Remember writing letters? What about pen pals? Both seem to have gone by the wayside with the way technology has advanced in recent years. But it wasn't all that long ago when you could strike up a great friendship with someone who lived hundreds of miles away, purely based on chance.

For my seventh birthday, I received plenty of things I wanted. Baseball cards, a baseball glove, a baseball hat. Like most other boys my age, I was obsessed with baseball. But one thing I got turned out to be the best gift of all, a balloon.

The year was 1990, and as a seven-year-old kid from Iowa, I, admittingly had no idea what helium was, or why certain balloons would float and others wouldn't. When I saw the balloon floating above my birthday cake, my mind began to wander. "Just how high up could this thing fly, and how far could it travel", I thought?

A few days after my birthday, I posed these questions to my parents and my mom said "Why don't we find out?" She had me put my name and address on a piece of paper, then safely fastened it to the balloon. We took it outside, and up it went. After a few moments of watching the balloon, it quickly flew so high and so far we could no longer see it. And that was the end of it, or so I thought.

Nearly two months later, I received a letter in the mail. This was a big deal for a seven-year-old, so I quickly opened it. It was from a woman who lived just outside Mitchell, South Dakota. Her husband was a farmer and found the balloon lying in his field. When he brought it in, they were astonished that my little balloon had traveled nearly 400 miles, from Waterloo, Iowa to Mitchell, South Dakota. She told me about herself and their daily lives running the farm and encouraged me to write back. My first pen pal.

The first thing I asked my mom was "Just where is South Dakota anyway?" She pulled out one of those giant Rand McNally atlas's and showed me where the balloon had landed. Being a seven-year-old, it didn't seem very far to me. Only a few inches on the map! But my mom began to explain to me just how long of a distance my little balloon had traveled.

I kept in touch with my pen pal from South Dakota for a number of years and it gave me a spark of curiosity about other places, which I still have today. And it just goes to show, that when you begin a journey, you never know just where it might end up.

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