A Rita Rule: Nothing is ever as good or as bad as you expect.
Another Rita Rule: The things without expectations attached tend to surprise you.
(Disclaimer alert: Yes, I know that some experiences far exceed your expectations while others are just as terrible as you feared they would be. I recently ate vanilla ice cream that was flavorless---all ice and no cream---so there are always exceptions to any rule.)
This rule came into play during our journey to Utah. The bobsled ride was not as terrifying as I thought it would be but a whole lot rougher. I realized I would not die as I slid along a zip line. Sitting between two strangers on the flight to Denver was not awkward at all, but the fact that neither gentleman was wearing a tank top and eating an Italian sub probably helped.
And then there was the chairlift.
It looked slow, gentle and completely innocuous, almost like riding a rocking chair up and down a mountain. Only 20 to 30 feet off the ground as it followed the slope up to the summit, the lift seemed like a no-brainer; a scenic route to a mountaintop where even more spectacular sights awaited. It was all good.
Until it wasn’t.
We bought tickets to ride up Bald Mountain (elevation 9,400 feet) at Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah. A lady at the Park City Visitors’ Center said we should try a restaurant located halfway to the summit, so we planned to eat lunch and then finish our journey.
The first leg of the trip wasn’t bad, although I did panic a bit when I realized I hadn’t been sitting in the right spot when we lowered the safety bar. I wound up sitting to the right of the vertical bar that should have gone between my legs. I realized this shortly after our departure, and until we “landed” I was keenly aware that I could just slide out and plummet to the ground. It didn’t matter that sliding out would require either a loss of consciousness or temporary insanity; I worried anyway.
Needless to say, when we lowered the safety bar on the trip to the summit I was seated in exactly the right spot. I actually enjoyed the ride and took some video. Oh, look, that’s where the aerials competition happened in 2002. Mountain bikers are making their way down the trails over there. Isn’t this pretty? Isn’t this peaceful?
|Atop Bald Mountain, elevation 9,400 feet|
wearing boots instead of my sneakers: alas, the drawbacks of living out of a single piece of carry-on luggage.
The trip down. Way down.
I felt terror rising up from the primitive side of my brain when I saw that the lift disappeared as soon as it left the summit. The lift operator could be throwing hapless tourists off a cliff as far as I knew. I almost took my chances with the cyclists hurtling down the mountain. But I really wanted to reach the valley before nightfall, so I stood on the red line, sat down on the lift when it swung around behind me, pulled down the safety bar, closed my eyes and started Lamaze breathing.
|Waiting to fly: An athlete on the Olympic Park's K120 ski jump|
I started breathing a bit more normally after the initial dramatic drop, although I still kept a firm grip on the safety bar. Imagine my horror, then, when I realized that most of the riders we met going up the mountain did not have their safety bars lowered at all.
I stared, straining to see if I were mistaken. Maybe it was a trick of the light or my own heightened awareness. Surely that bar was in its proper place; they’re just not gripping it as I was. But Mr. Pettit confirmed my fears: there they were, sprawled out on the benches as if they were sipping lemonade on Granny’s front porch, without any restraints whatsoever. One lady was even leaning forward as she talked to her companion.
I don’t think I would have been more stunned if these folks had been juggling chain saws and singing “God Bless America.”
I like to come up with explanations for just about everything, and I started working on theories. The best I could come up with was this: Skipping the simple step of lowering and lifting a safety bar is all about image. If I could have read the minds of any of the bar-less crowd maybe I would have “heard” this:
“I go up and down this mountain all summer long for biking and all winter long for skiing. I belong. I don’t need a safety bar because I’ll never fall. Safety bars are for scared tourists from back East.”
Accidents are, by definition, unexpected. A friend suffered a concussion at a doctor’s office; she fainted and fell from the examining table onto the very hard floor. We buy car insurance, we wear seat belts and helmets, we pay attention when using sharp knives (at least we should). If a chairlift malfunctions and stops abruptly even generous amounts of cool factor won’t outweigh the laws of physics.
I asked a lift operator why so many folks refuse to use the safety bar. She said it was their “personal choice.” What a safe, perfectly neutral, company-approved answer. She probably mentioned me in the break room later, sharing a good story about this woman with a Southern accent who actually asked why riders don’t use the bars on the lifts. What a yokel!
A new Rita Rule: Sometimes people choose to be stupid.