FEAR RATING: 9
It has to be said that some of the challenges I have faced during this project have been perhaps a little niche. Many people might have struggled to understand why on earth I was scared of parking in a multi-storey car park or riding a horse, for example. Fair enough. I had my reasons but I see that for the majority they are standard, everyday activities. Surely though most people can see how going on a rollercoaster is a fear-inducing activity – not just for me but also for a huge proportion of the human race. Their very purpose is to thrill and terrify. Theme parks and their rides tend to be constructed around a narrative of dread. I’m allowed to be scared. In fact I’m meant to be.
My specific apprehensions about rollercoasters are multiple and follow thusly:
- Heights – as mentioned in previous posts (climbing and abseiling) I am not a fan of these. Fear of heights is an unavoidable phobia for 1/6 of the population and stems from survival instincts. No need for further explanation I would suggest.
- Being upside-down – feet go on the ground. Everybody knows this. We are designed to be upright. My dislike of upside-down is also the reason I have never learned to cartwheel.
- Being enclosed in one spot – the big metal restraints on rollercoasters make me feel claustrophobic. Although their massiveness is reassuring I find the not-being-able-to-get-out element horrible.
- Speed – as you may remember from my motorway fear facing, I am not built for speed. I am built for sitting down and having a cup of tea. The sensation of going fast brings me no pleasure.
- Adrenalin – not sure I’ve touched on this but I absolutely hate the feeling of adrenalin. The way it surges uncontrollably through the body and weakens the joints, sending the heart into a mad frenzy. Not for me. I’d rather have a bubble bath.
I decided on Thorpe Park as friends assured me that it was ‘a good one’ (what ever that means). After a week in Brighton, my boyfriend Duncan pointed out that we were actually quite near Thorpe Park and could get it ticked off on the way back to Bristol. As much as I didn’t want to go, it seemed too convenient not to, so we booked our tickets online (this saves you a big chunk of money if you do it in advance) and read some of the ridiculous descriptions of the rides we would be able to choose from. Just looking at the pictures was enough to make me feel queasy. But the money was spent so there was no going back.
On the day of the trip the sky was blue, the sun was shining and there was a feeling of intense doom in the pit of my stomach. We got out of the car and the sound of distant screams filled my ears. I turned round and there they were; great looping, metal, towering tracks of terror. Duncan looked like a child at Christmas. Meanwhile I was clinging to the car. But as I said, the sun was shining, and Duncan’s excitement was hard to ignore and even a little contagious. We skipped across the car park and through the gates. People all around us were smiling and chattering excitedly about which ride they were going to start with. For those of you who haven’t been, the entrance to Thorpe Park is deceptively lovely. You cross a bridge over a beautiful lake with swans gliding gracefully past. My spirits were high.
Our chosen starting point was Nemesis Inferno (they give these things the best names). From my research it seemed to be the least high off the ground so that was a plus. However it’s described on the website as a “Mad inverted Hell ride into the fiery pit of a volcano!” Hmm. The queue time was long so we got a drink (beer for me) and began the wait. The waiting area was predominantly covered by large, leafy trees. There was the occasional gap where we were treated to a view of screaming people, strapped to a metal track, hurtling through the sky. Dramatic music boomed out of the bushes. It was nice. Surprisingly though I didn’t feel that bad. I had the occasional pang of horror at what I was about to do but it came and went.
Finally we reached the front of the queue. Whimpering pathetically, I made my way to the seat. The huge padded ‘seatbelts’ were lowered and clamped into place. Attendants whizzed along the line, checking them far too speedily for my liking. Duncan looked at me and squeezed my hand, which was already clinging with all its strength to the handle of my seat. I proclaimed that I didn’t want to do it. But it was too late now. A recorded message on a loud speaker was reminding us to brace at all times. The carriage crept forward. Torturously slowly it began to ascend a steep incline and I just knew that we’d be held in suspense for a few seconds before being thrown down the other side. I was right. Then at astonishingly high speed came disorientating twists, sharp bends that flung my body hard against the side of the seat, dips that made my stomach lurch and of course the loops. Upside down, legs waving wildly above me (Nemesis is a dangly leg rollercoaster) I wailed in distress as everyone around me seemed to be screaming with pleasure. Thankfully the whole thing was over pretty quickly and we were released from our shackles. I staggered to the exit and had to lean against the fence. My body was trembling with adrenalin, my heart raced and my head spun. But then came a different rush – a rush of pride and satisfaction. I had done it! And I didn’t close my eyes once. We danced happily to the booth where the photos were displayed and I proudly purchased one of the worst pictures ever taken of me. My eyes are open. Both of them. Just.
After the lazy river rapids (more my style), lunch and more beer, I found myself in another rollercoaster queue. This time it was for Swarm. The premise of Swarm is something to do with an air disaster. The area surrounding the ride is full of crash debris, upturned ambulances, fire engines emitting explosions of fire rather than water and giant TV screens that show an on-going news report about the shocking and mysterious event. It is as awful as it sounds. While cleverly immersive and perhaps exciting to others, these features served only to ramp up my anxiety. I felt very sick and eventually lost the ability to speak in sentences. We had a full, unrestricted view of the rollercoaster, which was much much higher than Nemesis. And did I mention that it was ‘winged’? If you don’t know what this means, take a look at the picture. Half way along, I announced that I was happy to wait with Duncan but I wouldn’t be going on the ride. I was a bit disappointed with myself but I just couldn’t face it. But when we reached the bag deposit I found myself checking in my rucksack and continuing on to the ride. Duncan said reassuring things to me, none of which I can remember except that he told me I could always close my eyes if I wanted. Suddenly we were being buckled in. A lady called Hazel (I remember looking at her badge) checked our seats and I looked desperately into her eyes and asked if it was really safe. “Totally.” She replied. She double-checked I was secure before moving on. As we began to edge forwards I squeezed my eyes tightly shut and asked Duncan when it would all be over. He replied that it would be less than a minute. We’ll see about that I thought to myself and as we hurtled down the practically vertical track I began to count out loud. Certain numbers received more emphasis in accordance with the level of terror. 27 was particularly horrific I think. I opened my eyes at one point to find myself side ways, looking down at the tops of trees which seemed impossibly far below me. Eyes firmly shut again I continued to count and at 39 we slowed to a stop.
Once off the ride I laughed hysterically for a solid 10 minutes or so. My relief at it being over was so intense that I felt completely overcome with joy. I’m not sure if this is the reaction you’re meant to get from rollercoasters.
Before the day was over I also managed to endure Colossus, which boasts “a massive ten exhilarating inversions including a vertical loop, cobra roll, double corkscrew and the UK’s only quadruple barrel roll!”. It was as horrendous as you might imagine and my eyes were sealed for the full 49 seconds (I counted again).
Walking to the car park over the bridge and the lake, I looked back at the menacing silhouettes of the rollercoasters I had faced. I couldn’t quite believe that I had done it. And not only done it the intended once, but actually been on three different rollercoasters. Did I enjoy it? I wouldn’t quite go that far but I had a brilliant day and the sense of achievement was as high as the peak of Colossus.