Breathtaking views, joy of flight highlight Piscataquis Heritage Balloon Festival

Posted June 04, 2013, at 5:30 a.m.

Maine native Joe Hamilton was framing a window on his house in Rehoboth, Mass., when he saw a man in a balloon fly past. Hamilton recalls the brief conversation that followed.

“Hey, how ya doing?” the man said as he floated past.

Hamilton’s wife, Beth, said the man was so close the couple thought the balloon was going to land in their yard.

On Hamilton’s drive to work the next day he saw the same balloon again. This time he gave chase.

Hamilton ended up late for work that morning but figures it was a worthwhile side trip.

After catching up the balloon when it landed, Hamilton asked how he could get a ride. The balloonist handed him a business card.

Hamilton tried to purchase a ride in that balloon five times only to be thwarted by the weather. On the sixth try, Joe and Beth took their first ride. And after the ride, they agreed that they might want to become balloon pilots.

A 10-day course in California had Beth flying high.

“It was magical. Remove yourself from real life and go into a storybook,” she said.

That’s the sentiment that spawned the couple’s business, Balloon Fantasies, 30 years ago. And the couple is still flying.

The Piscataquis Heritage Balloon Festival this past weekend gave locals the same chance that the Hamiltons had three decades ago and the husband-and-wife team was happy to share their love of ballooning with all who attended.

Beth Hamilton softly touched down in a field east of the Charles A. Chase Jr. Memorial Field on Friday with four passengers, all first-time fliers.

“It was breathtaking. Once you were up there the view was gorgeous,” said Amber Simmons of Greenville.

Balloon passengers got to help take apart the balloon, basket and burner. Then the 70-foot-tall balloon was folded and stowed in a bag. After that, it was off to the airport for a glass or two of champagne to toast the flight.

Joe popped the cork. Beth offered the balloonist prayer:

May the winds welcome you with softness. May the sun bless you with his warm hands. May you fly so high and so well that God joins you in laughter and sets you gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.

Beth finished with “Champagne, breakfast of balloonists.”