6:30 a.m. Good morning, Fort Collins, Colorado. It’s time to fly!

“Good” and “morning” don’t usually go in the same sentence when you’re a night owl. That’s until you throw “hot-air balloon ride” into the mix. Then you have yourself a perfect morning.

Our JourneyxJourney 2017 Ford Escape arrived in a quaint neighborhood just outside Denver, right as the sun began to rise over the Rocky Mountain skyline. Surrounded by picturesque homes in every direction, this was not where you’d expect to see a ginormous hot air balloon take off.

Unless your neighbor is a balloonist. In which case, seeing a backyard balloon launch is not so rare after all.

We pulled in the driveway just as the balloon was pulled out. We were right on time to meet the Coca-Cola Balloon Team for the flight of a lifetime.

A Whole New World

Scotty Spencer runs the Coca-Cola Balloon Team along with his wife and fellow pilot, Laurie Spencer. Based out of Boise, Idaho, the couple drove down to meet our JourneyxJourney road crew in Colorado. In addition to finding a stake of land to launch from, the Spencers also corralled local balloon volunteers to help set up the Coca-Cola balloon. The team usually has about half a dozen people to manage the 346-pound, 9,000-cubic-ft. mammoth. From the sidelines, it was quite the production to watch.

The lucky passengers? JourneyxJourney!

Emily, my JxJ co-captain and partner in crime, had been on a hot air balloon once before. I had not. I was the newbie.

And I was pumped.

Every ounce of my being burst with anticipation. There were even a few moments I literally jumped for joy. Okay, maybe more than a few. I had full-blown regressed to six-year-old-child waiting for Santa to shimmy down the chimney on Christmas Eve, and I was perfectly okay with that. This was better than any gift under the tree (sorry mom and dad!).

Ten minutes later, the “Olympic Spirit Balloon” was erect and ready to fly. Before climbing into the cozy wicker basket with Scotty and Emily, I asked what to expect as a first-timer.

Scotty smiled. “A hot air balloon is the best way to see the planet,” he replied, “You have a perspective on the world like none you’ll ever have any other way. Now get in.”

Aerial Ambassador

Scotty took his first ride when he was 14. From that point on, he was hooked. Early in his career, he dabbled in a few different flying gigs until he ultimately landed back in the balloon business. 45 years of experience later, he’s never looked back (or down for that matter). His years as a pilot have taken him on many unexpected journeys. One of them is his journey with Coca-Cola.

“I reached out to a [Coca-Cola] bottler in our area and suggested the possibility of a balloon… that’s been a little over 30 years ago," he recalled. "I’m lucky enough to represent the brand ever since."

The team’s Coca-Cola fleet is made up of three balloons including the “Contour Bottle Balloon”, one of the tallest in the world, and the “Olympic Spirit Balloon” that can hold 673,290 gallons of ice cold Coca-Cola when turned up-side down.

The balloons are spectacular, don’t get me wrong. But you can tell right off the bat, it’s Scotty’s fiery passion for ballooning and the brand that fuels this team to new heights. He takes his persona as an “aerial ambassador” for the brand to heart. Once onboard one of the Coca-Cola balloons, it’s all business – spreading happiness at community events, balloon festivals and special promotions on behalf of Coca-Cola.

'A hot air balloon is the best way to see the planet. You have a perspective on the world like none you’ll ever have any other way.'

“The Coca-Cola brand is the most famous in the world and to be able to represent the company is an honor that’s second to none,” said Scotty. “We make memories wherever we go. We do that as part of the Coca-Cola family.”

Luckily for the JourneyxJourney crew, we were able to share new memories with our extended Coke family. And lucky for me, I was able to cross an item off my Coca-Cola bucket list.  

Coca-Cola Bucket List

It was almost a year ago to this very day, we first learned about Scotty and the Coca-Cola Balloon Team in a Coca-Cola Journey article. I scanned the feature several times to make sure my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me. Nope, it was true… “THERE’S A COCA-COLA HOT AIR BALLOON TEAM?!?!” I remember thinking out (very) loud, as I whipped open my Coca-Cola bucket list.

Just under “Find the Secret Formula,” I jotted down, “Fly in a Coke Balloon.” One has since been checked off. The other, may never.

Fortunately, the idea of JourneyxJourney began floating around at about the same time as the balloon team discovery of epic proportions occurred. There was no question about it. If this road trip was going to happen, flying in the Coke Balloon team had to happen on it.

350 days later, it did.

Love at First Flight

“One of the things that’s most exciting about a first ride is to see the thrill and expressions on their faces. And as we lift off the ground, their lives seem to slip into slow motion as we drift off in the sky,” said Scotty. “I love that moment of wonder that comes with seeing the world in such a way the first time, there’s nothing like it.”

He was generally speaking, yet his words described the moment perfectly… rising with the sun, overlooking the stunning Colorado landscape.

There truly is nothing like it.

We didn’t speak and that said it all. We drifted further and further away from reality and into serenity with every passing moment. If there was a care in the word it was forgotten.

“This is what it means to float on cloud nine,” I thought quietly.   

From the very beginning, our JourneyxJourney mission was to find and tell new Coca-Cola stories across the U.S. and to give new life to existing ones. When we reached out to Scotty and Laurie asking them to join our journey, we never imagined how powerful it would be to be a part of theirs.  

In Scotty’s words, his job is to “create memories.”

Job well done.

CLICK HERE to see more pictures with info about the Coca-Cola Balloon team in this slide show.