By Barbara McKinley
Dreams are a powerful force.
I’ve always been good at daydreaming – which is a useful trait for a shy kid living in the isolating countryside outside of Statesville NC. But as an adult with the pressures of career and family, it’s easy to let dreams fade into the distance and become a fuzzy vision.
As a ten year old kid, I remember the first Carolina BalloonFest taking place outside my bedroom window in 1974. Other balloonists tell me that it was called the National Balloon Rally. I just remember the excitement of adventurists gathering at Balloon Ascensions. My family had recently moved so that my father, Terry Wright, could collaborate with Bill Meadows in order to promote the relatively new sport of hot air ballooning. Bill’s vision, along with my dad, Tracy Barnes, Dodds Meddock, Karl Stefan, Walt Thompson and many others brought ballooning from an obscure and fairly dangerous sport to the modern source of many daydreams. The romance of ballooning is irresistible.
Thanks to my sister, Beth Wright-Smith, my brother-in-law, Paul Smith, and my good friend, Don Rose, I finally earned my pilot certificate. Then I dreamed of flying Balloon Fiesta and Carolina Balloonfest. In particular, Carolina Balloonfest is a special event for me. For several years in a row, I asked for an invitation, only to tell our event team that I was “not ready” yet. My courage is lacking in comparison to other pilots. And my experience did not grow like I had hoped. So, be careful what you dream. Actually doing it can be quite a challenge. Flying is like that for me. In fact, I was so discouraged in my lack of progress that I almost quit trying. That’s when the Dream Team came to my aid.
In a chance meeting at Fiesta, I became friends with some British pilots. They invited me to fly the Northampton Balloon Festival in England. Their balloon club welcomed me generously, sharing many of their own balloons. Everyone was so enthusiastic that my commitment to flying was revitalized. And I was determined to provide a similar dream vacation for my new friends when they visited me in the US.
Luckily for me, one of my new friends is a flight instructor in England. So, although I was not confident enough in my own flight experience to attempt flying Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque on my own, I completely trusted Andy Austin to assist if needed. Another pilot, Tim Wilkerson, builds his own balloons and is a very creative engineer. Jane Austin and Angie Wilkerson, their wives, assisted and encouraged me in every possible way. With the addition of two more crew members with local knowledge, Sundee and Cy Hudson, and the support of my husband, Bob McKinley, the Dream Team was complete. I could never have done it without them.
Flying Fiesta was an unbelievable experience. And the friendships built with the Dream Team are so important to me. They are inspiring in many ways unrelated to flying. For me, flying balloons is often a metaphor for life. We try hard to gain knowledge and skill, gather our friends around us, jump into the sky at the mercy of the winds, and trust in God. Life can be beautiful in the air.
My most salient dream is flying Carolina BalloonFest with my sister, and in honor of my mom, Margaret Wright, and my dad. Thanks to our fabulous event team and my loyal Dream Team, this dream came true also. We flew every flight possible! And I learned so much. My hometown crew and my buddies, Richard Parr, Clarke Harbold, Ryan McKellar and Thom Glasner, cheered me on. Kent Prepejchal provided necessary local talent. And the Dream Team launched me into exhilarating conditions and then retrieved me anywhere we landed, in time for breakfast. 😉 With their help, I now know how to fly in conditions that would have previously kept me safely grounded. “Tongue tied and twisted, just and earth-bound misfit. I.” (Pink Floyd) Now, I’m learning to fly!
This experience brings to mind a snippet from a childhood poem:
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life’s a broken winged bird
That cannot fly
I’m flying…. With a lot of help from my friends.