Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race & Festival

I absolutely love hot air balloons. Okay– love might be an understatement. I am really completely infatuated with them!

So, one Sunday afternoon, when I recalled that the Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race & Festival began that Thursday, we quickly began making plans to attend.

Let me tell you a bit more about the race and festival. This year, the Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race & Festival celebrated its 38th year. It is the oldest balloon event in the South and the only long distance balloon race in the country. Mass Ascension and the beginning of the race took place at approximately 7am on Thursday.

The people of Helen believe that Helen, Georgia is the center of their world and in Columbus’ day the Atlantic Ocean was the “edge of the Earth”. Thus, Pete Hodkinson came up with the concept for the Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race. The race begins in Helen and the finish line is I-95 (anywhere between Maine and Miami). The shortest distance is 225 miles and the race usually takes two days. It has been done in one day, while some races have taken as many as four days. Six to ten balloons will be competing in the cross country race.

The winner was the first person to cross I-95, or whoever was ahead at sunset on Friday, June 3, 2011.

After the initial launch on Thursday morning, there are several other launches that take place over the next few days of the festival. There were approximately 30 balloons taking part in the Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race & Festival, and I believe that we saw about 20 of them.

Balloon launches took place each day at sunrise and sunset. We attended two sunrise launches and 2 sunset launches during the festival. While every single one of them was absolutely magical and awe inspiring, by far my favorite launch was the Friday Sunrise Launch. There was something so amazing about watching the balloons rise above the horizon as the sun was starting to do the same.

We didn’t take any rides, though many balloons offered tethered rides throughout the festival. Raileigh was about the height of the basket, and couldn’t have seen out well. However, she made friends with the pilot of one balloon- Parrot Head- who made her promise she would come ride with him when she was older!

It was a wonderful experience and I cannot wait to go back in the coming years! I’ll leave you with some of my favorite pictures from the festival. There are many shots below. I took hundreds, however, so this really is just a small sampling of what we saw.

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