SI Vault
Fear of Floating
Rick Reilly
October 09, 2006
THEY SAY your life is not complete until you run with the bulls, dive the Cave of the Sleeping Sharks and climb El Capitan without a rope. But there is one death-defying feat that makes those look like Boy Scout--badge stuff.
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October 09, 2006

Fear Of Floating

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What's next? Figure eights? Maybe some barrel rolls?

"No," said the pilot. "Lefts all night."

Oh... my... God. I mean, the view is beautiful, but after a while you go nuttier than Courtney Love. Hour after hour, lefts. You can't even watch the game because you're 3,000 feet up. You lean out the window and scream, "Hey, that was interference!" but nobody laughs.

Can't you go any lower?

"Nope," Poppenhouse said. "The NFL is the strictest. Golf tournaments are better. Some you can get down to 1,000 feet."

The only possibility of fun was to see if I could distract Poppenhouse and take over the keyboard that controls the lighted messages on the sides of the blimp. Maybe change the sign to something like, WE'RE HAVING SEX UP HERE! Or, EVER SEE THE MOVIE BLACK SUNDAY?

Suddenly, Poppenhouse was jostling me awake. "Game's over," he said. "You want to drive?"

O.K., that was fun. You steer with what looks like a sea captain's wheel, only it's below your right arm. You control elevation with two foot pedals. During my 20 minutes at the controls, I had that baby up to 27, 28 mph. But I couldn't keep it level. The cameraman appeared to be getting seasick. He looked at me. I grinned.

Then it occurred to me. The blimp has no wheels—how would we land? But then Poppenhouse tilted the nose down, and as we got close to the ground he loosed six lines, each maybe 25 feet long, which the crew below used to bring us in, soft as cashmere slippers.

Oh, how did I go seven hours without a bathroom?

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