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Waiting for take-off in Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu

Our pilot, Marcos Bonincontro, was just as eager to fly as we were, if not more so. Here he poses with the bag holding the deflated skunk-shaped balloon he designed and built.

Our pilot, Marcos Bonincontro, was just as eager to fly as we were, if not more so. Here he poses with the bag holding the deflated skunk-shaped balloon he designed and built. Photo by Ned Campbell.

Most people are lucky if they get to go up in a hot air balloon once.

I’ve done it twice now, and in case you were wondering — it hasn’t gotten old.

My first ride was at the Jamesville Balloon Festival in June of 2010. I was fresh out of college, an intern at Eagle Newspapers, and had been given the not-so-bad assignment of accompanying Tami Zimmerman, who at the time was editor of the Eagle Bulletin, on a balloon ride.

She was nervous about the flight — her first one — and wanted me there for moral support. What choice did I have? I had to say yes.

That’s when I met Isabelle Lajoie, a communications agent with the International Balloon Festival of Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, a Canadian city located about 30 miles southeast of Montreal. It was because of both her reaching out to Eagle Newspapers and the Jamesville Balloon Festival’s international reach that we got to ride in a balloon.

More than a year later, Isabelle offered me, as the Bulletin’s new editor, the chance to come see how balloon festivals are done in Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu. The week-long festival, known there as Montgolfières, is the largest gathering of balloons in Canada, bringing in 125 balloons, and features big name artists like American pop sensation Ke$ha and Cuban-American rap artist Pitbull.

Again — What choice did I have? I brought my girlfriend, Carolina, with me.

Upon arrival at the festival grounds at around 5:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 18, we met up with Isabelle, who told us our 6 p.m. flight might have to wait for tomorrow due to the wind. It hadn’t struck me as a windy day, but there was definitely a breeze and I wasn’t about to argue.

She also told us that the balloon we were scheduled to ride in was in the shape of skunk — yes, a skunk— and its name was “Stinky.” Soon after she introduced us to our pilot, a no-nonsense Brazilian man named Marcos Bonincontro.

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