Before Saturday morning, the only roller coaster I had ever been on was the piddly one at Lake Winnie in North Georgia. Most enthusiasts would hardly call it a coaster, but to me, it was more thrill than I could handle and that was well more than a decade ago.
When we purchased Dollywood season passes this spring, I never intended to ride the roller coasters. I mean, why would I? They were above my risk level, the boys couldn’t ride them anyway, and I like keeping my food down. (Also, I bungee jumped 10 years ago and wound up with the worst migraine I’ve ever had.) Resigned to my “Safety First” mentality, the first time we visited the park, the boys and I sat out while Chuck rode a few on his own. It didn’t bother me one bit to watch with both feet on the ground.
However, Chuck and I had Saturday morning to ourselves, and as season pass holders, we could get into the park an hour early. With my game face on, we woke up with the sun and got to Dollywood at 8:30 a.m. with the explicit purpose of putting these old bones on a roller coaster.
Nervous knots do not even begin to explain the physical state I was in. I warned Chuck about potentially explosive diarrhea, or maybe I’d only make it through one ride and decide to sit out the rest. There were no promises. My stomach churned with anxiety. Upon seeing the parking lots signs for Dollywood, my arms and legs trembled. I began a series of nervous yawns and my teeth chattered. Good Lord, why did I agree to this?
Chuck made sure to point out all the little happy children running to the roller coasters with such enthusiasm, and here was I being so silly. Yes, well lots of people run to their eminent death when they are totally and utterly clueless.
The first ride was the Mystery Mine. I climbed the staircase at a snail’s pace, but it was to no avail – there was no line, no one waiting before us. We sat in front, I was strapped in, I lowered my head, closed my eyes, and quietly weeped inside. This is nuts. The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…
The Mystery Mine spins you every which way in all directions, including upside down with two vertical drops. The first time was miserable, I won’t lie. I saw nothing and made no sound. Sweat poured from my hands as I gripped the metal harness for dear life. For some insane reason, I was talked into riding it again. The second time I peeped an eye open twice and squealed. The third time I kept my eyes open about a quarter of the time and screamed throughout most of the ride. The fourth time I kept my eyes open about 75 percent of the time – including when we went upside down. I screamed until I couldn’t scream anymore.
The Thunderhead wasn’t nearly as scary (despite the 100-foot drop), but I also kept my eyes closed through the entire first ride on the off-chance the coaster rolled off its track or the wooden beams broke at the bend. (You never know!) By the fourth time on the Thunderhead, I was wide-eyed and screaming with excitement. Again, there were no lines and virtually no waiting, so we’d have a turn and run back to the gate to go again.
After eight runs, we rode once on the Tennessee Tornado, which is a looping, spinning, 70 mph thrill that left both of us wanting to hurl. It was a 30-second ride with five loops or something ridiculous like that. When it ended, we wobbled down the stairs and agreed we were finished.
I give myself three stars – one for guts, one for determination, and one for not having explosive diarrhea. Thank you, Chuck, for making me go. Sorry for digging my fingernails into your bones.