I may be scared of long plane flights, trying new foods, and skinny jeans, but roller coasters have never made me wince. After unofficially being adopted into my best friend’s family in 6th grade and spending almost every weekend at a theme park in Northern Virginia, I suddenly lived for the thrill of being hurled through the air in a shaky, loud, metal cart. She was the one to convince me to try my first “upside down roller coaster” and I was hooked.
Two years later, I was stoked to learn that my 8th grade class was going to take a day trip to this same theme park, the one Alyssa and I could navigate blindfolded. A lot of the girls in our class were scared of roller coasters and had plans to spend the day eating funnel cakes and playing the impossible-to-win carnival games. Unlike them, I was excited to spend 6 hours strapped into a ride (hopefully next to the class heart throb) where I would happily scream my lungs out and have my brain rattled by as many roller coasters as possible.
Very early in the day, my adrenaline junkie plans were crushed after a traumatic ride on “The Anaconda.” I slid into the sticky leather seat next to my friend Kristin. We pulled down our safety harnesses, giggled in excitement, and waited to for liftoff.
Click, click, click, click- the train slowly made it’s way up the 145 foot ramp. I looked at Kristin who was visibly nervous and reassured her that this was the worst part, the anticipation and climbing the hill was the worst. I wish I had been right.
When we were nearing the top of the hill, I instinctively gripped my safety harness handlebars tighter and pulled it in closer to me, I wanted to feel nice and secure in the cart. With a nauseating click the safety harness released and fell at least a foot away from my chest. The only thing that was keeping the harness from lifting completely was a little plastic buckle, the same type of thing that holds a fanny pack together.
It took me a minute to grasp what was happening. Kristin’s eyes bulged and she said “stop it!” as if I had intentionally released my safety harness just to freak her out. I pumped the harness over and over again, hoping the lock would “catch” and I would once again be fully strapped into the cart that was getting ready to drop 145 feet, reach 50 mph, and spiral 8 times. No such luck.
I watched the top of the hill approach and asked Kristin if I should get off, if I should jump out of my seat and walk the emergency stairs back down to the bottom? We both realized that there wasn’t enough time for me to squirm out of my seat safely before the drop, so we opted for plan B. Kristin reached out as far as she could to try and push down my harness, however her nice and tight harness prevented her from helping too much. I pulled back as hard as I could, but the spring loaded safety device was determined to stay as far away from my body as possible. I started sobbing, and so did she.
As we slowly inched over the peak of the hill, we both let out blood curdling screams. Our cries were different from the other excited squeals on the coaster, ours were full of real desperation and terror. The type of scream that happens when you think you (or your friend sitting next to you) are about to die. I had no idea how I was going to make it through the near 2-minute ride unfastened and halfway hanging out of my seat.
That ride was the longest 2 minutes of my life. Normally the excitement of roller coasters is in knowing that something dangerous could potentially happen, but more than likely won’t. That day? I was in real danger and could have very easily been hurt. My body flung around the cart and slipped way further out than I was comfortable with, but Kristin and I managed to keep me contained throughout the ride. Thankfully, the only things hurt that day were my vocal chords from screaming, my ears from Kristin’s screaming, and a little bit of my psyche. I may or may not have trust issues with “safety devices” to this day.
As the roller coaster screeched back into the loading dock I continued to sob, but now because of relief. With wobbly legs, a hoarse voice, and a mascara stained face, I found one of the coaster operators to tell him what had happened and to not let anybody sit in the seat I had just been in.
I was traumatized and knew that I would not be riding another coaster that day. I didn’t let it prevent me from riding coasters in the future, but I will never forget the feeling of literally holding on for dear life.