A Long, Cold Night . . .
October 3, 2021
Posted Sunday, October 3, 6:00 AM MDT (1200Z)
Definition of torment (gas balloon race style): Being at 15,000 feet, on oxygen, in the dark, with temperatures in the teens and twenties . . . and slowly going nowhere. In a race where the idea is to go the greatest distance possible, and where historically teams have reached Dalhart (TX) by daylight, this is just downright frustrating.
But that’s what’s required to win a race like the America’s Challenge distance race for gas balloons. And relief is on the way. In the next couple of hours, it’ll be sunrise, bringing light, warmth, and a free ride to the team’s chosen altitude, due to heating and expansion of the gas inside the balloon.
Two distinct strategies appear to have developed in the early hours of the race. Teams 4 and 2 (Forden/Padelt and Sullivan/White) went to higher altitude early, stayed further south, and have been paralleling Interstate 40 heading east. Noah Forden and Bert Padelt have the race lead at this point and are near Santa Rosa, NM, having travelled about 110 miles (177 km). Meanwhile, Team 1 (Fricke/Cuneo) and Team 3 (Cowlishaw/Duncan) have been creeping up I-25 to the northeast and are in the Santa Fe area. The winds over New Mexico, as forecast, are persistently very light, but Forden and Padelt have found at least a little bit of speed and are now moving at the blistering (!) double-digit speed of 10 miles an hour!
YB Tracking, working with the Command Center, has been tweaking the tracking app and map overnight to make distances and elevation more understandable to U.S. audiences. Distances are now reporting in miles, the U.S. standard, but we would note the official race distances are kept in kilometers and we will periodically update those here. Altitude is still reporting in meters, but to give an example, 4900 meters is about 16,000 feet.
If you missed the launch, you can view the live coverage on the Balloon Fiesta’s YouTube channel (the coverage includes the Fastrax skydive team and balloon glow also; the America’s Challenge portion starts about an hour and a half in).
As the strategies continue to develop, you can watch them unfold at America’s Challenge web page at www.balloonfiesta.com/Americas-Challenge, or download the YB tracking app (it’s free! In your favorite app store) onto your mobile device. Once you download the app, subscribe to the America’s Challenge 2021 race (also free). We’ll also post updates here as the race develops.