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The Bonduelle hot-air balloon in Lapland: reflection on a 10-day adventure

The Bonduelle hot-air balloon took part in “l'Arctic Ballon Adventure” ("Arctic Balloon Adventure") between 7 and 20 of February in Lapland, led by group co-worker Lionel Metayer.

He reflects on his experience following the 10-day adventure.

Log book of the Bonduelle hot-air balloon in Lapland,
by our pilot Lionel Metayer

It's early October 2015 in Arc-et-Senans. For the third time, Alain, a pilot friend, has contacted me about plans to fly over Lapland.

We call Jean Becker, an organiser who had fallen in love with Finland. Registration had closed several weeks ago, but there was still one place that was available. On the way home, my wife and I mull over the idea. Why not go for it? I know most of the pilots, and I want to explore this unique world.

A call to the organiser on Monday cleared up some misgivings regarding the hardware. I confirm my attendance. We'll be there.

I have time to prepare for the trip, but there are some restless nights. I have some concerns about maintenance on the trailer for this long journey, and about the conditions that seem particularly hostile to practise our favourite activity.

We need to put our team together. One friend turns me down as he already had other commitments. I mention it to my youngest son, Florian, and his wife, Audrey. They jump for joy—we shall therefore be joining in as a family.

The check list of necessary equipment arrives. We mustn't forget a thing, as weather conditions can be extreme. A few days before our departure, temperatures hit -40° Celsius. A sledge is needed in order to retrieve the landing equipment—two pairs of skis bought second-hand and three boards should do.

Sunday, February 7, 3:00 a.m., the (overloaded) trailer hitched, we leave. We must board a ferry tonight in northern Germany. On the road, we find my friend Alain, as well as another team. We're now driving in convoy, which is more reassuring. Boarding at 8:30 p.m., after a night's rest, we'll be arriving in Sweden at 7:30 a.m., near Malmö.

Monday 8, it's raining and 3° outside. We drive all day on Sweden's beautiful, but also monotonous, roads. A big traffic jam in Stockholm made us lose time. We arrive late at the cottage that I reserved in Sundsvall. After sharing a meal with two other teams, we must quickly get some rest—it's a 5:00 a.m. start tomorrow.

Tuesday 9, worries about the departure give way to wanting to discover the course. At 2:48 p.m., at 1°, after completing 3,073 km, we cut through the polar circle while still in Sweden. We finally arrive in Äkäslompolo, where the general information briefing is at 8:00 p.m.

Wednesday 10, it's impossible to fly due to snow. We mount snowmobiles for a five-hour ride, which included visiting an ice village. How beautiful!

Thursday 11, weather conditions are good considering it's the first flight. At midday, we take off from a road that cuts through the fir trees and travel towards Lake Äkäslompolo. I am joined by my wife and a student pilot. After ten minutes in the air, the burner doesn't seem too keen on the conditions, (but I did keep it warm as recommended) the flames also exit via the pilot lights. An emergency landing would be impossible—all you can see below are fir trees and two meters of snow! After an hour in the air, I land on the lake and am relieved. The organisation lends me a burner for the flights to come.

Friday 12 and Saturday 13, it's snowing and quite windy. Flights have been cancelled. We take the opportunity to go on a sleigh ride pulled by the reindeer of the Sami people.

Sunday 14, weather conditions are average, but we start looking for a launch site. When we find one, it begins to snow, so we return to the flat.

Monday 15, phew! We fly in the mist with little wind. I have a new burner, and I’ve taken an additional bottle of gas. Flying through the cloud layer is not my favourite. There's no more surface wind, so it's impossible to reach the lake. I land the balloon in a clearing on a cross-country skiing trail. Everyone is delighted—including the skiers who immediately offer to help fold the balloon.

Tuesday 16 is the most beautiful day of the trip. The temperature has so far been mild (-7° Celsius). At night, temperatures fall to -22° Celsius, but it didn't feel like it. No matter, the sun is out and the flight is off to a good start. After an amazing hour in the air, we land on the lake in Luosu as a group, taking in the views. The Bonduelle balloon looks splendid on the sunny lake.

To end this beautiful day, the sky changes at dinner time and reveals the northern lights—amazing!

Wednesday 17, it’s snowing again with strong winds. Today, we'll be go-karting on the ice and getting ready for the journey back.

Thursday 18, we head out at 5:00 a.m., travelling towards Uppsala as part of the first stage of this trip, then to Seevetal, south of Hamburg, for the second stage.

Saturday 20, 8:20 p.m., the trailer is stored, but the cover will still need to be dried out on Monday. We’ve gotten back from this crazy journey. The images and memories will be etched in our minds for a long time—of beautiful landscapes, the great atmosphere and solidarity between teams.

Concluding applause!

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