It was still dark outside when my hotel wake-up call rang through at 4am. I dressed and took the elevator downstairs to the casino, discovering the cliche that “Las Vegas never sleeps” is entirely accurate. Girls in cocktail dresses were giggling and sipping champagne together, while groups of people were still gathered enthusiastically around roulette wheels and slot machines. Feeling a little out of place with my shorts, trainers and general state of sobriety, I walked out through the brightly-lit lobby, looking for the transfer driver that had been booked to take me on my hot air ballooning adventure.
Soon afterwards I found myself speeding away from the neon-lit Vegas strip, through the sleepy suburbs and into the darkness of the desert. We pulled over a short time later and found teams of enthusiastic balloonists spreading enormous expanses of silk fabrics over the sand, which were then slowly inflated with hot gas. We were gathered into groups of 6 to 10 and ushered to flop inelegantly into a large wicker basket beneath one enormous balloon. Our pilot opened up the stream of gas beneath the balloon and, with a satisfying roar, our basket lifted slowly off the ground.
Ballooning, for the most part, is a gentle activity of floating slowly upwards and then drifting this way and that in the wind. It has never been the most reliable form of transport and is almost entirely a recreational activity these days. Our balloon was one in a parade of about 50 balloons and, as the sun rose slowly over the mountains, it revealed a sky scattered with brightly colored globes of every color. We floated along for about an hour, enjoying the desert landscapes, the tiny scattered houses below us and the views across the Vegas Strip with its skyscrapers, wide open roads and neon signage.
When it was time to descend our pilot began to release air from the valve at the top of the balloon causing us to slowly lose altitude until the balloon bounced gently on the desert sand and came to a stop. Here we were met by the support team, who helped me climb inelegantly out of the basket again and ushered us towards a table set up in the desert for a sparkling wine breakfast feast. It was all over by 9:00 in the morning but the sensation that had evoked Wordsworth’s words of “wandering lonely as a cloud” would stay with me forever.