My favorite birthday gift: conquering a fear

Abby Tegnelia Sarah Feldberg basketI know I just said I was retiring from adventure activities, after I got the exhilarating chance to fly a jet plane, but this doesn’t count. This was a comfortable, relaxing little morning ride in the sun — at least that’s what people kept telling me. But to me, riding in a hot air balloon was all about conquering a decade-long fear, after a miserable ride ruined me for a life. Or so I thought… When Hendrick’s Gin offered me a little ride, and it happened to fall on my birthday, how could I say no? I was actually a little excited to kick that phobia in the rear end — even though I was expecting a rather uncomfortable few hours. I mean, just because I was willing to do something, didn’t mean I was going to like it. This was going to have to be one of the best hot air balloon trips ever if it wasn’t going to change my mind…

Our little group of daring journalists, including my esteemed coworker Sarah Feldberg, and liquor reps met on the Strip at 5:45 am. Yup, you read that right; we shivered in the darkness and waited for our ride out to the launch pad. There, we watched in awe how they blew up the balloon that would carry us through the sky!

Hendricks hot air balloon

Hendricks hot air balloon blown up

The early call time was worth it. The early morning views were stunning. Plus, since I was so sleepy and in a daze, I sort of jumped into the basket without thinking, despite holding onto a hot air balloon phobia for seven years. It was as we were taking off, my heart started beating fast. But it was too late then!

Early Morning


Las Vegas Strip

Watching the sun come up over Las Vegas, with the Strip off in the distance.



The early departure time did not dissuade the Hendrick’s crew from showing off. A neat little to-go bar was quickly unfolded and set up between the two sides of the basket.

Hendrick's Gin



Mark Stoddard, U.S. brand ambassador and designated bartender for the basket, was the only one who arrived prepared for the party. His old-fashioned outfit was tremendous! He began unloading his groceries: fresh cucumber, tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, and of course the special small-batch Scottish gin, which is infused with Bulgarian rose. And then he got to work.

Mark Stoddard 1

Mark Stoddard 2

Mark Stoddard 3

Mark Stoddard 4


And in the early-morning light, the Red Snappers were poured. It was pretty darn close to a Bloody Mary, but with gin. In a word: delicious. And hey, what nervous birthday girl could say no to a little gin in the morning?

Hendrick's gin Red Snappers

It’s already my year in the Chinese zodiac, and I got to start off my morning drinking gin in a hot air balloon. What an auspicious beginning to what I hope is a wonderful year!





The balloon itself was gorgeous, red and yellow with the old-fashioned designs that the brand has become famous for. They are a regular at the Balloon Fiesta in my hometown of Albuquerque. Loved that!

Under Balloon


So about my phobia… I have been very vocal about how scared I have been of hot air balloon trips and now you might wonder how in the world I could ever be scared of this absolute loveliness. Well, it all started in Utah, in January 2006, when I couldn’t wait for the winter activities I had lined up. I was so naive! I’m a girl in love with the tropics. How did I think I would handle the bitter Park City cold? I couldn’t feel my hands or feet and was shaking so uncontrollably that strangers kept piling clothes onto me. Check out this end result!

My winter costume was ridiculous after strangers kept piling on their cast-offs to keep me from shivering.

My winter costume was ridiculous after strangers kept piling on their cast-offs to keep me from shivering.


Did I mention it was cold? (But stunning — looking at this so many years later, WOW!)

Hot Air Balloon Rides

As we got higher and higher, I got so cold that I felt like a stiff icicle that was going to jostle once and just fall right out. The basket seemed so low, and I was convinced I was going to jake-knife right out onto the snow — which was very, very far down. It was the longest hour of my life.

Hot Air Balloon Trips

So that is how I learned to stay closer to the equator… Or at least remain in the desert. Which brings us back to my Vegas birthday adventure.

Up, up and away! What a way to start my morning.

Sarah Feldberg Abby Tegnelia


I was a guest of Hendrick’s Gin, but all opinions are my own.

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I'm a life-long travel junkie journalist who works hard to find adventure in everyday life after two years of travel and expat living.

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  1. First of all, it is not fair that you look that pretty when you have to be somewhere at 5:45 am. Not fair! Second, what a fun adventure! Hendrick’s seems to be launching in Chile, if their Twitter account is anything to go by, and I’m excited. I love a good G&T but hardly ever get them here since gin isn’t popular, so I’d love for that to change.

  2. OMG best Birthday ever!!!!

  3. It was!! You know I like to be different lol

  4. This is so awesome. Both the fear conquering and the gin-infused balloon ride! I have never been in an hot air balloon, but as I am interested in all things flying-related, I really want to try it!

  5. Thanks, Rease!!! I agree: just the gin bar in a balloon would have been enough, even without my birthday or insane fear.

  6. Kudos for stepping to the edge and facing that fear – you may never feel “comfy” and that’s OK the important thing is that you didn’t let it paralyze you. Oh! Also a round of applause for your birth week as well as traveling with liquor reps! I stand in pure admiration.

  7. I love that you did this for your birthday, makes me rethink maybe I should try to make something interesting of my birthdays.

  8. OK I am scared of the thought of hot air ballooning, not because of the heights but because I am extremely claustrophobic and the thought of being trapped in a little basket with several others just makes me incredibly anxious. But the VIEWS. Sigh. I could take a Xanax and get over it for the views, I think 😉

  9. I love the guy’s outfit! Anything that involves costumes is fun in my book 🙂

  10. I’m glad you still went up even after that crash in Egypt recently when only two passengers survived. I bet the feeling in the air is incredible. Even though it’s basically a balloon carrying a wicker basket, truth be told, this is something I have always wanted to do. Maybe one day …

  11. What a fab birthday, Abby! You’ve tried just about every method of being airborne now, haven’t you?

  12. I think I have lol… At least every method I’m interested in!

  13. That is fantastic, Abby! I’m not sure I could stomach alcohol that early in the morning, but for those views? I’d give it a try.

  14. LOVE the hot air balloon festival in Albuquerque!! Gone 2x , roadtripped from Salt Lake to go, and hope to go again this year. Its soo much fun. I’m crazy about hot air balloons. I have a friend in AZ who owns one. I got engaged in one! way to go facing your fears!

  15. Yay Balloon Fiesta!!! So cool you got engaged in a hot-air balloon. Until recently, that would have freaked me out lol. Not anymore? 😉

  16. OMG. Seriously lady. I need to hang out with you more often. This looks so amazing.

  17. This makes me want to do something big for my birthday this year.

  18. It was definitely better than expected. 🙂

  19. Oh wow – those views are extraordinary! I haven’t been in a hot air balloon since I was a kid but I get horrible vertigo when I’m up high…not sure how I’d cope…Happy belated bday!

  20. You went as a kid?! WOW!! Yes, vertigo might be a bit of a problem haha.

  21. Amazing! It doesn’t get better ballooning with Hendrick’s! I’m sold! 🙂

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