Asher on Aspen: Come Fly With Me |

Asher on Aspen: Come Fly With Me

Shannon Asher
Asher on Aspen
A bird and hot air balloons soar through the sky on the first day of the 44th Annual Snowmass Balloon Festival in Snowmass on Friday, Sept. 6.
Kelsey Brunner / The Aspen Times

My alarm went off at 5:20 a.m. on a Saturday. The sky was dark, it was cold, and everyone I knew was asleep — but I forced myself to get out of bed. There’s something calming, even comforting, to be awake that early and know that the people you love are asleep in their beds where nothing can harm them. I was exhausted, nervous and emotionally drained. To be perfectly forthright, I was having a really bad week. The kind of week where you have no desire to get out of bed. Despite my gloomy attitude, I convinced myself that a hot air balloon ride would lift my spirits.

So, I mustered up the willpower to venture past the roundabout at the crack of dawn to experience the 44th Annual Snowmass Balloon Festival. I was alone and I didn’t know quite what to expect. The morning darkness and the chilly temperatures made my arrival seem dreary and lonely. Someone or something, somewhere in the universe must have heard my sadness. Stephen Blucher and his wife Jeanne turned out to be my rays of sunshine on an otherwise melancholy morning.

“Stephen will be your pilot today and I’m his partner in life,” Jeanne told me proudly with a grin on her face. I had only just met her but yet, her energy was contagious. She was full of excitement and had this enthusiastic zest for life. They were the most delightful humans and I immediately wanted to adopt them as my grandparents. “Stephen has been flying for seven years and an announcer for 22,” Jeanne told me while prefacing that she loves to brag about her husband.

The balloon was laid out like a blanket designed for a giant’s picnic. Two colossal fans worked tirelessly to blow up the balloon while a team of volunteers directed the cords and the balloon as it began to expand. Watching the sunrise while simultaneously watching 30 giant hot air balloons inflate was a humbling sight.

Before I knew it, it was time to take off. I was one of three passengers assigned to ride in a balloon that morning. We all clambered into the basket awkwardly, as there is really no graceful way to get in. Suddenly, I was hit by a dizzying wave of nerves. There were now four people standing in a basket made of wicker that was about to take flight and hover 1,000 feet off the ground. As a self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie, the level of terror that now consumed me was unexpected.

“How high up do we go?” I asked.

“Until I can’t stand it anymore,” Bucher said.

Another roaring flame was shot into the balloon and the crew on the ground released the ropes. I felt somewhat famous as dozens of patrons attending the festival waved to us while we effortlessly floated off the ground and into the sky. Bucher explained that traveling in a hot air balloon comes with a large amount of uncertainty. There is no guarantee where you land or which direction you will fly. The landing and the ride are entirely at the discretion of Mother Nature.

The takeoff, however, was seamless and smooth. “Morning Glory has successfully taken flight,” declared the announcer. An overwhelming round of applause ensued, and I felt at peace. The people and buildings below us began to get smaller and smaller. The mountains around us were now at eye level and I was floored with wonder — to see the world as a bird does, to fly in the sky. I closed my eyes and I couldn’t even feel that we were moving. It was still. The thrill of quietly floating through the air among the birds, just below the clouds and on top of civilization was invigorating.

We didn’t talk much during the ride. There was this hushed, excited silence and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to reflect. I love when an experience or a place makes you realize how tiny you and your problems are in the grand scheme of life. The trip made me remember that me and my obstacles are infinitely small and, conversely, I am part of an incredible and vast universe.

“So, what do you think?” Bucher asked. “It’s kind of like a little piece of heaven. It’s perfect, right?”

I couldn’t agree more.

The epic, early-morning, bucket-list feat allowed me to see things in a new light. In today’s digital age of social media, people post their highlights and moments of success. In Aspen, my Instagram feed is filled with fabulous pictures of friends climbing 14ers, skiing the backcountry, attending exclusive parties, going on exotic vacations, etc. I am guilty of it, too. The sincere reality, though, is that no one posts about their bad days and their moments of failure. In turn, social media has this frightening ability to falsely depict people’s lives.

In efforts to be real and authentic with my readers, I simply couldn’t write this column without sharing the fact that I had a really bad week. And that is OK. Despite what someone’s life may appear to be like on social media, you never really know what they might be going through. Despite the fact that I got to ride in a hot air balloon does not mean that my life is fulfilled in every way in which it could be. So, here is your neighborly reminder to be kind to people. Be kind to everyone you meet and reach out to people when you see they are hurting. Everyone you meet is suffering some sort of battle that you know nothing about.

If you’re having a bad day at work, if you’re missing someone and going through a heartbreak, if you’re grieving a loved one — please remember that you are not alone. There are more people who care about you than you think, and you will get through it. Life is one big, wonderful adventure filled with massive amounts of joy and, in turn, some sadness, too. Life is not meant to be a constant state of bliss, and that’s OK. It’s OK to not be OK every once in a while, but just remember, you are SO loved and sometimes, you just need to find yourself a Stephen and Jeanne to remind yourself that everything is going to be OK.