I’ve never been a thrill-seeker, but I recall only mild apprehension back in the '70's when I rode “Thunder Road,” the biggest roller coaster at Carowinds theme park. Maybe I was more focused on impressing my then-boyfriend and current husband.
I’m not sure when I started seeing myself as a scared little hen. (I’d like to say “chick,” but let’s not kid ourselves.) I can remember clearly the times when I let fear take the wheel, such as when I didn’t join my husband and sons as they climbed up the side of a pyramid at Chichen Itza in Mexico. (They’ve banned that activity now; we went there 15 years too soon, darn it.)
A few years ago I decided that I didn’t have to do everything that scares me---you won’t find me bungee jumping off the New River Gorge Bridge, for example---but my self-image insisted that I dash out of my comfort zone occasionally.
When Mr. Pettit and I started planning our trip to Utah he made it clear early on that he wished to visit the Utah Olympic Park and ride down the Olympic bobsled run. Another opportunity to impersonate a fearless woman had presented itself.
Let the apprehension begin.
I visited the Olympic Park website and read reviews on Trip Advisor. I found a video made by a bobsledder on YouTube. None of this research gave me happy feelings about this activity. The ride was called “aggressive” even by the park. One reviewer said bobsledding left her bruised and injured her husband’s back.
The big day finally came and the orientation at the Olympic Park’s visitor center did nothing to allay my fears. You know the drill: “Don’t take this ride if you’ve ever had back trouble, surgery, headaches, cavities or oily skin.” Then, “By signing this form you forever release the Utah Olympic Park from all responsibility.” Sorry, boys, you’re out of luck if Papa and I don’t make it.
As we rode the bus to the top of the run one thing kept me from backing out: The regret I knew I’d have to live with if I did.
We received further instructions from an instructor once we arrived. The sled can hold four people. The driver, a professional, sits in front in the #1 position. The #2 slot behind him provides the “least aggressive” ride, but that person must take care not to smack the driver in the head with his or her helmet. The #3 slot provides a more “aggressive” ride, with the #4 position providing the most intense experience. Mr. Pettit took the #4 slot without hesitation. I worried that I’d wind up knocking the driver unconscious if I chose the #2 slot, so I went with #3.
We were told to sit up straight and keep our shoulders hunched up to our ears to keep our heads from wobbling. Since the #2 position was empty I could stretch my legs out or sit “criss-cross applesauce” as they say in kindergarten. The most important thing was that I refrain from kicking the driver in the kidneys. I’m no expert but I knew kicking the driver would be a bad thing.
Mr. Pettit had given me a briefing beforehand about how to handle G forces, since we were told we’d experience 2 to 3 G’s as we rounded the curves on the run. Stay conscious by tensing up your body starting at your feet and moving up to your head. I didn’t recall that advice as we rounded the first curve, but tension was not a problem.
My legs were being pulled from the criss-cross position as I was pushed back into Mr. Pettit. I started giving myself orders: “Sit up! Hunch your shoulders! Bring in your legs! Bring in your legs---did you hear me? Don’t kick the driver!” Gravity pushed and pulled me in every curve. My husband told me later that he watched me closely for signs of unconsciousness as we rounded the curve---a helmeted head dropping to the side, I presume---but saw none. Like I said, I am a piece of iron.
One surprise about the bobsled run was its tooth-drilling nature. When I’ve watched the bobsled competitions in the Olympic Games or seen pictures online it looked very smooth, like a very long, very fast water slide. I didn’t consider the wheels-on-dry-concrete factor.
Imagine this: Borrow a skateboard from the kid who lives next door and attach an engine to it. Sit down on the skateboard and take a trip down your nearest interstate. Maintain a speed of about 70 miles per hour. Sorry, I don’t know how to duplicate the turns.
Oh, about those bruises: I wound up with a dark bruise about 2” in diameter on each of my upper arms, presumably from banging back and forth against the sides of the sled during our minute-long descent down the mountain. I didn’t even notice them until hours later.
Sometimes leaving your comfort zone involves getting knocked around a bit. But that’s a small price to pay for pride.