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TURKEY
These pages document my time spent flying balloons in Kapadokya . . .
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Chapter 19
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
I'm not that big of a movie buff, but the title to this chapter just seemed appropriate. Where do I start? With the good, the bad or the ugly?. Since it's been a few days since I've written, I'll just start in chronological order, since there is at least some good and bad in every day. The ugly didn't really come along until today. Oh, and today is Wednesday, the 28th of January.

So I really haven't had a very good past few days. It kind of all started with the trip to Ankara and the very long Friday. I obviously wrote the previous chapter about that trip on Saturday. So it must have been Sunday, when the following little tale happened.
It was late afternoon, and time to get the coal furnace fired up if we weren't going to freeze overnight. Don't know if I've mentioned this, but the furnace is in its own little building. Our "deck" is actually the roof of this building, and its entry is off our "courtyard" downstairs out the back door. So I go out to fire up the furnace. I rip open the bag of coal and while doing my best Al Jolson imitation (or maybe while looking like a raccoon if you prefer) I carefully make a nice little stack of wood that is sure to burn long and hot enough to get the coal started (cause I sure as heck don't want to come back out here and do it all again) . I light the match and . . . whooosh! out it goes immediately. Okay, it's windy (we haven't flown since Friday) so I push the door to this room to get it a little more closed than it is. Yep, it's windy all right, the door slams shut with a nice loud THWACK!
CRAP! I did not want to do that! The door has no handle on the inside! Now I am stuck in here!
This would be filed under "The Bad".
Our "boiler room" where the coal fired furnace is located. The roof of this building also serves as our "deck"
A picture of the inside of the door to the "boiler room". Notice the lack of door handle
So, before I commence to light the fire, I make sure I can actually get out of here somehow. It would be bad enough to be stuck in here long enough to make someone come look for me, but if there was a fire going, I would probably die of dehydration (or, more likely, some sort of carbon poisoning, be it monoxide, dioxide or some other sort of ide. Now that I think about it, "die" oxide sounds right) before anyone even came looking. And for those quick thinkers.... I did not have my cell phone on me, and Sancho was home but didn't know I was out here.
I could have screamed as much as I wanted to, it wasn't going to do any good. I'm not one to panic, so I just started looking for some sort of anything, that would allow me to grip the small square part of the exterior door handle (that an interior door handle would slide onto, had there been one) that happened to be sticking out. Again, for the quick thinkers, yes there is a window in this building, but after surveying the situation, it was going to be much easier to exit via an open door. So I grab and grab and re-grab that little piece and try to turn it enough to where I can pull the door open. Would have been easier had I only had to push, to get the door open, but of course I'm in Turkey and absolutely nothing has gone the easy way here. Wouldn't have mattered anyway, because I could not get a good enough grip to turn the handle enough to open the latch. If I would have had to push to open the door I would have ended up pushing the exterior handle out of the hole and then I would have been up a certain creek . . .
So anyway, I look around the room, searching for anything that will allow me to get a grip.... (yeah, that's what I thought... get a grip Kev....) all the while I'm eying the window... of course this room is absolutely barren of anything other than fire making ingredients. Some bags of coal... some bags of kindling... some matches.... (the building is stone, so no burning it down to get out) . So at some point (I think it was a little bit after my palms started bleeding) I decide that I'm not going to be able to get out through the door, and the window is going to be my only exit. Again, this would fall under "The Bad".
Now, I've looked at trying to get out this window.... and I decided it was worth the half hour or so spent bloodying my palms trying to get the door open, okay? The window looked at first like a fairly easy proposition, but the longer I looked, the more I liked the door idea. Since that wasn't going to happen, it was time to get serious about how I was going to be able to use the window. If you notice, that window does have a very small ledge on the outside. It is also above my head. Another thing to go under "The Bad". (No short jokes here, please, I'm in a predicament) . Luckily for me, on the inside, there is more than a ledge. The window is set to the outside of the wall and the stones are quite thick, so there is enough room for me to sort of perch while trying to contort my body through the opening. This would actually fall under "The Good".
Now if I could only find a way to actually get my body up there. You would think (at least I did) that since the wall was stone, that it would be rough enough that I could find some small outcrop or something that I could use my foot to push off of. Not really.... dang thing is way smoother than I would have hoped or liked. Now, I'm not a 96 lb weakling or anything, but I'm certainly not Mr. Musclebound either. I can do more than 3 or 4 pull ups. But that is on a bar where my feet can swing under it. My feet aren't swinging through this 2 foot thick stone wall. We're now starting to even the scale by putting some things under "The Good", as there are enough bags of coal in here to get me a couple of feet off the ground as I try to lift my overweight and out of shape body up onto this "perch" at the window.
The "perch" inside the window
Once I manage to get up there, I find that this 50 year old body that hasn't done any "stretches" since high school gym class, isn't so comfortable pretending to be a pigeon. It is even less comfortable trying to contort into a ball small enough to fit through this window. Maybe that was the problem, I was trying to put this round (I am swearing to lose a few pounds after this) body through a square opening. Hah, and you all thought I was a square peg!
Surprising myself, I get through the window without suffering serious injury, and I'm sitting there with my feet dangling outside the window about to jump to freedom . . . what do you think is going through my mind? For those that know me, this won't come as a surprise, but for others it might. I'm thinking (now I know better, but the mind works in strange ways) "Dang, this is higher than I thought, I hope I don't kill myself trying to get down from here." I fly balloons (sometimes to heights over 8,000 feet off the ground) and yet I'm scared to death on a ladder or in a glass elevator or riding a ski lift.... and although I wasn't scared like on a ski lift, I was certainly very nervous about the prospects of hitting the stone "courtyard" below me. Well, I wasn't going to spend the night in the window either, so I close my eyes, hold my nose and jump. I was a fairly good student in physics class so I know that if I can bend my knees and maybe even tuck and roll as I hit the ground, I might be able to avoid a sprained ankle or worse. Yeah.... like I had a choice.... these 50 year old knees were going to bend alright. I did manage to avoid losing any skin on the stones below. This would definitely be part of "The Good". Not only that, but I was now free. This too, would be considered "The Good". Acting like nothing happened, I open the door and walk back in to the boiler room, (tell my why any sane person would immediately go back into the life threatening situation that they just safely escaped a mere seconds ago?) after all, the whole idea was to try not to freeze to death overnight and the fire still needed to be lit. Putting a stone in the door jamb, and making sure that the door can only close so far, I light the fire. I just get the fire lit and turn around to see Sancho. Turns out I wouldn't have spent all night in there. I tell him the story and he takes one of the extra keys (we have 3 for this lock) and stashes it inside the boiler room. I believe that he doesn't think he could have made it out the window, as he made some remark about my incredible athletic abilities that allowed me to crawl out the window. A bit embarrassed, I laugh and make my way back into the house, with this black coal dust cloud following me like I'm Pigpen from the Peanuts cartoon. For those keeping score, this falls under "The Good".
That was Sunday, now for Monday . . .

Monday, we have two balloons scheduled, a total of 40 passengers. This is "The Good". Now, keep in mind that over the weekend (we cancelled on Saturday and Sunday) the weather was predicted to be windy and rainy through Thursday. Granted, I don't trust any prognostication for more than about 3 days and Monday was our biggest day (as far as number of passengers) so far, so we had to at least go to the launch site and take a look. Because on Sunday we had spent an hour "kicking dirt" hoping that the wind might die while the passengers milled around drinking all the coffee and eating all the pastries, the boss decided that the pilots would go to the launch site early and make a "go/no go" decision before we committed to having the passengers brought out. Well, we didn't really need to go, but by the time we got to the launch site, we (the pilots) had pointed out enough indicators that we stepped out of the car and said "too windy" and got back in the car and came home. Now, according to contract, we get paid whether we fly or not, but the reality is, if the company doesn't make money, we won't get paid. So not flying on Monday falls under "The Bad". At about 6:30 or 7:00 pm Monday night, the boss calls to say we have 39 passengers scheduled for Tuesday, so we (the pilots) will again go out early to make a decision. "The Good". Oh yeah, he also informs me that immediately following the flight I will be travelling to Ankara again, to try and finish my medical certification. "The Bad". Very bad.

Tuesday. Both balloons scheduled with a total of 39 passengers. For the first time since I've flown here, I will have more than just nine or ten people in the basket. I will have 17 today. This is "The Good". Flying conditions were on the marginal side, with winds right on the surface of around 6 mph but winds aloft were closer to 20 and the forecast was for surface winds of 10 to 15 mph. At launch time it was flyable but my concern was an hour later when it would be time to land. The direction was also right at the tall mesa behind the Red Valley. I had never been on the other side and didn't know what was there (although I had been told it's fine for landing) , plus I knew that if I needed to be high enough to clear it, I would be going pretty fast, which had me concerned about the rotor on the other side. I voiced my concerned opinion and while saying I didn't want to fly, inflated the balloon. As the passengers get in, I look up and notice that I have two panels flapping in the breeze. Evidently I got the flame a little close at some point during the inflation. "The Bad". Luckily the burned panels are right above the nomex ("The Good") and I decide that it's not going to stop us from flying, so off we go. I take my camera with me, but soon after snapping the one below, abandon any idea of taking many pictures.
One decent photo before deciding I better concentrate on flying
We have a nice flight through the valleys east of the launch site although it's a bit fast. My first time with a real load and I'm a tad slow with the heat as I brush one end of the basket against a rock. "The Bad". No big deal except that the resulting recoil sends us into the next rock. A little harder but again no big deal as we were ascending at about the same rate as the taper of the rock. I play it off fairly well and get the passengers to laugh about it but I'm disappointed in myself, I don't like to do things like that. Especially after scorching the envelope earlier. I'm thinking "I better get it together". As soon as I climb up the end of the valley, I pick up speed. This would again be "The Bad". At least the wind is slow enough to be pushed around the mesa instead of carrying us over the top. So as we start to skirt the south side of it, we fly over some valleys I didn't know were there. Very beautiful, and some of the wider ones I can get down into a little bit (not only for a better view but also to try and slow down) . Above the ridge tops we're going about 15 mph and the air going around the big mesa and through the valleys is pretty squirrelly. I get into a couple of small downdrafts and several times can feel the shears shake the envelope. Nothing major and my real concern was finding a spot big enough to land at 15 mph. (Not to mention some doubts about my skills on this day) . Even though these valleys don't have near as many carvings or signs of inhabitants, they are quite pretty. I am not enjoying the view near as much as I should because I'm trying to focus on flying the balloon and getting a decent landing on a day when I obviously don't have my best stuff. To the east side of the mesa is another larger valley much like the one Göreme is in only slightly larger. The town of Ürgüp is to my right at the head of the valley and it looks like there are several large farming areas and good spots to land to my left and in front of me. "The Good". I can see several of the other balloons that flew this day already landing in some of these areas, so I start to breathe a little easier as I also notice that the wind is much calmer there. Sure enough as I get to the flatter area and look for a place to set down, we slow down quite a bit. I find a nice spot right next to the road and land as soft as a butterfly. "The Good".
Below is the Google Earth image of the flight path.
Google Earth image of flight path on Tuesday 1/27/09
I also take this opportunity to examine the "burn". The two panels that gave out are on top as the balloon is laid out for inflation and right above the nomex. The nomex is not even discolored, and the nylon isn't even black where it is curled. It's definitely heat damage but like I knew at launch time, not from direct flame. I have a hunch that while I was trying to tighten it up after getting it standing, the mouth closed just enough to get the panels too hot. I don't have much time to worry about it because no sooner have I examined the damage than I'm whisked away on another trip to Ankara. Evidently, my second test was okay but for some reason I had to be there in person for them to give their approval. So one of the two crew members who had taken me captive . . . er . . . uh, I mean taken me to Adana, is driving me to Ankara. He speaks basically no English and drives like Mario Andretti. He is a very nice guy though and either I understand Turkish a lot better or he speaks a few more words of English now (maybe both) . He is also the crew member that wants to be a pilot. I know that I have a very long day ahead and so just kind of settle in and try to enjoy the countryside as it blurs by at 80 or 90 mph.
An eroded cliff side along the way
The "highway" meanders through the countryside
A closer look at the "highway"
The trip is fairly unremarkable actually. I stayed awake just so I could see the scenery this time, as the last time I went to Ankara it was dark both ways. We took a different route than the bus did anyway. Where we landed, we had to take the road to Avanos to get back to headquarters, so instead of heading to the office, we crossed the river into Avanos and headed west from there. I hadn't been to Avanos yet, so I got to see a little bit of that town also.
map of routes to Ankara
This map is labeled with the
different routes to Ankara
There is just under 12,000 people in Avanos and that is where most of the crew lives. The route we took wandered through rolling hills of farmland and after about a quarter of the way there, pretty much turned into a dirt road. Well, more like a muddy winding pathway. Too many places it was one lane wide and even where there was patches of pavement, it was so rough that Mario had to slow to normal speed (where he should have been actually going slow) . This was obviously not the main road to Ankara, but what the heck. I wasn't going to be able to tell him "No, go this way!" Besides being narrow and dirt most of the way, it also went through the center of any little village that might happen to be tucked away out here in the middle of nowhere. One village we went through, the street was extremely narrow and I don't know what was happening, but it seemed like the entire village was in the street. I tried to get a picture, but of course this obstacle course didn't slow Mr. Racecar a bit. So the only pic I got was out the back window after we had already passed the busy part of the village. Sometimes it was hard to tell if we were in a village or just out in the country. I saw this shepherd and his flock in a village.
Village main street. We're already past the busy part
Shepherd and his flock
Soon enough (okay, so it wasn't really soon enough, but about 4 - 4.5 hours later) we get to Ankara. Once we get into town (okay, it's a city. Turkey's second largest city with about 5 million people) I am struck, not by the fact that all the buildings are the same, because every city I've been to in this country (outside of Istanbul, and it was dark when I was there, so I can't really say) is built with every building looking the same. No, I find it interesting how all these newer tall apartment buildings are built right next to the paupers and their who-knows-how-old houses.
The city looms ahead. Actually this is only a part of the city
The newer tall apartments next to the "slum"
The whole drive to get to Ankara would fall under "The Bad" as it was long, on very bad roads and all the while knowing I was in for a bunch of bureaucratic B.S. once I got there. So once we do get to the military base, I can show Speed Racer exactly where to go. "The Good". We walk in and don't even stop at the front desk this time. As we walk down the hall, one of the doctors I saw last time walks by and we exchange merhaba's. My chauffer seems rather surprised that I would know anyone here. After the second such exchange, I think he started to think it was cool. We go right to the lab and see the doc that helped last time. But of course it's lunch time, so no one is around. We head up to the canteen and have some lunch. I take this opportunity to give Cenk a call. Cenk is the guy who helped me out so much last time I was there and I hadn't had an opportunity to tell him I was coming back. He is heading into Ankara to get his bus ticket to Istanbul, as he only has 42 hours left. Definitely nice to see him again even if it was for only a few minutes. "The Good". At 1:30 lunch time is over so we go to see whoever it is I need to see. We get there and I'm told I need 4 photo's. Nice to know ahead of time so I can be prepared, eh? Well, luckily enough, there is a photographer in the next building. So we run over there (I think the photographer is used to this type of thing) and get my picture taken and run back, now we go make copies of some papers and I sign a couple of them. Back to the administrator or what/who ever he is. 45 minutes of waiting/nodding off later and I have a medical certificate that allows me to fly balloons in Turkey!!!
This my friends, definitely belongs in "The Good"!
I'm sure the boss will be happy also. It is 4:15 when we jump in the car and head back to Kapadokya. Or so I thought. Now the paperwork that has taken me forever to acquire needs to be sent somewhere official. I think probably to the CAA (Turkish equivalent of the FAA) . So we spend an hour going to and fro, stopping to ask directions every two blocks trying to find a particular company to send the paperwork via. Don't ask me why it had to be sent via "Arskargo", it's the way the Turks do business. So after a short stop for some dinner, we are on our way home. Not quite so bad this time, as we finally get to the house at about 9:15 pm. Of course we are scheduled to fly in the morning. Two balloons again. But hey, I'm now legal! After 3 entire days spent either in or travelling to (or both) a hospital, I am finally done dealing with getting my Turkish medical!
Okay . . . We've had "The Good" and "The Bad".
Now it's time for me to give you "The Ugly".
Wednesday morning at 5:30 am Sancho and I go to the launch site with the boss to take a look at conditions. It's breezy, around 8-10 mph, but it's early and we decide to go ahead and get the passengers on the way and we'll see what it's like closer to sunrise. The forecast is for 12 -15 mph all day. While sitting in the car, all kinds of comments are made by Alper about surface winds being okay or good. I keep telling him that the balloons are 30 meters tall, who cares what the table cloth or grass is doing. Especially after the day before when I was doing 15 at about 200 feet up. Given that the normal winds here are 3-4 mph and it's already about twice that, I am not feeling real great about flying. We wait around, it gets light and passengers show up. The crew are cold packing the balloons and we watch 3 or 4 pibals. The surface wind has stayed constant but not very high probably around 500 feet, the wind is about 15 - 20 mph. No steering, just fast, faster and ridiculus, all in the same direction. There are quite a few balloons out this morning (for this time of year) and everyone is inflating. I voice my concerns a couple of times to Alper and several times to Sancho. The problem is that we have 43 passengers today (22 in the 400 and 21 in mine) and all the other companies have multiple balloons out also. I tell the boss that we are not going to get into any valleys and the flight might not even be 45 minutes. He says he knows and that's not a problem, so we'll fly today. It looks like I'll be able to stay low and stay in the 10 mph layer, so I tell him that even though I don't want to, I'm a professional and we can't always have ideal conditions, so I will fly today. All the balloons I've that have launched have gone across the valley we launch in quite briskly. I'm no exception. As I scoot across the valley staying as low as absolutely possible, I spot Sancho (who launched before I did) to my left and it looks like he found an eddy or something because I go by him like he is standing still. As I climb up the west side of the launch valley (this will be our only close encounter with rock formations today) Sancho has climbed a bit and zooms over me. The higher up the rock face I get, the faster we go. I'm not looking at the gps, I'm not taking pictures, I'm not doing anything but watching where we're going and watching the other balloons, trying to get an idea of where we want to go, how to get there and hoping to slow down somewhere. Most of the balloons that didn't land after 20 minutes climbed up pretty high. Sancho and I are no different. We climb to about 3,000 feet AGL and all that happens is we change direction. I made sure that I briefed my passengers very well before we left the ground and through out this flight kept them aware of what was going to happen in the very near future.
We didn't want to head toward the river where there was some flat open areas (but all crops and red zones) and where all the power lines were. Instead we descended into the layer headed in a more westerly direction. The flight was actually quite scenic and we definitely flew over an area that very few do. The problem was it was mountainous, so we were up in the fast stuff. At one point, I got into an air mass that was spilling into a canyon and had to get on all 4 burners to get out and miss the other side. To make a long story short, once we could see the other side of this mountain, there was an enormous open desert area and then more canyons. We decided to ditch in the open area. About all I can say is how glad I am that I finally had a full basket. According to the data my gps recorded, I landed at 17 mph (27.2 kph) ! Sancho's gps indicated 29 kph (18.1 mph) . Afterward, while still at the landing site (but I hadn't yet seen my gps data) , I told Sancho I would guess about 18 mph when I landed. We couldn't have picked a better spot. It was slightly uphill, the ground was very soft but not muddy and when you see the pictures, you'll see just how wide open and void of obstacles this area is.

First off is the Google Earth picture of our flight path.
The Google Earth picture of our flight path on 1/28/09
We travelled 8.3 miles in 45 minutes
Now some shots of the landing area.
Where we ended up. Looking to the SW
Looking to the NW
Where we ended up. Looking to the SE
Looking to the NE
If you look close in the bottom right picture, you can see Sancho's landing spot in the background. Here are some close ups.
In the background you can see where Sancho landed
Zoomed in wih my 300mm lens
Luckily no one was hurt. My inexperience with big balloons showed a bit though, as my last "feather" burn was a tad late. I hit and drug about 50 yards (making 3 divots) and as the basket caught up to the envelope in the pendulum swing, we swung about a hundred yards before making 3 more divots and stopping. All in all, from first impact to where the basket stopped was about 200 yards (give or take a few) as I paced it off. Not only was I glad I actually had some weight in the basket this time, but both of these balloons have "Easy/Smart" vents. Another feature that although I'm not used to using (I actually grabbed the other line first) I certainly benefitted from having.
The first 3 divots left from our initial impact and drag. You can see the basket in the background
A close up of our initial impact divot. The ground was quite soft and we were headed up hill
Overall, besides the decision to fly in the first place, I thought I did pretty good for my first high wind landing in a big balloon. Like I said, my last burn was too late and I opened the smart vent a little late, but I came in nice and low and we didn't hit the ground very hard. Course I did have lots of room to play with as you see. There were a couple of good things to come out of this event. Number one, I think the boss has a much better understanding and will respect the pilots opinions more in the future when it comes to marginal conditions. Sancho and I also flew together much better than we have. We are starting to better understand how each other flies. We were also on the same page when it came time to choose a landing spot.

That is pretty much the good, bad and ugly from the past week or so. I know it's been a while since I've updated my little Turkish adventure story, so I hope this episode has been worth the read. Before I end this chapter, just one more picture. 
Just had to get a picture of this tank
Hah! Fooled you! This tank is NOT from one of the balloons. It is the inflation tank that was on the trailer as the crew chased us down.
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