View from the basket - Albuquerque Journal

View from the basket

Journal Business Reporter Alaina Mencinger takes in the sights while enjoying her first balloon ride, which she said brought the beauty of her new home into focus. Mencinger moved to Albuquerque a few months ago after graduating from Boston University. (ADOLPHE PIERRE-LOUIS/JOURNAL)

I’m 22, so there are a lot of things I haven’t done – I haven’t had the time.

Riding a hot air balloon was one of them.

I graduated from Boston University in May and fell straight into a job at the Journal. Although I grew up just a state away in Phoenix, I had never been to New Mexico.

After moving to Albuquerque a few months ago, riding a hot air balloon soared to the top of my bucket list. When I had the opportunity to fly with Rainbow Ryders founder Scott Appelman, I jumped on the assignment and counted down the days until I would be up in the air.

Although I’ve never been afraid of heights, I was nervous when the day finally came.

Reporter Alaina Mencinger watches a crew inflate the envelope of a Rainbow Ryders balloon before riding for the first time. (ADOLPHE PIERRE-LOUIS/JOURNAL)

Not about the balloon, but about getting there. I was worried I’d oversleep the 6:45 a.m. departure. Or, I might get lost, an almost daily hassle for me, even with GPS. I left early just in case.

When I arrived at Balloon Fiesta Park and the security guard said he hadn’t seen any balloons come in, my stomach lurched. I circled the park, the minutes ticking closer and closer to 6:45 a.m.

And then I saw the basket.

My anxiety melted into excitement as I watched the Rainbow Ryder crew get the balloon ready, venting in hot air. The balloon was impossibly big, bigger than I’d ever imagined. I couldn’t wait to get in the basket.

All I could think was, “I have the best job.”

I thought the basket would feel unsteady as we lifted into the air. But it just glided along, smooth as a pat of butter on a hot pan.

I’ve felt unsteady myself for the past couple of months. I moved to a city I’d never been to, leaving behind my friends in Boston and my family in Phoenix.

I changed jobs, leaving a comfortable communications job, complete with an office, in a familiar city. Before moving to Albuquerque, the only journalism I’d done was for school papers and a few odd freelance jobs; I’d never worked in a newsroom before, and I wasn’t sure I’d be cut out for the daily deadlines.

I thought after I started work, my insecurities would quiet. But every day when I left work, I still felt that I could have done more, done better.

But, what other job would pay me to ride a hot air balloon on a Sunday morning and write about it? Looking at Albuquerque over the edge of the basket, I was reminded just how far I’d come over the past months and how lucky I was to have this opportunity in this city. It was a feeling of pure contentment – appreciating the exact moment I was in, and all the work it had taken to get there.

“It’s a beautiful city,” Journal photographer Adolphe Pierre-Louis told me as our hot air balloon cruised over the Rio Grande. “You can’t really appreciate it until you’re up here.”

He was right. Every day, I walk and drive through the city, getting to know Albuquerque on a zoomed-in scale. But stepping back pulled everything into focus: the labyrinthine paths in the bosque, the mesa hugging the city, the sparkling Rio Grande twisting through a band of green.

It is a beautiful city. And I can’t wait to get back up in the air.

UpFront is a Journal news and opinion column. Comment directly to Journal staff writer Alaina Mencinger at 823-3924 or


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