I was still a little groggy on the crisp fall morning on Albuquerque’s West Side when I climbed aboard my first hot air balloon ride.
I wasn’t even awake enough to be nervous.
It helped that pilot Scott Appelman was at the helm. The Rainbow Ryders founder and president has been at this for almost four decades.
“It’s a beautiful morning for a ride, folks,” he said.
When it finally sank in that we were thousands of feet above the New Mexico soil, I calmed my nerves by learning about my fellow first-time balloon passengers.
Kenya, a bubbly North Carolina resident, takes a solo vacation each year for her birthday.
This year, she decided to finally check a balloon ride off her bucket list.
“This is the place to be,” she said.
Or Sarah, a kind-eyed east Texas judge who booked a ride without her traveling companions “because no one else was crazy enough to roll out of bed this early.”
The group’s chatter tapered off as we climbed higher and higher.
And then it was quiet. So quiet.
A welcome change from the past year and a half, which has weighed heavy on my mind.
One night in early March 2020, I scrubbed every surface in my apartment with disinfectant and planned to stock up on groceries.
I scrolled through news articles about a still unfamiliar microscopic virus that would come to touch every aspect of our world.
The pandemic has turned things upside down. But it hasn’t made us immune to other tragedies.
A balloon crash this summer in Albuquerque claimed five lives.
A tense national election last fall further exposed the divisions of a country on edge.
A plague of gun violence has taken too many people too soon.
I peered out of the colorful balloon at a still-sleepy city. Suddenly I didn’t want to touch back down into reality.
Wouldn’t it be easier if I could stay up here, at a safe distance should anything unpleasant happen on the ground?
But then I spied the Rio Grande.
The shiny ribbon of a river was winding its way through the bosque. I thought about the people who work to protect our precious water.
Then, a young boy stepped out into his backyard and scanned the sky as we hovered just above his neighborhood.
Surrounded by chickens and dogs, and at least one ristra, the boy waved and waved at our airborne crew.
I thought about my own family and friends, who remind me to find joy in everyday life.
Much of my work as a journalist can feel like I’m on the outside looking in. I get the bird’s-eye view of people’s successes and hardships.
But, every so often, I am lucky enough to feel like I have lived a little of another’s experiences.
Those are also the times that give me hope.
I have learned so much from the Navajo women who made thousands of masks for overworked nurses and doctors.
From the ranchers who formed a support group to deal with isolation and economic woes.
From the students who collected food and water for families in need.
At the end of the balloon ride, I braced myself for a rough landing that never came. Appelman made the transition smooth and easy.
I smiled at Kenya and Sarah, who couldn’t wait to tell friends about their adventure.
Floating through the skies over New Mexico was beautiful and special. But I think I like my feet firmly planted on the ground.
Because, for all of its chaos and noise, this is the place to be.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Theresa Davis at email@example.com.