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Clear skies greet balloonists in annual Helen to Atlantic race
A hot air balloon lifts off Friday into the morning sky from downtown Helen. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Helen to the Atlantic Hot Air Balloon Race and Festival

When: 7 a.m., 6 p.m. today

Where: Helendorf River Inn & Conference Center, 33 Munich Strasse, Helen

How much: $10 for a tethered rides; spectators are free

More info: 706-878-2271 or

At dawn Friday, nearly 20 hot air balloon pilots sat in the pilots lounge at the Helendorf River Inn waiting on the weather report in hopes of a crystal clear launch in the 37th annual Helen to the Atlantic race.

For the crew and pilots the weather report was perfect for ballooning. So by 7:30 a.m., the teams had all fill the balloons with propane and launched, and were flying high above Alpine Helen.

“You can start with just the beauty of the sport itself, is just one aspect,” said Catherine Cleiman, general manager of the Helendorf River Inn. “Ours is a small event that is by invitation only because you can tell we don’t have a huge amount of space. We haven’t allowed ourselves to grow to be ginormous. It’s like a family reunion each year.”

Some balloons were grounded by fog Thursday when the race began in Helen. So anticipation was high Friday for liftoff. Balloon teams came from all over the Southeast and as far as New Mexico.

Spectators are welcome to the event, which continues today.

Pat and Sherman Heaton of Dawsonville decided Sunday to come and watch the race and they ended up having a chance to help on Jim Lynch’s crew.

“I saw something in Southern Living and we decided to come,” Pat said. “We came up Wednesday and we were out there yesterday and my husband walked over and asked them if they needed any help. We’re the newbies. We helped them blow it up yesterday and then the fog came in and we helped them take it down.”

Cleveland residents Bill and Becky Thomas of the Parrothead Balloon Team had the chance to fly Thursday and Friday. This is Bill Thomas’ first year as a licensed pilot and he said it is one of the funnest events in ballooning.

“I’ll usually fly four (races) a year,” said Thomas, who has flown in France, Germany and Luxembourg, among other places. “Next year I’ll be one year closer to retirement, so next year I probably fly the race to the Atlantic.

“We are going to Albuquerque, N.M. (for the Balloon Fiesta) this year in October.”

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