountain wind.
This had put us in front of yet another problem — which way to go home. A wildfire at the
eighty-eight was still ablaze, even more areas were being evacuated. Eventually we had to risk
Sacramento — thanks to balloon race cut short we still made it to a regular breakfast at
our miserable hotel (which was equally miserable, with no good place to sit, really awful), and
we drove out still in the morning. We could hope that the traffic would still not get too crazy.
Meanwhile another wildfire erupted to the north of San Francisco, and beyond Truckee we drove in
a smoke cloud. We could not properly see, but in some stretches we had to close the car's
ventilation, for we all began to cough. It's maddening that we were operating tens of miles away
from the actual fires, and it was this strong. We could not even imagine how it must have felt
When we got back home, I resolved to comb Lisa, who had scratched incessantly — and of course
I found lice. On Lisa, myself, but even Tom. Only the bald Hippo was laughing at us. For several
subsequent hours we shampooed, changed bed covers, did laundry, evacuated all stuffed animals, and
kept combing and combing, which had extended this day to some twenty hours — I got up at three
thirty and fell into bed after midnight.
|After practice in Roosevelt Lake, getting into Pacific Ocean was a child's play.
|Children aren't crazy to enter the icy water.
Due to the mad situation with wildfires, we were constrained for the several upcoming weeks to the
vicinity — Sierra was engulfed in smoke and some parts were closed off. But then Tom could
take part in Klárka's and Max's birthday party and sleep-over. We picked him up on the next day at
beach. We got there often and have been for years, but this was the first
time when we were able and willing to enter the Pacific Ocean. The water was not any warmer than
usually (in surface layer up to 60 degrees), but the air was a hundred, and any refreshment was
welcome. And so, after living fifteen years in California, I swam in the Pacific for the first time
WITHOUT a nine millimeter neoprene.
We did not let Lisa go to the birthday party — the celebrations took place at Pump It
, which features indoor inflatable jumpy things, and this was Lisa's first day without the
foot brace and taped toe — jumping did not seem to us as an appropriate recovery exercise.
We made it up to her on the next weekend, reserving a pony lesson for her and Klára.
|Vandalized Summit Rock.
|Klárka on Charlie.
And for more variety, I had on the same morning a batch of climbing in the mountains above the
ranch. Sometime last year, they had opened a formerly long-term restricted area, and we wanted
to check it out. I have to say that Summit Rock
was rather a disappointment. It had been
off limits on account of nesting birds, and now has been open for climbers out of nesting season,
and it looks accordingly — you would be afraid to touch anything, as guano is everywhere.
Also, while climbers may have respected the restriction, others did not — and the rock is
scribbled with graffiti and glass shards and rubbish is laying underfoot. Of climbing routes,
one 10d got me excited, which leads through a slab and you have to hold there pretty much with
the strength of your will and belief. And when you work it out, you have to pull yourself
one step higher still.
Murphy's law cannot be avoided, though — in the week before the riding lesson, Lisa's Sugar
Baby began to limp. Eventually I managed to arrange a loan of the other pony, Charlie, and Baby was
reduced to petting, admiring and pampering by the girls. Charlie had brought his better mood along
and did not obstruct — perhaps also because Klárka is a rather intense person and from the
start did not let anyone doubt who was in charge.
Baby's situation developed like weather forecast — partially cloudy, sometimes glimpses of
hope. He limped on some mornings only to look quite healthy in the afternoons (especially on those
when his frightened owner had invited some vet or chiropractor), and besides discovering that
the little horse as mechanically in order, we had never found out what was going on.
Personally I would have guessed some spinal block, as I too have days when I barely crawl out of
my bed, end then I have days I still feel young and promising.