Cowboy shaped hot air balloon flys over Reno
A hot air balloon modeled in the likeness of a cowboy floats over the Reno skyline.
Photo/Jayme Sileo

Is this what Icarus felt?

I’ve flown before. In an airplane, as so many have. Being in an airplane doesn’t make you feel like a bird. You can’t feel the wind, or reach into the air or look down at the little figures below. It feels more like being on a bus, in stasis, except you can’t feel the traction of the wheels on the ground. 

That’s not how it felt when I got the chance to fly in a hot air balloon at the Reno Balloon Race. It felt like being in an elevator to heaven. Or in the arms of a dragon, with hot fire literally bellowing near my face to keep us in the sky. Gentle, delicate ascension into the sky with a panoramic view of the entire city. Pure, intoxicating freedom.

It’s enough to make you want to ask to fly higher until your wings melt. I almost didn’t go on the balloon. I’m afraid of heights, and if it weren’t six-thirty in the morning and I had full control of my marbles I probably would have turned down the offer. I am so glad I didn’t. It can not be understated the power that majesty exerts over fear, and as the balloon whisked me into the sky any concern that remained in my mind about the potential peril my mortal form faced dissipated immediately.

Guiding the balloons: a skilled legion of captains, some vested with decades old knowledge and each possessing a wealth of stories and a love of the sky. Our captain, Kearney Davis, commanded our balloon with the tender care of a man in love. A man in love with his 90 foot tall, multicolored, nylon angel who blocks out the sun when she flies. Appropriately, his balloon was named “Kearney’s Mistress,” because it was the only thing Kearney’s wife permitted him to spend money on besides herself. The life of the balloon captain is interesting in ways like this. I implore you to meet one and let their passion for flying inflate your soul. 

I don’t think I understood, at least not fully, what being in the “Biggest Little City” meant until I was looking down on it. Reno felt both impossibly huge and yet everything looked remarkably tiny. The world seemed vast and full of opportunities and at the same time it felt like every microscopic detail was suddenly deeply important and fully perceivable. The worlds of big and little clashed into one and all of Reno made sense for a short while. Being in the balloon was like taking a shot of adrenaline mixed with tranquilizers that immediately awakened and calmed me simultaneously. I am not joking. 

So here’s my pitch: next time you can, do whatever it takes to fly in a hot air balloon. Maybe it won’t be quite as enlightening for you as it was for me, but I hope it is. If anything, you will at least be able to say you flew towards the sun and saw the city from the sky. 

Vincent Rendon can be reached at or on Twitter @vincesagebrush.