Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

September 1, 2013

Roller coaster memories and now

by JAMIE PARSELL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

- — I can still remember the sensation of that first roller coaster. The anticipation — the slow climb up the hill — was almost too much for a child. Fear combined with the rush of excitement created a ball of nerves in the pit of my stomach. The seconds ticked off in beat to  the sound of the coaster. Click, click, click. As a child, I closed my eyes, unwilling to look as the car picked up speed and raced back down the tracks.

I was a bit timid in those days. At first I watched from the ground. My brother Matt was more of a daredevil. Matt and dad would ride the rides; my mom and I would wait at the exit. Eventually, I worked up the courage and got in line. I swallowed the endless amount of nerves when they buckled the safety harness. I was hooked after the first rush down the hill. My first roller coaster ride was probably at Carowinds Amusement Park on the North Carolina and South Carolina border. It was an easy and quick trip, one my family took a lot in place of larger, more expensive vacations. We would spend the entire day riding the rides, from large wooden coasters to the water park’s lazy river.

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The summer is over; school is back in session. Amusement parks are quiet, except for a few families on weekend trips. But news from amusement parks like Carowinds and Dollywood in Tennessee  is picking up speed. Both parks announced expansions this summer. Carowinds is planning a $50 million addition to the current park. According to an Associated Press article, the park will add rides, upgrade food locations and make infrastructure improvements. In Tennessee, Dollywood plans a $300 million upgrade. In another AP story, Dolly Parton said plans are to build a 300-room resort, as well as new rides and more shows. Up North, Cedar Point in Ohio announced new rides. The Pipe Scream will seat passengers in a carriage that spins horizontally as it rolls on a hilly, wavy, 300-foot track.

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You either love ’em or you hate ’em. I have met avid roller coaster fans and people who hate the sound of “click, click, click” as the coaster travels up the hill. But no one has ever said they weren’t sure if they liked the sensation of rising, spinning and falling at fast speeds. In June, I went on a short mini vacation with my family. One day, I took a younger friend to Dollywood for the day. Our agenda? Spend most of the afternoon riding roller coasters. We accomplished our mission. My favorite rides at Dollywood were The Wild Eagle coaster, where riders sit on either side of the track in a winged formation on trains themed as bald eagles in flight. Thunderhead, a wooden coaster, that has 14 bridges, 22 turns and 32 crossovers. And the Mountain Slidewinder, the only ride of its kind in the U.S., is a water toboggan with high-banked turns that has riders navigating in tandem-seat rafts. I enjoyed every hair-raising second. So when I read that the two parks close to the two Virginias plan to add even more rides, I couldn’t help but smile.

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I always wondered if age would somehow lessen my love for amusement parks and roller coaster rides. The tracks clicked on the Thunderhead coaster. Click, click, click. Then the rush of excitement. This time, I kept my eyes open and felt the wind rush over my face and lift my ponytail. Nothing had changed since my teen years. I was still a roller coaster fan. And to prove it, I got back in line again and again.

Jamie Parsell is the Lifestyle editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at jparsell@bdtonline.com or on Twitter @BDTParsell.