OUR LAST ADVENTURE OF THE YEAR
For some weeks already, we had the vision in our mind to finish the year with yet another long gas balloon flight… and for the day after Christmas, the weather looked promising for a flight from Stuttgart to Lithuania. As Kaliningrad and Belarus do not allow balloons to enter their airspace, the challenge was to hit the 65 kilometer gap between Poland and Lithuania – from a distance of over 1000 kilometers…
So while others all around the globe were unboxing their presents, we prepared our “Stuttgarter Hofbräu” gas balloon and took off at noon, first flying northward and then slowly turning to the east as night fell.
Flying at night is a magnificent experience. Those who don’t know it would say: “What’s there to see? It’s dark!” Yes, it is dark, but it is so much more. A very touching sight during our flight to Lithuania were the cemeteries of Poland, where it is an old tradition to place lanterns on the graves on December 25th. And soon, with every new village we reached, we looked out for the tapestries of thousands of little lights, each one a beloved person, not forgotten. A feeling hard to describe.
After we had braved the night, our next two challenges were the ‘Baltic Gate’ between Kaliningrad and Belarus and the fog that was predicted for the area. Luckily, our retrieve was already ahead of us and could give us first-hand information! The fog was soon gone, only some low level clouds remained, which always showed us the wind direction beneath us, making it easy to steer through the gap.
We had already made contact with our Lithuanian friends Rokas and Raimonda, who had invited us to stay in their summer cottage, so that was where we tried to steer the balloon – but as the sun was already setting, we chose to land a bit earlier. In the event, we ended up some 20 kilometers south of the cottage, but Rokas and his family were with us right away, our own retrieve following five minutes later.
Overall, we reached a distance of 1174 kilometers from our launch site in 26 hours and 30 minutes – almost certainly our ticked to the Gordon Bennett Gas Balloon Race 2018 in Bern, Switzerland! :-)
A huge THANK YOU to our Lithuanian friends Raimonda, Rokas and Rimas and to our comrades Helmut, Peter, Albrecht, Claude, Tomas and Thomas from the Ballonsportgruppe Stuttgart e.V. for a perfect inflation, retrieve, meteo, strategy and ATC. Without you, this fantastic flight simply wouldn’t have been possible!