I went on a kayak trip that coincided with what is known as "Mass Ascension" on the first day of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
It required me getting up at 4am to be at the kayak tour company. The email I received from the company was very specific about the time we were to arrive and the importance of arriving on time so that the launch wasn't delayed.
Just as we were about to load up, a large, heavily muscled guy (I'll call him Meathead) said, "I ended up pulling an all-nighter because I knew that I couldn't get up early enough." Everyone chuckled. It was a large group, fully booked, but everyone was friendly and we all chatted as we were fitted with life vests and were supplied paddles and then loaded into a couple of vans.
We arrived at the site where the kayaks and canoes were all lined up and the sun was just on the brink of making its appearance.
There, just before we put in, the guides reiterated that the river levels were low and that it was important that we follow their instructions and actually physically follow them because they felt that it was very likely that there would be areas where we'd need to portage. Luckily, they'd already told us this while we were still at the business site, where I very inexpensively purchased some water shoes.
As the sun began to rise, we were just gently paddling along and then began to see the balloons.
Eventually, the balloons came across the river and some of the more adventurous pilots began to perform what are known as "splash n dash" maneuvers, where they drift down to the Rio Grande and touch the basket down to the water before firing up their burners and taking off again.
The first of those (which was really a landing as they put down on a sand bar, got out, took photos and then took back off) was a German crew. I know this because they spoke German to one another and also, because there was a German flag on the balloon. It was stunning. And, as we all gathered around to take photos, the guide pointed out the helicopter that was flying above us and said that it was a news chopper and was likely taking video. I thought that it was far too high to actually get anything on camera, he said, "You'd be surprised."
As it turns out -- we ended up on the news! Sort of, you can't tell it's us, but I know, because I posted a picture of the balloon that landed on facebook and my friend commented that she'd seen it on the news. Then she got a screen shot of it for me.
We actually got to witness several splashes n dashes. As the balloons became fewer and further between, we came to a large sandbar where the fabulous tour company (Quiet Waters Paddling, if you want to have this incredible experience) had us all stop, where they provided coffee/juice/pastries and prepared us for the last leg of the trip which, they said, was the most shallow and the most difficult to navigate.
There were a couple of very shallow spots and, even though I didn't actually have to portage, I did have to get out and move myself off a sandbar, but otherwise, it was actually not so bad. We fjnally followed a deeper, shallower channel for a while before finally coming to the pull out point.
The group all worked together to help the crew load the kayaks and canoes back up, but before we could leave, the crew noted we were missing 2 people. At first, they were afraid that they left someone on the water, but they discussed it and knew that they'd had a crew member bringing up the rear and couldn't understand. So, they counted boats and realized they had all of them accounted for. They were very confused until someone from another group said that they saw a couple (Meathead and cheerleader) leaving, saying that they were going to call an Uber.
Apparently, Meathead was heard to say, during our break stop, "Yeah, I'm really tired, I'm ready to go back."
I allowed myself to be really bothered by Meathead's rudeness and even had a ridiculous exchange of reviews on Quiet Waters' fb site -- not proud of that, though at the time I really just wanted to correct what I felt was an unfair characterization of the trip.
I'm not sure what kind of flaw it is in my character that would let me turn such a great experience into a negative, but I'm going to stop it here.
That kayak trip was, truly, maybe the coolest thing I have ever done and I want to remember only the joy and the beauty and the group camaraderie that were the realities of the day.