FahrenheitImage by buschap via FlickrEvery now and again, you find yourself doing something that, when considered in the context of other parts of your life, can reveal interesting things about yourself or people in general.  I drew one such parallel after spending a weekend with my family hurtling through the air at Hershey Park.

For those of you who have never been there, it has 11 roller coasters – and if you’re not into them, well, you’re going to be standing around a lot waiting for your kids to come back saying “that was great”, “let’s do it again”, or something about a snack.  I’ve done lots of things that some would consider daring – including rock and ice climbing, and flying in a glider, sea kayaking, whitewater rafting… but I’ve just never been one for rides that are supposed to give you near-death experiences, because frankly, I don’t generally like feeling that close to “the edge”.

Since my wife and kids were so gleeful following each of their wild rides – especially Farenheight (pictured above) and Storm Runner, with their loops, corkscrews, and in the case of the latter, acceleration from 0 to 70 in 2 seconds – I was compelled to understand their sense of the differences from one ride to another – and how each impacted their senses.

In the back of my mind, I think I was secretly trying to ascertain which of the elements I could personally have handled – given that each person has a different sense of what “scary” is, and you cannot just rely on someone saying “it wasn’t so bad” or “you could handle that”.  Key factors which weigh differently by individual include: height, speed, drops (number, length, steepness), banks, roughness, re-direction and mis-direction… (among surely many more categorizations of the coaster-phile).

On the “handle-it” scale, I had already managed Lightning Racer, Wildcat, and Comet, and had dipped my toe into the “beyond” with SuperDooperLooper (and a few others) – and their death defying drops and loops.  To “push my research”, I finally succumbed to the pleas of my family, and (somehow) joined them on Great Bear, which added “hanging from the rail”, and “corkscrews” to my repertoire.

At the end of Great Bear though – which, by the way, I survived – I realized that I had only managed to do so by staring at a bolt – which attached the seat in front of me to the chassis holding the seats on the rails, from which we were hanging.below – for the entire ride.  A friend commented days later that the only way to do a ride like that is to give yourself over to the ride.  I fear (among obvious other things) that I did not do this.  While I can say to my 10-year-old, who finally stopped calling me a sissy,  that “I did it”, I cannot say that I experienced all it had to offer – but I survived.

The parallel I alluded to above is not related to the two tracks on each coaster – but to life in general – work, activities, people, relationships…  If you give yourself over to these experiences, you can get out of them all they have to offer, and help others do the same.   This too reminds me of the same parallel that went on in the back of my mind following a whitewater kayaking trip in the winter of 1978-79, during which a professor said to me “we need to make sure we’re moving faster than the water if we have any intentions about steering”.

If you hang on, fixing your gaze on a bolt to simply survive, you’re going to get tossed around and may not enjoy the “ride”.  In the case of the Great Bear, the truth is that the ride may never get another chance to show me its stuff.

Afterthoughts: How does this relate to some of the other things I’ve written about here?  On one hand, it isn’t supposed to.  On the other hand, it informally dives into the formalization of experience – the elements of things – in this case, the taxonomy of thrill.  I appear to have stumbled into an area known as thrill research – but I think I may leave well enough alone.

Coinage du jour: “parallel-0-gram” – a message in which a comparison or parallel is drawn or relayed.

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