09.06.2013 - 09.06.2013 15 °C
We have been able to do some amazing things on this journey. Seen large cathedrals designed by architectural masters. Traipsed over Greek amphitheatres 3000 years old. Swam in the Mediterranean in February. Walked the hills and dales of Great Britain, following in the Romans' footsteps. Followed a Greek Orthodox procession for the town saint's day. Granted, all those were wonderful events. However, we are not yet sated and are still looking for new adventures. And today, we found one. It was unlike anything any of us had tried before, on the trip or otherwise. The adventure involved a roller coaster, a German ski hill, hand brakes, and an adolescent now less intimidated to try driving lessons. Throughout the Bavarian area, there are a number of alpine coasters and slides. Both use gravity to propel a sled or cart down a fibreglass slide or steel rails, allowing the rider to control their own speed with hand brakes. The coaster seemed marginally safer so we opted for that type of adrenalin ride.
To get to the top of the ski hill, you can either walk or take the chairlift. We told ourselves the chairlift would provide excellent views , thereby convincing ourselves to avoid the steep walk. And views it indeed provided: lush green hills, interspersed with clumps of trees; herds of cattle roaming lazily about; a group of beautiful young horses with tan-coloured bodies and white manes galloping together like a gang of adolescents; and red-roofed villages nestled among the hills. It was a beautiful ride, topped off by a walk and picnic overlooking the majestic countryside. Once we had our fill of the landscape, we made our way to the Alpsee Bergwelt alpine coaster. Ben noted it was the longest one in Germany and would take about four minutes to ride down the hill. That was so comforting. Men know just the right thing to say.
This is how it goes. Each cart allows for up to two participants. You choose to go alone as then there's more of a chance that one of you or your lineage survives to tell the tale. Your husband goes first, followed by your daughter, the child electing to be sandwiched by both parents so that at least she won't be sued when something goes terribly wrong. You place yourself in the (basically plastic) orange sled and buckle up the harness, hoping it keeps you in the sled, and try not to think about what is to keep the sled on the track. The indifferent attendant spews several sentences of German at you, presumably all safety instructions and you nod your head knowingly, hoping most of the mechanical aspects are largely intuitive. You must maintain a minimum distance of 25 meters between you and your predecessor. Knowing that the sled, and consequently you, may reach up to 40 kilometers per hour, you quickly calculate that this allows you approximately two seconds to access all your prior alpine coaster driving knowledge (exactly zilch) and effectively respond to a potential crash situation. You decide to wait longer at the top so as to increase the distance between you and your daughter. But that is not to be as it is actually the German attendant who spaces sleds, and to him, time is money. Supposedly, the gap is 25 meters but to you, it seems like only ten. So be it. You take one hand off the brake to cross yourself, remembering that that's supposed to help in situations like these. Gravity kicks in immediately, even though it is a slow start. You determine it is time to check the brakes even though you are still close enough to reach back and grab the attendant by the throat. With some surprise and not unsubstantial gratitude, you note that the brake levers do indeed seem to slow the sled. The attendant motions for you to get going and waiting patrons sigh impatiently. The first several meters take you around a gentle curve and you think this is doable after all. But, you already see your daughter speeding up ahead of you so you know the adrenalin rush is coming quickly. You think, ever so briefly, how nice her purple hair looks in the wind and wonder if she's screaming already or merely has her mouth open like that due to the g-force. Gravity has now found its friend, acceleration, and together, all three of you are off. As you fly by another corner, you wonder why they have installed cheap steel netting around the coaster rails if this is supposed to be entirely safe. And if a sled does come off the rails, can that chain mail mesh really catch it? But, there's no further chance to think of that just now, as you see they have introduced a series of rolling bumps just ahead. Manoeuvring that obstacle by clenching your teeth tighter, you move into another switchback turn. The green pasture looms up before you as you turn perpendicular to the ground. Good to know that three point harness works well. Your child is nowhere to be seen. She has either flown off the tracks or has more trouble than you at remembering to use the brakes. Your in-the-doghouse husband, who suggested this activity, is far ahead. Maybe. You don't really care. You have enough on your mind right now. Why is he always demanding your attention? You vaguely recall having read about one of these alpine coasters having a 360 degree loop engineered into it and now regret not having determined if it might be the one which you now find yourself riding. Again, there's no time to follow the thought through to its end as the switchbacks come faster and faster.
You hear a cow moo and realize it shares the same field as the coaster. You sense that it is anticipating eventual bovine rule of the earth if this is the way humans continue to behave. There is a straight stretch and you are thankful for the lull in curves. Momentarily thankful, that is, when you realize it's the curves that have been keeping the acceleration at bay. The stretch now allows you to realize the full possibility of speed. You are mesmerized, amazed you find yourself in this position, temporarily suspending belief. By then you are aware of an unusual feeling, centered around your midriff, gnawing at your insides and causing you to widen your eyes as it finally erupts. A laugh ripples out of you and you claim that right of childhood, to experience and demonstrate unabashed glee. Acceleration is now your friend too and you urge the sled on. When you see your daughter ahead, coming closer (or is it you coming closer?), you shout, "Faster, you have to go faster!" You see she is not the hold up but that it is actually the man in front of her. Who is he again? And why do they let people like that on here, who slow up the entire operation? Fortunately, there is a fast part now, one where it seems impossible to slow down and the chain of people all move at a quicker pace. The rush is fantastic, both outside and within. You have found your centre and let the current around you carry you down the mountain. At the very end, you gradually slow, and before it even comes to a full stop, you unbuckle and jump off the sled and say to your windswept partners, "When can we go again?"
For a visual idea of what it is like, I refer you to someone else's video of the ride here.