Roller coasters make gravity fun

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

It's amazing how entertaining gravity can be when you plunge down a steep, steel track at 93 mph.

Our family just returned from a Memorial Day weekend at Cedar Point amusement park on the Ohio shore of Lake Erie.

It's billed as the roller coaster capital of the world. It boasts 16 roller coasters, most of them seemingly designed to be the world's fastest torture chambers.

Judging from the long lines, a ton of people find gravity a thrill.

My wife, Joni, has always loved roller coasters. So does my older daughter, Becca. But 10-year-old Bailey had been somewhat leery of the bigger coasters until this trip.

As for me, I've learned to ride a few coasters to appease my family. But up until this latest adventure, I was convinced that most people were crazy to ride such wild rides.

But a strange thing happened on this trip, our second to the amusement park within a year.

I fell in love with those speeding coasters.

It all started when my entire family, including Bailey, decided to take the plunge on the Millennium Force. The first coaster to break the 300-foot barrier, the structure stands 310 feet tall.

At that height you get a real good view of Lake Erie. You are at peace up there with the sea gulls, but only for a split second. That's because you drop some 300 feet in a matter of seconds.

Joni, who had ridden it previously, said it was the smoothest coaster ride she'd ever experienced. I naturally was skeptical.

But after riding it, I would agree. I didn't feel the usual jarring associated with other coasters. And I was thrilled to have survived.

After having survived a ride on the Millennium Force coaster, a drop of some 200 feet on another coaster seemed like a breeze.

In 2005, it was voted the best roller coaster in the world. Presumably all those votes were cast by excited riders right before they went into cardiac arrest.

But no one can deny the tourist appeal of a tall roller coaster, which -- at a price tag of $25 million -- cost less to build than the River Campus.

More than 10 million people have ridden Millennium Force since it opened six years ago.

As for Bailey, nothing's better than the Gemini, a 28-year-old wooden roller coaster that features two coaster trains racing on parallel tracks.

I lost count of how many times she rode it. She made me ride with her in the front car, something I previously had vowed never to do.

But as a dad, it's hard to resist a daughter's smiling request.

So I did it. I bravely climbed into the front car with Bailey and we rode the bumpy ride. Not only did I ride it once, I rode it several times.

The first time, I wasn't sure I'd survive. The next time, I knew I would. By my third trip at the front of this thrill ride, I knew I wouldn't need the paramedics.

I had crossed over to the dark side. I was now a roller coaster junkie.

When we weren't racing gravity, we rode the colorful horses on the Racing Derby carousel. Joni called it a carousel on steroids because these manmade horses race their riders around at 15 mph. That's pretty fast for a carousel,

As for roller coasters, I'm thrilled to find out that even at my age I can live life in the fast lane -- at least for a few minutes at a time.

Mark Bliss is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: