Balloon races stir memories of first flight

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 22, 2000

For entertainment, balloon race weekend in Natchez is hard to beat. This is my third, and I can honestly say the event keeps getting better and better.

A couple of days ago, two Democrat staffers took their first ride in a balloon. Stephen Guido and Hulon White were nice enough to take them up Friday morning, and as they described the experience I was reminded of my first flight, which was also with Guido. At the time, which would have been the fall of 1998, I wrote the following about the flight:

My mind starting racing as we neared the Natchez Visitor Reception Center parking lot. We were 180 feet away, then 125 feet … 100 feet … 70 … 60 … 50 … we were coming in nice and slow. Now … just … a … few … more … feet … touchdown. Not an everyday arrival at the visitor’s center. But it’s not every day you arrive in a hot-air balloon.

Email newsletter signup

Balloon pilot and local businessman Stephen Guido was responsible for the smooth landing and was nice enough to take me up for my first hot-air balloon ride last Tuesday morning.

The mission: to take some photographs for a Great Mississippi River Balloon Race preview story in the newspaper; though, I sensed no mission was necessary to motivate Stephen to board the nearly five-story tall, red, white and blue balloon for a morning flight.

Tuesday morning was cool and sunny, with a light southwesterly breeze, perfect for a flight along the bluffs.

We settled on a pasture at the foot of Learned’s Mill Road as a departure point. Stephen and friend Charles Feltus had the balloon unpacked, upright and ready to fly in a matter of minutes.

I climbed in, alone at first and a bit apprehensive about being inside the wickerwork basket as it hovered close to the ground … without a pilot. I had visions of a quick leap of escape, should the balloon begin to rise without its pilot, but the plan was not necessary. Stephen climbed in and we took off. Better said … we floated vertically, climbing nearly 250 feet above the pasture below.

Clifton Avenue came into view, then the bluff stabilization staging area at the corner of Broadway and Madison. Then, a bird’s eye view of downtown Natchez. We drifted higher.

The wind did its part, pushing us gently along the bluffs, over the Cock of the Walk and the Gazebo.

The flight of a hot-air balloon is surprisingly quiet, with the serenity broken only by the occasional burst of air into the balloon or the ooh’s and ah’s of a first-timer like me.

We drifted quietly as Rosalie and Natchez Under-the-Hill came into view.

Stephen broke the silence. &uot;Hey,&uot; he said with a sly grin, &uot;how ’bout we try a bump and run?&uot; He half-asked, half-had already decided to do. I tried to appear macho, to mask my apprehension, and, with all the baritone confidence I could muster said &uot;go for it.&uot; He pulled a long red cord and we started to drop, quickly. &uot;We’ll just bump the ground and pop right back up&uot; he said confidently.

We did bump the ground … about four times. And we did pop up … into a tree. &uot;You know&uot; he said calmly as we drifted out of the tree, &uot;some folks use trees to slow down.&uot; Obviously, I thought. &uot;These things don’t have brakes, so on windy days you have to use the trees to slow down&uot; he continued.

We climbed to 100 or so feet and drifted toward the visitor’s center where we quietly touched down. I held the red cord this time and the balloon collapsed in to a blanket of red, white and blue over the visitor’s center parking lot.

&uot;It’s 8 a.m. and most folks are just getting to work,&uot; Stephen said. &uot;We’ve already floated a hot-air balloon along the bluffs of Natchez,&uot; he continued as we loaded the wicker basket into the trailer. Not a bad way to start the morning I thought, not bad at all.

Todd Carpenter is publisher of The Democrat. You can reach him by calling 446-5172, ext. 218 or by e-mail at