Roller Coasters

Riding a giant roller coaster should be a mandatory personality test for every adult.  Anyone who gets off smiling and relaxed should be registered as dangerously insane and unable to buy anything more hazardous than twinkies & crayons until they’re 60.  Also, no licenses for those people.  Ever. I shudder at the thought of all the people who enjoy rocketing toward the ground at speeds god never intended driving the car next to mine on the highway.

We went to Knottsberry Farm a little while ago to try out some big rollercoasters.  I love Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, The Octopus, The Scrambler, they’re all fast and fun so, why not try a new kind of ride I’d never been on.  They look scary, but thats never been a good enough reason for me to not do something.  And it might turn out I love it…. Or maybe it’ll turn out it’s just not my thing.  Those are the only two outcomes right?

We’d gone on the Pony Express ride first – which it turns out is less roller coaster and more of a brief  rocketing loop on a plastic horse.  Each rider has a horse that they sit astride and lean over to hold on where reins would be.  A locking bar rotates up and locks at the small of your back and two more lock just behind your knees.  Mind you, they aren’t actually touching you when you’re sitting, so you feel like you’re not secured at all, but you couldn’t stand up if you tried (and I did try).  Since I’m used to shoulder straps or lap belts being involved in keeping me inside any ride, my brain was screaming that I was going to die a horrible death when I inevitably flew directly out of the ride onto the pavement at 100 mph.  The ride took off and did a rollercoaster-gentle rise and dive whipping around the track once.  The whole thing was over in about 45 seconds, it was super fun, not scary at all and I wanted to get right back on.  But no, too tame for my partner in adventure, so off we go to something more ‘interesting’.

We’d asked some of the little kids who were on the Pony Express what the best rollercoaster at the park was and they all said Ghost Rider.  The random employee we asked also said Ghost Rider.  So, ok.  We’ll try it.

Here’s a brief detour about why rides can be a little scarier for me than for some other (nameless) people.  Any ride with a pull down bar will not pull down far enough to touch my legs if I’m riding with anyone.  Which means a couple of things inevitably happen: There is nothing touching me that tells my brain I can’t fly out of the ride, if the car goes down quickly, my body will fly up off the seat until I hit the bar (that split second of free fall is freaking terrifying) and lastly since I’m not touching that bar, I also slam sideways with each turn.  If the turns are sideways AND down, there’s extra air time before I hit something that will keep me in the car.  Intellectually, I know I’m not going to die…

We walked through the maze of line dividers for Ghost Rider and up into the top platform of the building without seeing any people.  At the top there were a few people waiting to get on the next car and I heard the theme for the Good the Bad and the Ugly playing over the loudspeakers.  That being one of my favorite songs, I took it as a good sign…mostly because I was grasping at any straw to not be terrified.  I watched the people before us get off the ride all smiling and happy and kept trying to convince myself it would be fun and I was being silly.

Why does that never work?

Finally it was our turn to get on and away we went.  It was terrifying.  It wasn’t the ups that were bad, it was the plummeting downward toward the ground from 108 feet up.  It wasn’t the fun kind of scared, it was the kind of scared where the lizard part of your brain and the monkey part of your brain are in full agreement that you’re about to die and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.  After about 20 seconds, my monkey brain stopped even gibbering word sounds and my lizard brain took over: My eyes closed and I just screamed.

The ride is 2 minutes and 40 seconds long and it turns out, that’s the exact amount of time needed to deafen the person next to you for the next 2 ½ days if you scream continuously.  Ask Kris, we have empirical proof.  He might have had fun if he hadn’t been in agony from his eardrum attempting to shatter.  I haven’t asked because I’m not sure I want to know.

At lunch afterward, the paper placemats had printouts of the rides in the park with ratings next to them.  Out of curiosity and a desperate need to not replay that first plummeting death dive again behind my eyelids, I looked them up.  Roller coasters are rated from 1 to 5.  1 being the little trains that 3 years olds get on that bore their parents into groaning eye rolling zombies.  5 is called ‘An extreme thrill ride’.  I looked up my favorite rides and they’re all 4’s.  I think 5 should be renamed ‘If you have fun, you should never be allowed to drive again’.  Just a thought.

Rafting Madness

I met a river monster who feeds only on terror, and he was charming.

I’ve been white water rafting a couple of times before.  Lovely excursions on a sunny day with friends and family.  Always group trips with a guide who knew what we were going to see and do.  At no stage in any of those trips was I afraid.  I may not be a water person, but I know how to swim.  I know that if I fall into the river, I should try and stand up in the water before I even start considering panic.  So this latest trip, occupied the same space in my head before we started.  A relaxing, fun day with friends on a beautiful river.  They didn’t tell me about the monster traveling the river feeding on the terror of the unsuspecting tourists.

Outside the rafters shop, we started off with a lecture about safety and gear as the cars whizzed by on the road 4 feet behind us.  I should have realized right then that something wasn’t right about the whole set up.  Who lectures people about safety while having them stand with their back to a rural highway?  2 steps backwards and their clients would be doing smashed strawberry snack-cake imitations.  I was lulled into a sense of security and amusement by all the safety gear we were required to wear: full wet suit, wet suit booties, splash jacket, life vest and helmet.  Who needs all that stuff to go down a river in a giant raft with a guide?  We all got our load of gear and suited up on the lawn.  I’m not sure theres anything that can make me feel more ungainly, awkward and cause serious adolescent flashbacks than trying to put on a wet suit on a green lawn filled with frigging teenagers showing off their bikinis.  But, whatever: white water rafting with friends who are funnier, wiser, kinder and wittier than teenagers ever were.  So, fully outfitted and quickly overheating in our rubber suits, we boarded an ancient school bus and headed to the river.

Off the bus in a sunny park, we heard another safety lecture from a stout man who could have bench pressed the school bus.  Two things were really clear: 1)The leading cause of head injuries on rafting trips is the oars of other rafters and 2) ‘Aggressive self rescue’ is a euphemism for ‘Don’t be an idiot, if you fall in the water, start swimming’.  And with those two gems, we trooped down to actual water.

Three minutes after splashing into the river I was grateful for my silly wetsuit and splash jacket.  The water was in fact glacial even on a warm sunny July day.  The first hour was a joyous ride down a river surrounded by high stone walls  and the most amazing variations on water color.  Blue into grey into green and eddying back to blue then bright white where the rapids reflected the sun.  There was no sound of traffic or crowds.  I forget how accustomed I am to city noises to until they’re completely gone.  I could actually hear the light breeze rustling through the trees on the riverside a few times.

The guide for our raft was a slim tall man with red hair and a well worn set of gear.  He was charming and sounded like he knew what he was doing.  He even pointed out interesting things about nature as we went past.  We listened to him with some interest right up until he explained that the pipe crossing over our heads was a migratory tunnel to support nocturnal woodchuck mating patterns.  After a hysterical story from one of my companions about carnivorous water mammals (told with a completely straight face) he stopped trying to convince us he was a wildlife expert.

We went through some fun rapids and cold water splashes before we pulled off with the other rafts onto a muddy section so we could talk about going over the falls.  Up until then, I was convinced that ‘the falls’ was just a slightly bigger rapid that the guides were legally obligated to talk about.  Yes, I saw the falls as we walked past, but I didn’t understand.  It didn’t occur to me that you would take a raft over a 15 foot waterfall on purpose.

As I listened to the third safety lecture, I started thinking that this was insane and by the end I was completely convinced.

“Going over the falls is risky” …That makes sense…

“If you fall out of the raft going over the falls, you should swim to safety” …That’s sensible…

“There will be people on the shore with ropes at the bottom of the falls.  If you need them, they’ll throw a rope and pull you to shore.” …That’s a good precaution, I approve of the forethought…

“If they look right at you and don’t throw the rope its because someone else needs the rope more than you do, you should swim yourself to shore (Aggressive self rescue)”  ...well that’s mildly concerning, how often does that come up I wonder….

”Be aware that water recirculates at the bottom of the falls and if you fall out of the raft and get sucked under, you could get recirculated with the water” …Well that sounds bad….

“The smaller you are, the more likely that is to happen“ …uh oh….

“The only way out in that circumstance is to tuck yourself into a ball and let the water shoot you out the bottom, don’t struggle”… oh sh*t, I’m gonna die…

I looked around at all the calm happy people and thought, they’re all relaxed, the guides do this literally twice a day, it’ll be fine.  I’m panicking for no good reason.

For the next ½ hour or so, we practiced the “procedure” for going over the falls as we went through smaller rapids.  When the guide said “Get Down!” we each grabbed the rope around the outside of the boat in the same hand as our paddle, jammed one foot over and one foot under a strap that ran under the inflatable support in front of us, then reached over the inflatable support behind us and grabbed the strap the people behind us were  holding with their feet as we moved our buts down to the bottom of the raft and assumed a sort of frantic upright fetal position.  The whole thing should only take a second or two to do as we rushed towards the falls because we’d be paddling right up to the last second to build up the speed that would keep our raft from flipping as we went over.

When we got to the calm just before the falls, all the rafts pulled off to one side to let the people who wanted to walk around the falls off at the shore.  Then our raft rowed across to the other side to act as a sight line for the other rafts.  From where we sat, we couldn’t really see the falls, we could just see the bridge over them and a little white froth where they had to start.  As we watched the first raft in our group raced towards the falls, I heard the guide yell ‘Get Down’ then they were gone.  And a second later, we saw 1…2…3 ropes arc into the sky towards people who had fallen out their raft.  The ropes that wouldn’t be deployed unless people couldn’t swim to shore.  As I sat there, I was seriously considering jumping out of the raft and swimming across the river so I could walk around the falls.  Because who goes over a waterfall in an inflatable raft with nothing but a twizzler stick of a paddle and a thousand year old life vest as their only defense on purpose?!  Only crazy people do that.  And as I took a second look to make absolutely sure the water where we were wasn’t strong enough to pull me into the falls, our grinning funny guide said ‘Let’s Go!’.

I glanced back at him and saw an inhuman grin on the guides face as he pulled a green mouth guard out of his pocket and popped it into his mouth.  Why did he need a mouthguard and why didn’t we need one?  What the h**l was about to happen.  And with that thought, more adrenaline shot into my brain.  Then we were paddling as hard as we could towards the falls.  Not away from the falls like sane people would: Toward the falls.  I heard the guide say ‘Get Down’ and grabbed the rope and the strap and slammed into the bottom of the boat and screamed.  Because what else can you do with that much adrenaline?

Screaming while going over a waterfall is fine, but if you’re still screaming when you hit the water at the bottom, you choke.  Important safety tip for someone else to learn from.  I hope I’ll never need to know that little nugget of wisdom again.  While I was still choking and sputtering and swearing my undying love for blessed oxygen, I popped up and started rowing with everyone else because there was a flipping boulder on one side at the bottom of the falls and we were headed right for it.  We hit it and sort of ground along it for a few feet before we were into the clear water on the other side.

We drifted for a little ways down the river then pulled off to pick up the smart person who’d decided to walk around the falls.  While we sat there, in the calm water I was shivering so hard the guide asked me if I was cold.  Nope, not cold.  Just the totally predictable shakes that come from being completely convinced for a few seconds that I was going to die a bubbly frothy white water death.  As I glanced back at the totally relaxed guide I felt a spike of ice go up my spine.  I’d been merrily rafting down the river with a mythical creature for hours and not suspected it.  He wasn’t frightening to chat with.  He’s really quite charming.  And of course, no one ever suspects a gawky ginger of being a monster that feeds on terror.

We drifted quietly downriver for  a while, there were a few more rapids, then we were pulling in to the shore and hauling the raft back to the bus.  We rode back to the shop and peeled the wetsuits off before heading towards town and food and normalcy and away from the ‘people’ who run the rafting tours.  The next group of rafters didn’t see us leaving because their backs were to the road, listening to the ‘safety talk’ as we drove away.  The guides were standing around, smiling, waiting for their trips to start and their next meal on the water.

You’ve been warned.  Travel the rivers at your own risk.

Alien Agent

I think my travel agency has been taken over by aliens doing tolerance testing on unsuspecting humans. The agents’ accent sounded Venusian, but it might have been Martian.  Maybe North Martian near Planum Boreum, it’s hard to tell over a staticy phone connection.  At the beginning I thought she was being helpful, but over the course of the next 45 minutes, it became clear that I was just a subject in ongoing testing to determine if the human psyche was calm enough under pressure to be allowed to interact with other intelligent species.   I don’t know if they’ll admit us to the galactic government based on my responses, but I tried.  I started the incident by asking why the flights I booked were canceled.  She read me a scripted piece about it being entirely up to the airline and she and her company (clearly staffed by raging bean counters with megalomaniacal designs) were completely blameless.  She told me we’d already been rebooked on another flight, and I was elated that she had so kindly taken care of the problem before even contacting me.  Maybe, I thought, this is just a courtesy call to let me know so I don’t worry when the flight numbers change.  But no, that was just the opening salvo in her quest to find the fastest way to make a human start chewing on chair legs.  She had re-booked the flight for a full 10 hours earlier.  When all the people taking the flight would still be at work.  I explained that time wouldn’t work so she said ok (actually, she said zocktl, but that’s Venusian for ‘Ok’) and put me on hold to consult with the ‘airline’.   I’m sure I was on hold for the precise amount of time calculated to make me a maximum of angry without hanging up.

I wonder what units they use to measure human anger.  Twitches/Second?  Growls/Minute?  WallKicks/Sprain?

When she came back, she told me good news (‘Maxzra!’) there is a later flight that day we could have, and it was only 4 hours earlier than the one I had booked.  After taking a moment to press my finger under my eye to make the twitching stop, I told her again that the flight couldn’t be earlier than I’d booked, it had to be later.  And she put me back on hold.  This time with terrible muzak and a scratchy connection so bad that I thought she’d hung up on me twice.  I’d passed from angry to seething during the second hold experience, so I’m sure the test was going splendidly from her point of view.  After my third pass around New Seasons trying to find food (Did I mention I was on my lunch break and trying desperately to find something I could eat?) I noticed the clerks were eyeing me rather closely.  Since I was on Hawthorne, and the scale which clerks on that street use to start watching a customer is… expanded from average, I took a deep breath and tried to look less homicidal.  This time when she came back online, she told me the only possible flight after the canceled one was at 5am the following morning. There were no other options at all.    I thought about it decided that only a sadist would cancel a 6pm flight and make its only possible replacement take off at 5am.  5am flight means 4am arrival at the airport which means getting up at 3am.  No one but a seriously a**hole sadist would do that.

So, ok.  5am flight.  At least there’s still a flight even if it’s a godforsaken time of the morning.  I gave the go-ahead to the agent, she pushed the button, then started giving me an upgraded version of ‘The spiel’.  You know the standard one: be at the airport early, plan ahead, yada yada yada.  In the upgraded version I was subjected to for experimental purposes, I was told that all customers for domestic flights must arrive at the airport 2-3 hours before the flight.   International flight customers must arrive 3-4 hours before the flight.  Sooo.. a flight from Eugene to LAX which will last approximately 2 hours requires me to be at the airport 2-3 hours early.  Between 2 and 3 am.  I was picking up my lunch but when that sunk in, I just stopped in mid reach for my sandwich.  Is security so tight that the Eugene airport needs 3 hours to clear security before 5am on a morning that would be weeks away from any holiday?  I don’t think so.  I think that was the closing salvo in her attempt to drive me into a frothing gibbering fury before the call was over.   She almost had me there at the end.  It was really close, but I will not be driven into a screaming rant by jaded alien auditors from the outer solar system.  Instead, I’ll do my part for galactic peace and go eat a ragnarok cookie.