Friday 28 December 2007

$3.70 per second and the ride of a lifetime

I'm packing it. I'm about to take a ride down the Salt Lake City Olympic bobsled track, the fastest bobsled track in the world, and the only one in the world that allows members of the public to ride it. My driver is Pat Brown who, bizarrely, was the coach of the Jamaican bobsled team in Calgary who was played by John Candy in the movie Cool Runnings.

I don't say anything about the movie, because word is the movie was an inaccurate portrayal of Pat, and Disney didn't give him the courtesy of consulting on the character. I really really don't want to piss him off because they have sent thousands of customers down the track, but there was one sled that flipped with members of the public inside, so I want him to be fully concentrating :)

The three paying customers, me and two randoms, pile into the four man sled and Pat slips in last. It is really cramped and I have a new found appreciation for the Olympians who push the sled and quickly pack in four guys with gigantic thighs as it rapidly accelerates down the track. We get a push from the staff and the sled picks up speed as we approach the first turn.

We soon reach our top speed of 79.1 mph (127 km/h) and pull about 4 G's through each turn. It feels like someone is smashing my head into my chest and squishing my stomach, making me feel nauseous. The G's come off as we exit each turn and seem to come back almost instantly as we hit the next turn. The whole time I'm wondering how Pat can concentrate on driving the sled since all my focus is on trying to arch my back and hunch my shoulders to fight the G forces. The sled crashes through 15 turns along the ice, feeling like we are driving over corrugations rather than super slick ice. I'm scared, but less so than bungy jumping or on amusement park rides.

Man, what a ride.

We cover the full Olympic track in 54.4 seconds; for a $200 ride that is $3.70 per second and it was worth every cent. The money goes towards cutting costs for the US bobsled, luge and skeleton athletes who use the track. The track is maintained by hand and the ice is built up using a painstaking manual process that requires constant care, and costs many thousands of dollars per day.

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