The World Stretched Out Before Me

Mallory begins her journey round the world in her grandfather's hot air balloon.

I suppose it began with my grandfather, he was an airman in the army and when he retired he took up ballooning to fill the empty hours. It drove my grandmother mad until the first time he took her up in one. His balloon was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. I first saw it when I was nine and I went to stay with my grandparents for the summer, I wasn't allowed to go in the balloon, I was too young and my parents though it was too dangerous because my older brother fell out of grandpa's balloon when he was ten, he didn't fall far and he only broke his arm but the balloon was then seen as a hazard to anyone under five feet tall. The balloon was huge and round and reminded me exactly of the one in 'The Wizard of Oz' although there was no advert for a state fair emblazoned on the side.

I spent that entire summer watching my grandpa go up in his balloon in the morning and then sitting in the yard with the dog waiting to watch him land in the late afternoon. The sight of that old man in his beautiful balloon was majestic. As he frequently reminded me, it was technically an airship because of its propulsion but the idea of a hot air balloon is just so much more romantic. Everyone in my family always said I was too romantic but I'm not entirely sure there's such a thing as being too romantic. Love is the one thing you can never have too much of, after all.

If you've ever been up in a hot air balloon then you'll know that it is one of the most beautiful things you're ever likely to experience. I was sixteen when I was finally taken on my first flight. It was so different to a plane or a helicopter, the freedom, the beauty, the romance. Flying smoothly over the countryside, seeing the patchwork fields and the tiny specks that were the people. That's the really great thing about balloons, you can see everything. In a plane you're much too high to make out anything but vague shapes and in a helicopter the ride is too bumpy to really appreciate what you're seeing.

In the moment that the balloon began skimming the tops of the trees in the forest, I finally understood, truly understood my grandfather and why he'd rather spend all of his days in the skies than on the ground. There was so much peace and light, I knew he dreaded the days when the weather was unfavourable to ballooning, he spent those days in the barn where he kept the balloon tending to stray twigs in the wicker work or checking that every single stitch was still tight.That balloon must have been forty years old by the time my grandfather died and it still looked exactly as it had the day he bought it. To my great surprise and delight the balloon was left to me in his will. My grief meant that it was weeks before I could bring myself to go into the barn and even look at it but as soon as I did I knew what he wanted me to do. His old, battered copy of 'Around the World in Eighty Days' lay on top of the box of things he kept in the balloon. How many times had he read that book to me while we flew through the skies? How many times had he told me how he dreamed of travelling the  world but couldn't because he had responsibilities? He wanted me to do what he never could and take his balloon around the world. I almost felt as if the balloon deserved it, as a thank you for being my grandpa's greatest pleasure in life.

Of course my parents, my brother and my grandmother all said I was nuts when I told them what my plans were but I ignored them because that's what happens in romances right? I was planning my own romantic adventure in my grandfathers name and of course it has to start with everyone else thinking you're crazy. A nineteen year old flying a hot air balloon solo around the world is preposterous after all.

The End

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