Saturday, May 22, 2010

Thoughts On Roller Coasters. And Hyperventilating.

So, Brianna and I went to Six Flags Magic Mountain yesterday for a well-deserved vacation day and because we got tickets through AAA for $25 each. Not bad, considering a normal one-day ticket is $55. Score!

Now, I haven't been to Magic Mountain in several years; I think the last time was in high school junior or senior year for a class trip. Since then, Six Flags has added several new "High Thrill" ride attractions. Since we went on a weekday, we didn't have to wait more than 15 minutes for any of the rides. We could have hit every major ride in the park twice if we'd wanted. Yet we stayed away from several due to their extreme-ness. X2--you go through corkscrews and loops while your seating section rotates 180 degrees like one of those torture device-inspired county fair rides. Tatsu--you go flying through loops and corkscrews head first with only a shoulder harness keeping you from plummeting face first to the Earth. Superman--that ride just doesn't look physically possible.

We ended up leaving the park earlier than originally planned since we had done everything we wanted to and didn't feel like repeating rides (or paying the ridiculous $1 every single time for a mandatory locker). Throughout the day, Brianna and I had agreed that we didn't really feel like repeating rides back-to-back, even though there were no lines and it would be easy to do. The reason? The physical, mental and emotional strain of each experience.

Now, to take a step back here and provide some context: I've been to Magic Mountain dozens of times. Our family used to have Annual Passes for a few years; it was a bit of a natural progression after Disneyland as my sister and I were growing up. I spent as least a couple years waiting to be tall enough to go on Viper (which required you to be 54") and I remembered loving it and any other coaster that had loops, corkscrews, big drops, etc. I've relinquished control of my life to the roller coaster gods dozens of times and always come out unscathed save for a couple headaches. So why was this time around so different? Why was I literally hyperventilating at the end of Viper and giving Brianna a hug like I thought I would never see her again?

From a purely rational standpoint, there's really not much to fear when going on roller coasters at places like Six Flags. As you're waiting in line, you've obviously seen several groups of riders return safely and you know that each of the rides--no matter how new they are--had to go through round after round of testing. But, as you step into your seat, while you're pulling down on the shoulder harness, and especially during the 10-story climb to start the ride, you can't help but wonder: "What if?" The end result is 2-3 minutes of paralyzing thrill: a white-knuckled grip on your restraints and a sense of dread every time you see the track ahead of you contorting like a fiendish crazy straw of doom.

After some thinking, I've narrowed down why roller coasters seem so scary to me now: I've got a lot more to lose. When you're a kid, you're just concerned about the thrill of the ride. There's no danger because you're a kid and you're indestructible. When you're an adult and you're falling upward against your shoulder harness in the middle of a corkscrew, you're not giggling because the sense of weightlessness is fun. You're thinking about that Life Insurance policy and how much it will really cover. You're thinking about how you never got to go to Europe. You're wondering if closing your eyes will make the fear go away (and then realizing they're already closed and you're still freaking out). And that's why, after you're back on solid ground again, there's no way you're going to go through all that again without a few minutes of physical and emotional rest.

So, will I ever get on a roller coaster again? Of course! They're fun, they're exhilarating and there's a small part of us humans that craves the thrill of staring death in the face and laughing. (And because Brianna and I got a couple $25 coupons upon leaving the park. Can't pass up a good deal.)