Even early enough for the pilot briefing. Wind direction (southerly) and speed (3 mph), "you can land anywhere you want, but at least 200 feet away from the target," the location of the refueling station, etc...etc...
A lead balloon took off first, then it was a free-for-all amongst the 28 racing balloons to inflate and take off. Each balloon had a bean bag (that they were reminded to write their names on). The race consisted of following the lead balloon and dropping their bean bag on the to-be-designated drop site. I'm thinking "closest to the pin" and "first" will define who wins the race.
The race benefited the Sunrise Community, a non-profit organization that provides people with disabilities the assistance and support necessary to enable them to live valued lives in the community. So of course there were corporate sponsors and VIP's that got to be passengers in the baloons along with the aeronauts. For the last 25 years, the race has been held in Florida, but urban sprawl prompted the organizers to look for a less congested location, which is how the race came to be held in Tuscaloosa.
We bought t-shirts and had fun watching the balloons. Maybe it is the Wizard of Oz Effect, but there is something truly magical about hot air balloons and the way they rise gracefully into a cloudless blue sky.
I rode in a hot air balloon once, about ten years ago, during a business trip to Australia (back when I had a REAL job). I still have the certificate somewhere. We floated over the Royal Canberra Golf Club and one of the photos I took from the air ended up on their brochure. (The company I was visiting was into forest management and golf course architecture, go figure...).
I have no idea where those photos are, but here are the rest of my pictures from this morning.
It wasn't clear whether the Energizer Bunny balloon was racing or following. The last to be inflated, it was trailing significantly behind the others.
And for the first time in history, everyone was in the bakery, ready to work at 7:30 a.m