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Soaring high above your fears

Have you ever been a literal "basket case?"

I have -- and loved every minute of it.

Last weekend, at the annual Jamesville Balloon Fest, I was carried away by Piko, a big, blue, winged cartoon creature with a gigantic smile that soared through the sky with me in its pocket.

At first, I admit, I was hesitant to go. I had never before ridden in a hot air balloon but have always admired them -- from the ground. When the opportunity arose and I committed myself to the ride, I immediately began to feel anxious. In fact, I couldn't concentrate on anything else until we arrived at the site and met our pilot. And even then, my worries still consumed me.

How high will we rise? How fast will we go? How long is the flight?

At the balloon staging area, I was greeted by Isabel Lajoie, representing a balloon team from the International Balloon Festival of Saint Jean Sur Richelieu, a town 20 minutes south of Montreal. Isabel's team is working hard to draw US citizens to Canada's largest balloon festival, including 150 balloons and concerts featuring major musicians such as American Idol's Adam Lambert. The festival will be taking place from Aug. 14 to 22 and free balloon rides are being offered to US families. I'm thinking about attending myself, after the experience that I am so grateful to have had.

Prior to lift-off, event organizers, including president of the Jamesville Balloon Fest, Bill Gottschall, briefed the pilots on weather conditions. On Friday, they were perfect, with sunshine and a gentle breeze. Stickers were handed out to commemorate longtime local balloonist Jimmy Kozlowski who recently passed away. Gottschall asked all pilots to affix them to the bottom of each basket. Balloonists are a close-knit group, and I'm sure Jim was there in spirit.

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