The weight of the world

Although the Planet Earth balloon never got off the ground during the Great Falls Balloon Festival, its crew inflated the balloon at a couple launches. Several people in the crowd posed in front of the camera in ways to make it look like they were holding the world in their hands.

One man had a woman try to take the photo while he held his hand “under” the Planet Earth balloon. Apparently she didn’t do so well because he had to lecture her on the correct way to frame the shot.

Patience wasn’t his strong suit. Hopefully, he did better with apologies.

— Carl Natale

Can you see my Instagram now?

Sun Journal Chief Photographer Russ Dillingham was working the festival Saturday night. As noted earlier, he wasn’t the only photographer in the park. He saw plenty of people taking photos and videos with camera phones.

Apparently they were sharing those images and videos also because our crew had a lot of difficulties getting enough cellular signal to connect to the Sun Journal Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Periscope accounts.

Almost nothing got posted on social media as they competed for bandwidth with everyone else.

Luckily the livestream video camera and live blog computer were hard-wired to the Internet and we were able to keep those feeds live.

It’s another reminder we’re in the age when everyone can be a reporter/photographer/videographer/publisher.

— Carl Natale

None shall pass

It’s best to take precautions when you have a potential clash of centuries. Medieval re-enactors from the local Society for Creative Anachronism group, The Riding of Ravensbridge, set up their encampment in Auburn’s Bonney Park on Friday night, just down the Riverwalk and across the pedestrian bridge from Lewiston’s Simard-Payne Memorial Park.

Not only did they bring period-looking tents to camp in, they brought gear — swords and clothes, armor and shields and medieval crafts. Since they were likely the only souls in the urban park overnight, they wanted to make sure their safety was assured. So, they mounted a guard: two stout sword-bearing worthies at the front of their camp who made sure the rest of the group spent the night restfully and unaccosted.

— Scott Taylor

‘Back up’ for the launch

As the crowd gathered on Saturday evening for the balloon launch, so did the tension between some festivalgoers and the balloon crews. For a successful balloon launch, each requires some 15 helpers to spread out the balloon to help it along to full inflation. 

A big part of being a crew member is crowd control, where a few thousand curious spectators gathered around one of the first balloons to set up. A member of that crew consistently asked for the crowd to back up. After the fourth wave of pushback from the crowd, a grandmother standing with her two grandchildren got testy and in the face of the crew member who was most adamant. The duo had it out before it took another crew member to intervene and calm tensions.

Minutes later, the fully-inflated balloon took presence and applause filled the field as the balloon lifted into the sun-filled evening sky.

— Larry Gilbert Jr.

View from the top

Sometimes it pays to have friends in high places – or at least friends that know how to get to high places. That was the case for me on Saturday night as my sons and I were allowed to tag along with Sun Journal photographer Daryn Slover who took us to one of his favorite spots for watching the hot air balloons launching.

Our destination? Why, the top of the Great Falls themselves, of course.  

Fortunate for us the sluiceways to the hydro dams were closed and stayed that way as we paddled in canoes and kayaks from the Little Androscoggin River in New Auburn, up the main branch of the Androscoggin River, under the Longley Bridge and on to the base of the falls. What would be an impossible task in the high waters of late spring, or when there is a great demand for electricity in southern New England and the dam is wide open, was a relatively easy paddle. And landing on the sand beach at the base of the falls was easy as well.

While I’ve had the great opportunity to fly over the river in the basket of a balloon (twice) and in a small helicopter (once), never before had I been near the middle of the Androscoggin River, perched high on the chunk of rock that turns into a torrent flow of wild whitewater with a high volume of water.

The cityscape of both Lewiston and Auburn unfolded downriver and as the balloons began to launch, with a fairly stiff westerly breeze we were able to watch them sail out toward Auburn and beyond sitting some 40 to 50 feet above the river.

And the climb, steep as it looks, was a bit like climbing a staircase, so easy I didn’t even manage to spill a drop from the can of refreshment I carried gingerly to the top — and I am now able to say I’ve stood on top of the Great Falls – during the Great Falls Balloon Fest, no less.

As usual Daryn did not disappoint.

– Scott Thistle

Hot-air hound

My wife, who always has good ideas, thought it would be fun to see the balloon festival from the river in our canoe for the first time. With our dog — in a canoe for the first time.

I loaded it up and we were off early Saturday morning. Before long we were on the river behind Gritty’s with our lifejackets on, paddles in hand and our skittish retriever-collie mix lunging from side to side as she tried to wrap her head around the whole boat idea. The ducks floating just feet from our canoe weren’t helping.

We wobbled precariously down the river, likely delighting the growing number of people gathering on the Auburn side of the river. While the few other people on the river were quietly paddling and taking pictures in the bucolic morning setting, we were loudly repeating over and over — and would for the entire ride — “Good girl. You’re a good girl. Good girl. Everything’s OK. Good girl . . .”

She calmed down slightly as the ducks got farther behind us and she got more used to things. We watched a number of balloons rise from the festival grounds, and one of the best photos of the day definitely occurred when one of the balloon pilots decided to do a river dip but miscalculated his speed.

All of a sudden we heard above us the sound of a balloon burner going on full blast. We looked up. A balloon was descending quickly toward the river, not far from us. Our dog jumped when the burner started up, and she began looking for a way out of the boat and away from the sound.

“Good girl! Everything’s all right. Goooood girl . . .”

She moved from one side of the canoe to the other nervously. We began paddling hard to get away from the balloon. When I turned to look, the balloon’s basket hit the water and kept going down. About half the basket went under before the straining burner created enough lift to send the balloon skyward again, water gushing out of the basket’s bottom and streaming back into the river. Relieved faces on the people in the basket.

We stayed on the river for a few more minutes before paddling back to land without incident. “Good girl. That’s a good girl . . .” I would show you that award-winning photo but we were paddling too hard at the moment. Besides, in all the excitement my smartphone dropped from my lap into the water in the bottom of the canoe. Next year we’ll get that picture from shore.

— Mark Mogensen