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Our First Long-Distance Adventure: The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

Terry & MaryAnn Barber

After our shake-down trip to the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Preserve, and with less than a thousand miles on our 2018 Unity FX Leisure Travel Van, we were finally ready for our first long-distance adventure.

About a month before we took delivery of our Unity, we signed up for the Southwest Roadrunners, one of the LTV Travelers Clubs. An hour or so after we signed up on MyLTV, the leader of Southwest Roadrunners called us to introduce himself and pass on information about the Club and its schedule of travel events.

In the list of events was the 2018 Alaska Caravan (we immediately signed up for that!), and another event that interested us was the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in October of 2017. We were disappointed to learn that it was likely too late for us to get a space in the Fiesta that year, since it was already August and the Fiesta was in October. It was certainly all booked up by now, but we were given the name and number of the Balloon Fiesta coordinator to call if we really wanted to try. We called and there were two cancellations, so we got in! Our Unity FX arrived September 2, 2017, and we were headed to Albuquerque a month later. It would be our first major trip.

We were so excited to be on the road headed to the Balloon Fiesta. Not only were we traveling in our first RV, but we were going to be meeting fellow owners of Leisure Travel Vans like ours. We had no idea what it would be like meeting up with these complete strangers and spending the week with them.

Our Unity FX at the Dragoon, Arizona rest stop on our way to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Driving about 250 – 300 miles a day, we arrived in Albuquerque in two days. When we pulled into the parking area of the balloon fiesta there were RVs everywhere – everything from little Class Bs to humungous Class As. We felt like a little grasshopper next to those big 45-foot rigs! We had never been here before and it was confusing as to where we were supposed to go. We called the leader of the Roadrunners group to try to get directions. His wife answered the phone and she talked us into the area where the Club was parked. What really helped the most was seeing another LTV and then following that couple into the VIP parking area.

As we pulled into the Southwest Roadrunners parking area, we both became very nervous. We didn’t have much of a clue as to what we were doing in this RV and we were about to meet people that clearly had a whole lot more experience RVing than we did. What made us nervous most of all was that we didn’t know any of them.

One of the many potluck dinners at an LTV rally.

This would turn out to be the first of many LTV rallies we would attend. Owners of Leisure Travel Vans are friendly, helpful people. We were accepted into the LTV family the moment we pulled into our parking slot. Fellow owners who were complete strangers quickly became our friends and a quality source of information about all things RV!

A few of our new LTV friends. From left to right: MaryAnn Barber, Dennis Thorig, Terry Barber, Walt Newman, and Pat Newman.

Now we love going to the LTV rallies to meet up with our friends and make new ones. The best part about these rallies is the amount of knowledge and experience fellow owners provide. We also enjoy the camaraderie we feel with fellow LTV owners. If you’re not a member of one of the many LTV Travelers Clubs, do it now!

Massive launch of hundreds of balloons at the same time.

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta was everything it advertises and definitely a bucket list item for everyone. The oh-dark-hundred early morning freezing temperatures are worth crawling out of bed for as well.

The first morning, we were laying in our warm bed, looking up through the skylight of our Unity FX, when we heard this strange noise outside. It sounded like gas being released. Then suddenly, just feet above our Unity, a very large balloon in the shape of a chicken flew over! We immediately got out of bed and ran outside – after getting fully dressed, of course.

The next day we made sure we were up and out the door before sunrise to see the first balloons go into the air. Being parked in the VIP area is the ideal location. We were very close to all the action. Every day we walked down to the launch field to watch the amazing hot air balloons as they prepared to launch, literally hundreds at a time. What was amazing is how we could walk down on the launch field right into the balloon launch area and talk to the people flying the balloons.

Also, next to our parking area was a very interesting museum of the history of hot air balloons. Definitely worth a visit while at the Balloon Fiesta.

We met a lot of interesting people and made a lot of friends whom we now travel with and meet up with on our own outside of the LTV rallies. The LTV family is not only a tremendous resource of information about RV living, it’s also a community of owners who become your friends the moment you meet them. They’re people we can count on for help while on the road and spend time with, and people we feel blessed to know.

MaryAnn and Terry Barber at the 2017 Balloon Fiesta.

Feature image by Ann and Andy Dudler. See more photos and stories from the 2019 Balloon Fiesta here

Terry & MaryAnn Barber

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