Sky high

August 20, 2002|by Jessica Hanlin

Elizabeth slowly climbs the hill, staring at the ever- approaching summit. As she reaches the peak, she has but a moment to look down before she is dragged over the edge into a free-fall. Her mouth seems almost full with her stomach.

Sound like a twisted horror story, or an adventure packed action thriller? Or perhaps a roller coaster ride?

Most of us have experienced the utter terror and excitement of a high-speed thrill ride.

"I'm always terrified until I reach that first hill, but then I love it and that whole adrenaline feeling," says 16-year-old Cherie.

Most people describe each ride as scary and intense at first, but quickly they relax enough to fall in love with the twists and drops.

But where did these crazy, twisty-turvy inventions come from in the first place? Well, some believe inspiration for these rides may have originated as far back as the 1500s, when huge ice slides in St. Petersburg had drops up to 70 feet.


However, it wasn't until 1884 when the first true roller coaster, in all its glory, made its debut in America in the form of the Switchback Gravity Pleasure Railway at Coney Island. And even then, it wasn't until 1959 when Disney Land opened in California, that America had its first theme park. That's pretty incredible, considering that today, most youths have been to at least one amusement park, whether it's through school field trips, or family vacations. Roller coasters are everywhere!

So what makes roller coasters just so darn exciting? Of course it depends on a person's own opinions, but most people love the rides for the fast speeds, the quick turns, and the awesome drops that make you feel weightless.

But how is this all possible? From the moment you are released at the top of the first hill until brakes are applied at the end, you are moving solely under the principle of inertia.

So the higher the first hill is, the more energy the car will have built up, and therefore, the faster the coaster will go. This is why nose-bleed heights lead to break-neck speeds.

Quickie Quiz: What looks like a U, has twisted vertical towers, and is unlike any other coaster in the world?

Answer: Cedar Point's new Wicked Twister. Riders are propelled up the 210-foot towers five times at different speeds - a guarantee for quite an experience.

For a new attraction a little closer to home, check out Hershey Park's new Roller Soaker. This is the Northeast's first interactive coaster, where the riders are able to dump water on people waiting in line. But bystanders are not left defenseless. While waiting in line, you are able to shoot water guns at people on the ride.

If you're a roller coaster afficianado, you've come a long way from riding your first roller coaster, which many claim to have been such rides as Scooby Doo (Kings Dominion) and Comet (Hershey Park).

While exciting in their own right, they cannot compete with some of the new favorites, like Millennium Force (Cedar Point) and Volcano (Kings Dominion). Some day, even those rides may make you yawn. Remember though, the sky is the limit, and maybe one day a roller coaster will reach it.

Jessica Hanlin will be a junior at North Hagerstown High School this fall. She can be reached by e-mail:

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