I recently read about a roller coaster accident at Alton Towers amusement park in the UK. Apparently, one carriage on The Smiler ride crashed into a second, empty car. Several passengers on the moving car were injured, one critically. This BBC link details the full story.
I love roller coasters. Back in 1999, I received the computer game Roller Coaster Tycoon and spent countless hours designing theme parks of my dreams. There isn’t a coaster in the world that I won’t ride; I raised a few eyebrows after telling friends that I rode every coaster at Happy Valley, a Disney-esque amusement park in Beijing (wiki site here). China does not have a great reputation for quality control, but I survived the experience without even a trace of whiplash, and would rank Happy Valley as one of my favorite amusement parks anywhere. Far scarier was Rutschebanen coaster at Tivoli Gardens, in Copenhagen. On this 101-year-old wooden coaster, the operator responsible for braking is a passenger on the ride!
Accidents such as the one at Alton Towers are always unfortunate, as they happen during moments of recreation. Roller coasters are supposed to be safe, despite their dangerous outward appearance. And – somewhat incredibly to some, though to me part of the thrill – the taller they rise, the more inversions they have, the more people love them.
I’ll stop frothing over roller coasters, as there’s more than enough material on the subject for an entire blog entry by Yours Truly (perhaps one day, Loyal Reader). But roller coasters are just one type of adrenaline activity. I got to thinking about some of my other crazy pursuits, both close to home and further afield.
Have you ever zip-lined? Soaring above – or through – the trees by a secure harness is an absolute delight – and nowhere near as scary as I first thought it would be. I’ve had the opportunity to zip-line several times – first in Guatemala, in 2003, and as recently as last fall, at a way-cool haunted forest in Maryland – and in pitch black darkness, to boot!
Would you ever bungee jump? I checked this off my “bucket list” before I even had a bucket list. As a teenager, I enjoyed several summer trips to that Midwestern family play place, Wisconsin Dells. We had family there, and it was during one of these trips to visit them that I took my first bungee jump. My first jump was merely a feet-first, around-the-waist bungee and not a head-first, around-the-ankle bungee, but it was a jump from a high platform nonetheless.
Speaking of bucket lists, during my days of online dating (an extreme sport in itself) it seemed that 9/10 profiles mentioned skydiving as a bucket list wish item. Although skydiving was never officially on my list of things to do before I died, I did it anyway – to celebrate the last day of the full month that I spent in New Zealand in 2009. I was in Taupo, a backpacker town on the shores of the North Island’s biggest lake, and flying to Auckland that afternoon for my connecting flight back to Los Angeles. First things first, I boarded a Cessna along with four other newbies, strapped myself to a tandem instructor with over 1,500 jumps to his name, and threw myself out from the plane approximately 15,000 feet above Lake Taupo itself!
I’m still here to tell the tale, and (presumably) so is my instructor.
And then there are adrenaline sports that involve water. SCUBA diving, white water rafting, parasailing, the list is endless. Have you tried any of these aquatic adventure activities? In my opinion, these pursuits are more rife with danger than the land/air activities described in earlier paragraphs. Water, after all, can never be truly tamed, and is the wildest of the Earth’s four elements. Still…with forethought, patience, and reasonable safety precautions, you can surf, or rappel from waterfalls, or cliff jump into the Adriatic with minimal chance at harm. But do respect the ocean – even though (or perhaps because) it doesn’t respect you in return.
I know that accidents happen, but I also know that they are few and far between – fewer and farther between than most naysayers would have you believe. I suppose that the injured riders of The Smiler coaster at Alton Park might disagree, but let’s think about it: A roller coaster carriage holds 20 riders. The ride lasts 90 seconds, and runs 45x/hour for 12 hours/day during a four-month summer season. By my math, that’s 860,000 riders! Those numbers are just educated guesses on my part, but if four injuries over the lifespan of a popular thrill ride are as bad as it gets, then I’d say it’s a safe ride. Likewise with zip-lining, bungee jumping, and skydiving. My tandem instructor in New Zealand told me that during busy days he may jump eight times/day. He also pointed to a colleague on the plane with 18,000 jumps on his record.
What adrenaline hobbies and adventures have you taken on? Have you ever felt unsafe while doing these things?