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Soaring high above your fears

As other balloons began to ascend, our crew was preparing Piko. I brought my own support team to cheer me on, and the French Canadian crew couldn't have been any nicer. There was absolutely no logical reason to be afraid but for the fact that I'd be 2,000 feet above the ground in an open basket that travels by wind and flame.

Sure, I'll be okay

Piko was charged and ready, so Ned Campbell, a fellow Eagle reporter, and I scrambled into our wicker hamper and with nervous Nelly smiles, waved au revoir to our friends. I tried to distract myself by snapping shots of the shrinking festival below, but still it hit me; panic, wobbly knees, a hot flush rushing through my body. I dropped onto the bench and fought off the claustrophobic feeling of being suspended in empty space, with nowhere to run. There was no wind; we simply hung there.

Our pilot, Normand Tretanier, a 23-year veteran balloonist, smiled at me while Isabel explained the basics of ballooning. Their reassuring voices calmed my nerves and I was able to take in my surroundings. Stunning.Breathtaking. There really are no words to describe this sensational experience. It's the closest a human can come to flying.

As we began to journey east, my breathing came more easily and we all stood, each enjoying the moment in our own way.

Ned spotted the Carrier Dome, Onondaga and Oneida lakes; I surveyed the rolling landscape below us -- open fields, quaint farmhouses and lush evergreen forests. Much to our surprise, we were joined by a couple butterflies that happily fluttered about. The balloon drifted with silky smoothness, silent but for the occasional burst of flame to keep Piko aloft.

Our trip lasted almost an hour and a half. After several abortive landing attempts and scraping a few trees, Normand gently set Piko down in a grassy field near Pompey. The chase crew, including my boyfriend Tim and two local kids, rushed to help deflate the balloon and pack the basket back into the trailer. After presenting a bottle of champagne to the field's owner, we headed back to headquarters, where musician John Waite was performing his last few songs of the evening.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his 1933 inaugural address that we have nothing to fear but fear itself, he hit on a profound truth. Whenever there's a new battle to fight, it's easy to take the easy way out and retreat. Yet unfounded fears can cause us to miss out on remarkable experiences, unforgettable moments and if nothing else, something to tell the grandkids. Facing my fears was the only way I was able to live this adventure.

For more details on the International Balloon Festival of Saint Jean Sur Richelieu, visit ballooncanada.com.

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