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41st Helen balloon race is underway
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Local balloon-builder and race co-sponsor Tarp Head loads his balloon into a truck. The shop, between Helen and Cleveland, builds 10 to 15 balloons a year, depending on the economy, Head said. - photo by NAT GURLEY

The South’s oldest balloon event got underway Thursday in Helen.

The United States’ only long-distance balloon race begins in Helen and the finish line is Interstate 95, anywhere between Maine and Miami. The winner of the 41st annual Helen to the Atlantic Hot Air Balloon Race & Festival is the first person to cross I-95, or whoever is ahead at sunset today.

Other balloonists compete in local events during the competition to the Atlantic Ocean. Unpredictable winds kept racers and local fliers tethered to the ground on Thursday morning.

View video of a balloon pilot getting interrupted by wind.

Regional events