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Jordan: Reporter wants to keep her feet on terra firma

POSTED: June 16, 2008 5:00 a.m.

As a kid, I didn’t flinch when dared to climb the tallest magnolia tree in the neighborhood.

And a sort of giddiness still overwhelms me as I board airplanes bound for exotic locales.

So I was surprised to find myself more than a little apprehensive as the steeples and mini golf courses of the alpine village of Helen began to shrink under my wicker basket.

Suddenly I realized I had more sense than my father ever thought I had.

I strategically locked one foot into the cranny between a propane tank and one corner of the basket while leaning all my weight into another corner. I'm 5-foot-2 inches tall, and the nearly 4-foot high basket came just above my waist, but only my head peeped out from my safety position.

Instinctively, I reached for a seat belt, a life jacket, anything to hold me in that wicker basket with my four companions.

Only two little rope loops came between me and sheer panic.

I saw the headline flash before my eyes: "Reporter, 23, falls to her death in Helen."

The fact that I was being paid as I embarked on this hot air balloon flight didn’t soothe my craving for grass underfoot.

I felt certain at any moment my feet would betray me and make the 1,000-foot leap down to the ground.

My pilot, Don Edwards of Orlando, Fla., took note of the stark contrast between my freckles and colorless cheeks.

"You’re a little nervous, aren’t you there, hon?" he asked. "I’m afraid of heights, too."

I was terrified. I could barely breathe.

He politely jabbered on about his 20-something years of experience piloting.

In an effort to conduct my interview I asked him the name of our balloon.

Her name was Angel, he said.

"That’s comforting," I thought.

About 30 minutes into the one-hour flight we hovered above a small mountain. Our basket grazed the familiar green tree tops. Below I could see wildflowers, streams and cattle stampeding toward breakfast on the Indian Mound.

Don ignited the propane-powered flame again, and we gently ascended into the early morning sky.

We sailed over the mountain ridge and a clean, bright sunrise greeted us. Six hot air balloons were suspended over a mist still clinging to the green hills.

I loosened my grip on the measly ropes. Don smiled as he saw my white-knuckled hands reach for my camera.

Save for the intermittent roar of the propane keeping us aloft, a quiet peace filled our basket. The blue-and-purple balloon stretched 75 feet above us.

It was glorious.

Just as I began to enjoy the moment, Don spotted a landing site. Welcoming white sheets littered a field in the distance.

Tommy Clyatt, a Jimmy Carter look-alike, grabbed the rope dangling from our basket and pulled us onto the grounds of his 53-acre Sal Mountain Ranch.

I awaited Don’s OK signal to get out. Joyous was that moment when my Converse-clad feet touched the dewy grass.

I soon discovered that champagne and ballooning go hand-in-hand like Georgia football and fried chicken.

Don popped the Korbel cork and said the balloonist’s prayer that ends with "God has joined you in your laughter and set you gently back into the loving arms of mother Earth."

I sipped the bubbly and said "Amen."

Jessica Jordan reports on South Hall County and writes feature articles for The Times.



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