Thursday, May 28, 2009

36th Annual Helen to the Atlantic Hot Air Balloon Race Starts June 4

T2F Note: Helen is such a delightful place to visit anytime of the year. Our staff has enjoyed Helen since the 1970s. The hot air balloon race in Helen is the recipient of this week's highly coveted Fayette Front Page Day Tripper Award.

June 4, 5, 6, 2009

"From the center of the world to the edge of the Earth"

The long distance race to the Atlantic begins, weather permitting, at 7:00 AM Thursday, June 4th, 2009. If it is too windy or storms are forecast, take-off will be postponed until conditions are acceptable for flight.

This race, the only long distance hot air balloon race in the world, begins in Helen, Georgia. The finish line is I-95--anywhere between Maine and Miami. If no one has crossed I-95 by 8:40 PM June 5th, the balloon closest is declared the winner. 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 eight balloons enter the cross country race. Prevailing winds of the area usually take the balloons southeast of Helen across South Carolina, however, contestants have finished
in North Carolina and Savannah, Georgia.

While the competition to the Atlantic continues, other balloonists compete in local events beginning Thursday, continuing Friday and Saturday with approximate flight times of 7:00 AM and 6:00 PM. Many experiences are available to the public; assisting with inflations, being part of a chase crew or taking tethered rides.

Ballooning in Helen is especially challenging because the Alpine Village is surrounded by National Forest and State Parks. However, it is well worth the added effort when you can look down from just above the tree tops at the vast woodlands, streams and waterfalls, perhaps catch a glimpse of deer, or watch a peregrine falcon snare his dinner in flight.

The Helendorf River Inn & Conference Center is sponsor and headquarters as it has been since 1974. While at the Helendorf, the pilots, their families and crew stay busy with picnics on the patio by the river, tubing, walks to waterfalls, buggy rides, an afternoon at the amusement park or playing a round of golf, gold panning, visits to the museums and shopping.

Tarp Head, our Balloonmeister and co-sponsor, crewed for the first race in 1974. As time passed he became a contestant, winning in 1980. That year his interest in ballooning became his vocation. He formed Head Balloons, Inc. one of only five balloon manufacturers in the United States.

Common Sense Conservation, founded by Earl Miller, has co-sponsored the race for many years. In 1995, Earl achieved his goal of finishing first after many years placing 2nd and 3rd in the Helen to the Atlantic Race.

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