Like the Flight of a Bird: First Roller Coaster
I had always been intimidated by heights. The smallest thought, the slightest notion of it petrified me. In earlier years, during recess, my elementary school friends would climb and perch atop the monkey bars – I didn’t dare follow them. I just stood on the mulch like a reluctant nestling, too scared to spread wings and fly.
That was why I delayed going on a roller coaster until the year I reached seventh grade. The entire musical department traveled to Busch Gardens after performing in the festival “Music in the Parks.”
I told my group of friends, who had each gone on a fair share of roller coasters themselves, that I would be trying my first one. They were ecstatic, bouncing around me like I was some newly hatched chick with much to learn about the avian world. They assured me that they would start easy, and that was how I came to be sitting in one of the frontmost cars of the Loch Ness coaster.
What I felt was neither the rapid pounding of a terrified heart, nor the fluttering of butterflies in the stomach – instead I sat there like a stone, stiff with foreboding and gripping the handles on the seat with a tenacity to rival a limpet’s, as if my life depended on it – which it probably did.
“Are you ready?” my friend called from beside me.
“No!” I replied in all truth, and we broke into a bout of nervous laughter. It stopped immediately when the cars began to move forwards.
As we rumbled out from beneath the safety of the roof, the dappled blaze of the afternoon light fell upon our faces, diluted by the trees that nestled between the winding, bright yellow rails. I, however, did not register this. My eyes were only on the track before us, graceful in its supple curves, but filled, I knew, with the wrath of metal sinuosity.
At the beginning, the coaster ran flat to the ground, but all too soon there came the telltale grinding noise of the chain latching onto the cars, and we began to ascend the first hill. It pulled us slowly to the summit, the zenith that would let all wings loose in whirls of spiraling turns and feathers. I was truly beginning to regret my decision – it seemed that I still did not possess the guts to override my fears, my primaries still soft.
I remember pestering my friend every so often with the phrase “Are we at the top yet?” Or rather, I meant: “Are we going to die yet?”
The cars paused, and the chain gave a final, ominous clink. With difficulty, I glanced ahead. I saw not a sickening drop before us, but a flat rail. Oh. My group had picked an easier coaster for me. It was rather anticlimactic, I thought sarcastically, even I could handle this-
And then the chain released.
We shot forward with a furious force that could only compare with the sky-high dive of a peregrine falcon. Trees flashed by in verdant blurs, and as we rounded the turn, the track disappeared from under the cars.
I had no idea what the drop looked like, because I had my eyes snapped shut for the entire period. In a rioting cascade, we slammed down several tens of feet, suspended by an indescribable falling sensation that had only visited me in tortuous dreams, and I was astonished to find that my imagination had replicated it perfectly. But it was no comparison to the actual experience…
My innards had been left at the top of the hill, whisked clean out in the plummet – and I was rather glad to lose them, for they might have betrayed me later.
And then it was over. The cars juddered upright and we soared across a flume passageway, water spraying in crystal sheets behind us. Soon after we hurtled through a dark tunnel, and all the while I bent as close as possible to the car, in fear that my head would bump into some overhanging wall. Then we launched back into blinding light.
True to its name, the Loch Ness coaster twisted and furled wildly like the creature it had been named after, and it wasn’t until the second occurrence in the track that I realized I’d gone through the break-necking experience of a loop-de-loop.
At last we reentered the mounting area. The cars shivered to a halt, the restraints and metal doors hissing open. I bounded out, coursing with something I can only describe as terrorized exhilaration. I both never wanted to see another roller coaster in my life, yet wanted to go on the ride once more.
I hadn’t epically “risen above and conquered my fears” like all heroes do in their grand tales. True, today the thought of heights scares me less (and now I can sit on top of the monkey bars). But I would be a fool to say that my phobia has truly gone. It prevails – but it affects me less. Before, when my fear seized me, it would take control and I wouldn’t be able to think, not even lift a single feather. Now I could lift from the branch and glide away, outracing it. Riding my first roller coaster had propelled – quite literally – that first takeoff, like the first flight of a bird.
My wings have fledged, and at long last I can touch the sky.