Traverse City, Michigan

August 18, 2003


People from Michigan insist that their state resembles a human hand, open-palm, with the thumb facing right. They enjoy telling visitors "Now we are HERE..." while pointing to a spot on their own open hand. To the unitiated is kind of spooky, and probably helps frighten away people from out of state, which may be the intent.

Accepting the hand analogy for the moment, Traverse City is located between the fingertips of pinky and ring finger. It is four or five hours north and west of Detroit, accessed by highways that cross profoundly empty fields and forests, where the radio stations fade one by one into the static, leaving a single talk radio show on which a woman describes a bat infestation in her house, until even that is finally lost. At the end of this lonely passage, Traverse City is a very cheerful place. It sits at the end of two bays, or a single bay split by an isthmus, opening onto Lake Michigan. Cherry orchards surround the city, giving it the title of "Cherry Capital". In the summer, tourists flock to the lake and beaches, while in the winter, people (those from Michigan, anyway) claim to be able to ski on nearby hills in this generally flat region -- possibly another mass delusion like the hand-map thing.

Ernie Hartt and I arrive in town, and hook up with Jeff Geiger, who runs Grand Traverse Balloons, the local balloon ride company. Jeff flew balloon rides in our home town of San Diego, some years ago, and describes with relish the various early excesses and misadventures of balloonists we know. Ballooning is a small world. You'd think this would make people more circumspect about stuff they do, but there is no sign of that happening, as far as I can see.


Jeff has passengers to fly that afternoon, so we follow him over to one of his launch spots, which is a field out behind a miniature golf and water slide place.




We're moving at a pretty good clip when we launch, so we go high to slow down and back up. The day is a bit hazy. We're flying to the south of the bay and the town, but there are an amazing number of little lakes everywhere. We drop down after a while, and start moving east across the countryside.





Jeff and I get separated by half a mile or so, but on the radio he tells me to head for a big stand of trees with a huge field on the other side. I stay low to keep heading east for the target, while Jeff pops up to work north toward me.



The chase vehicles are waiting out in the field.



Jeff bomb-drops in beside me. We float into the field together.




And I hop my way over to the truck.



Photos: Jeff Geiger, Ernie Hartt, Matt Maciag