October 1, 2006–We woke up to a gorgeous day with two things on the agenda: a hike and the Olympic Park. We stopped by White Pine Touring and snagged a trail map, then headed to the Moose Hollow trailhead.
It took some hunting to find. One of the locals ended up pointing us in the right direction–we wound up in a gated community called, appropriately enough, “Moose Hollow”. We parked near the un-marked singletrack we assumed was the trail and took off, eventually taking a switchback trail (and multiple others) that seemed to go nowhere but up. The thin air and my relatively sedentary lifestyle of late were taking their toll, but we plodded on. There’s just something about being on a trail–once I’m on it, I want to see the end of it. We eventually made the top of the ridge and would have continued on but a group of hikers told us there were men with guns up ahead–apparently we were entering a hunting area. Not wanting to get shot on our first day out, we turned tail and headed back down the mountain.
Olympic Park was awesome. We spent much longer there than I would have expected. The park consists of a museum, several ski jumps, the bobsled/skeleton/luge track, two zip lines, and an alpine slide. The museum and the rides are priced individually, or you can go for the package deal ($80 for all rides, including the bobsled) which is what we did.
First up was the small zip line. The small zip line starts on a rocky bluff near the ski jump. For me the chair lift was the scariest part. Hey, there is no restraint of any kind! All I had to do was scootch forward and I’d plummet to my death on the rocks below! But I didn’t scootch so I didn’t plummet. At the top, they strap you into a chair-like harness, flip open a gate, and away you go.
Next up was the alpine slide. It’s essentially like a metal water slide you ride down on a sled with wheels. I asked the guy at the top if braking was really necessary–there were signs that claimed it was vital–and he said, “Nah. Not really.” I figured that bit of advice would negate any waiver-of-liability foolishness I had signed so I was ready to set a new alpine slide speed record. The problem was that bit of info didn’t make it to Christy before she began her descent. I would later find out she braked most of the way and even stopped to take pictures. That would explain why I met up with the back of her sled just as the track was getting good. So much for getting my picture on the wall next to my name and my never-to-be-beaten track record.
Then we hit the big zip line. It follows the K120 nordic ski jump from top-to-bottom. That ski jump is enormous. It’s much more impressive in person than on TV. The track (And it literally is a track–the skis go into runners that run the length of the track) follows the contour of the hill and then suddenly gives way to a steep drop-off. From the top of the track you can’t see the landing zone. The zip gives you a great view of the jump. Although you get some serious speed, there really is no sensation of how fast you’re moving. Until the end. At the end your harness smacks into a series of stoppers. On my run I made a serious blunder which quickly identified me to the teenagers working the landing zone as a hopeless zip line newbie. I jumped out of the seat-like harness without undoing my crotch strap. As soon as my weight left the harness, the zip line cable pulled straight up leaving me standing on my tiptoes begging for sweet relief. The Olympic Park employee casually walked over to my aid like she probably does ten times a day for the idiots that don’t follow simple directions, pulled down on the cable with some sort of boat hook-looking device seemingly made just for that purpose, giving me enough slack to free the crotch strap. Christy was too busy wiping away tears of laughter to render assistance.
Finally, we headed to the top of the bobsled track for the event Christy and I were looking forward to all morning–a ride in a “professionally-piloted” bobsled.
After signing our life away, watching a video, and getting fitted for helmets we were briefed by the track manager. We were about to drop 400 vertical feet in about a minute, go through 15 turns, and pull between 4 and 6 G’s. Our instructions were to keep our heads still, to form a triangle by thrusting our arms out against the side of the sled, and to shrug our shoulders to support the weight of our heads, which, we were told, would go from feeling like they weighed 8 lbs to more than 30 lbs in the turns.
One-by-one, my wife, the pilot, myself, and a British tourist were jammed into the sled. They bolted shut a roll cage (“If you flip over, we’ll come get you so don’t panic.”) and pushed us off. It’s unbelievable how quickly you build up speed. When we hit the first turn, my head was slammed downward as if someone had dropped a 40 lb. bag of dog food on it. After that, everything was pretty much a blur. I tried to make the recommended triangle. I tried to shrug my shoulders. Mostly, I wondered if my bipedal days were over as every bone-jarring bump and crushing G force took its toll on my neck and back.
Our run was relatively poor. I think we hit 67 mph. 70 is a good run without ice. When they ice the track and switch from wheeled sleds to blades, 85 mph is more the norm. In the back of the truck on the ride back to the top of the run I noticed for the first time the build of our bobsled pilot. On a typical day, he’ll make the run 10 times and he does it all year. Lucky for him he has no neck. His head probably didn’t move for the entire run. Mine must have looked like a faulty bobblehead doll. It would be two days before I regained full mobility. Christy was in the same shape. But both of us agreed we were glad we did it.