Balloon race decorates sky, gives fresh view of ground


The Earth, Dick Goss believes, appears more beautiful the farther you get away from it. "You can't see the mess we've made of it when you're up here," he said. "I enjoy being up in the air."

Mr. Goss was piloting one of more than a dozen hot-air balloons that drifted away from the grounds of Druid Hill Park in the first hour of daylight yesterday.

The balloon race, in which one balloon leaves first and the others try to land as near to it as possible, was part of Baltimore's annual Preakness celebration.

The helium-filled Goodyear blimp is in town to help television broadcast the legendary Pimlico race this Saturday, and yesterday the silver airship shared the skies with hot-air balloons shaped like athletic shoes, batteries, whiskey bottles and a polar bear.

Mr. Goss' balloon, the Provident, was in the majority of balloons in the traditional shape of the one in Jules Verne's "Around the World in Eighty Days," and the one ferried from Kansas to Oz by the humbug wizard.

At 1,000 feet above the asphalt, concrete and steel of downtown, the tarred roofs of the row house neighborhoods surrounding it gave way to leafy treetops and baseball diamonds and lush back yards.

Baltimore gave way to Baltimore County, and once the Provident had passed the office towers of Towson, the scenery became more lush as the real estate became more privileged.

The air was cool as the sun finally broke through the clouds to burn off the morning mist, and the lead balloon, a lime green

envelope stuffed with hot air to advertise a brand of cigarettes, continued to sail northeast.

The Provident sailed sweet and slow and silent, and in rowboats below, people fished in the still waters of the Loch Raven Reservoir, which reflected the image of the balloon as it passed.

Mr. Goss, a 44-year-old native of "the sovereign state of Texas," explained how he went from a guy who owned a restaurant to a guy who sails balloons for a living.

"I took a ride in Albuquerque in '84, and I immediately came back to Austin [Texas] and learned to fly," he said.

"Albuquerque is the balloon capital of the world. Nine out of 10 balloonists will tell you they took their first ride there, and when they have big festivals there you see 500 balloons floating through the air like champagne bubbles."

Among the hundreds of people who have paid Mr. Goss to take them aloft are Heloise, the helpful hint lady, and her husband.

"I've never had anyone get married in the air," he said. "But I have hosted more than a few proposals."

The lead balloon put down in a field near Dulaney Valley, and near it was placed a 50-foot pink X marking the spot that the chase balloons needed to land near in order to win.

Mr. Goss hurled a marker at the X as the Provident descended, but his arm was too weak, the balloon too far and his aim off.

His mark landed 112 feet away from the X, good enough to place him sixth in the race. Winning pilot Jim Shiller of Annapolis came within 11 feet of the target.

On the ground, along with dozens of neighbors streaming from their homes to watch the landings, were Bill and Bea Shapiro and their young children, Chad and Lauren.

Some people go to Druid Hill Park every year to watch the balloons take off. The Shapiro tradition is to follow the balloons from the ground in their cars and be there when they touch down.

"It doesn't matter where the balloons go each year," said Mr. Shapiro, a video camera on his shoulder. "We always find them."

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