Best Natural High - 1999
Despite the fact that he's been flying people up, up, and away in his beautiful balloons for the past 30 years, Don Caplan says matter-of-factly that South Florida is not a very good place for such activity; it's too windy, the weather is unpredictable, and mornings are usually the only time calm enough to launch. Caplan, owner of Balloonport of Coconut Grove, is one of a small number of loyal hot-air balloon captains for hire in Miami-Dade. Year after year they wake at the crack of dawn and put up with quirky weather patterns and demanding customers for an hour of magic. And what magic it is. Using the winds to take you into birds' territory, succumbing to invisible forces, you will experience flight in intimate, low-tech fashion. This Memorial Day weekend Caplan and about 30 others will take customers skyward at the Homestead Air Reserve Station in the Spitzer Dodge Sixteenth Annual Great Sunrise Balloon Race (a misnomer, as the balloons don't really race, they compete for accuracy in reaching a target). According to Caplan the past three years have provided unusually good weather. The event benefits Sunrise Community, a nonprofit organization for people with disabilities. For details call the race hotline at 305-275-3317. If you're willing to shell out about $200 to ascend 1500 feet in a wicker basket propelled by gigantic flames that shoot into a canvas balloon, you'll get the closest thing to a magic carpet ride this side of sobriety; if not, you can watch the colorful spectacle from the ground, where you belong.