My impression - looking back on it all:
In achieving the first balloon flight around the world, Bertrand and I were pretty lucky with the weather, but even coupled with one of the most hi-tech balloons ever built, these factors by no means assure success. In the case of the Breitling Orbiter3, for 20 days our craft and its pilots became one with nature. Not simply flying with the wind, but a part of it: rising and falling following the contours of the earth below, buffeted gently by each change in wind speed or direction. Never fighting the inevitable, we would coax our balloon higher or lower in an attempt to harmonize with the constantly changing face of Mother Nature in order to come close to our desired direction that would eventually take us full circle.
The Winds of Hope foundation was conceived whilst we were flying over the magnificent scenery of the Sahara desert. We felt so fortunate to be there in our balloon and wondered about the oddity of fate which allowed us such a privilege, whilst in that beautiful landscape below, unseen by us, children were dying in their thousands from starvation and disease. How is it possible to reconcile these extremes of fortune? Having made our silent promise to revisit this absurd inequality, we had little time to dwell on the prospect. Controlling the systems of one of the largest balloons ever built in order to stay alive in what was often a hostile environment demanded our constant attention. We came perilously close a couple of times to failing in this respect, in the Pacific and again in the Gulf of Mexico. Of course, in the end, we made it through.
Seven world records including the all-important 'first' means there is not enough wall space at home for the certificates and diplomas awarded to Bertrand and I from a myriad of institutions. But all were received with gratitude and I hope humility, for we are but the front men of our entire team of technicians, meteorologists, air-traffic controllers, operations staff and sponsor without whose dedication we would certainly not have made it.
It’s extraordinary how our world can look so small when we are measuring resources or talking of globalisation. Yet for the individual, it is so vast that even with the strongest will, a lifetime is not enough to explore all its beauty and hidden secrets.
Bertrand and I saw more than most, and we are better people for it. Perhaps other travellers feel as we do when we see a globe depicting the Earth – no longer simply a lesson in geography, but more a powerful emotion.