“Quick, Chloe, call the police and tell them I just identified a UFO!”
“Hold it, Columbo,” Dad replied. “Like Mom said, it could’ve been a number of things. Let’s not jump to conclusions. Remember when you saw a mountain lion in our backyard only to discover it was the neighbor’s golden retriever?” Dad laughed.
“Dad, Goldie’s bark sounded like a growl. Anyway, that was before I began detective work.” I let the subject rest while we got off the plane and went to retrieve our luggage.
As we arrived at baggage claim, we saw our bags moving on the carousel. Both oars were with our bags and hadn’t been damaged. As we walked outside the airport, a young man approached us.
“What’s with the oars?” he asked.
“I probably shouldn’t say anything, but there was a secret code on our airplane tickets that said ROW. I’m confident it was an indication we’d be rowing a boat.”
I noticed when I explained the code that the man looked at my parents and there was a sparkle in each of their eyes – as if they understood the code. Interesting. I made a note to self to question them later.
“If you don’t have plans, how ‘bout a hot air balloon ride? I’m Andy, by the way,” he said, shaking our hands and paws and asking our names. “I own a balloon service. It’s the perfect day to go up. Have you ever ridden in a balloon?” Andy asked.
“No,” we answered in unison.
“Well that’s going to change,” Andy informed.
“Where are going?” Chloe asked.
“With a balloon, you can’t exactly pinpoint a destination,” Andy answered. “The wind will guide us.”
Andy helped us crawl into the wicker basket. Once we were seated and the luggage and oars were secure, Andy spoke.
“There are three main parts of a hot air balloon – the basket where we ride, the burner which is above our head, and the envelope which is the colorful fabric that holds the hot air.”
“Where’s the engine?” I asked.
“There isn’t one,” Andy explained. “Hot air rises, and cold air sinks. The burner produces a huge flame that heats the envelope and forces the balloon to rise.” As Andy talked, our balloon ascended and floated in a northwest direction.
“Look at this terrain,” Dad said as he looked through the binoculars. “You can see the desert, the Rio Grande, and if you look to the north, you can see the Rocky Mountains.” As the balloon traveled, Mom, Dad, Chloe, and I passed the binoculars back and forth, looking at the sights.
Looking through the binoculars, I noticed something odd. “Quick Chloe, write this down.” I peered through the binoculars and carefully gave my assistant a license plate number. “45CXR900.” I don’t want to alarm anyone, but that vehicle has been trailing us. I think we’re being followed.”
“You’re correct.” Andy replied. “That’s the chase vehicle. They follow us and help us find a place to land that’s free from wires. Once we land, they ask the land owners if we can retrieve the balloon. We always treat the land and the owners with respect. Nice observation, Woody.”
A few minutes later, our balloon started descending. Andy communicated with the chase crew to find the landing spot. The landing was incredibly bumpy. I was scared I was going to lose my oars — or worse — my sister. Once the balloon was on the ground, Andy flipped the valve and the air left the envelope. As the envelope deflated, I got tangled in the fabric. Using my oars, I tried to pull the fabric off of me. Andy helped. I was finally free. “Where are we?” I asked Andy.
“It’s a funny and complicated thing, Woody. This doesn’t happen very often, but you, your mom, your dad, and Chloe are all in four different states.”Thanks to Kentucky Utilities/LG&E, Kentucky Press Association and the KY Secretary of State for helping to make this statewide literacy project possible. Go to www.kypress.com to hear each chapter and try the chapter activities.