“Sometimes there’s a man… I won’t say a hero, ’cause, what’s a hero? But sometimes, there’s a man . . . .. Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place.”
I am not that man.
As I moved resignedly toward the tumblin’ town of Tumbleweed, that sad fact was once again made painfully apparent. My time and place does not involve thrills. Although I’ve never been especially frightened by regular thunder, I have more than my fair share of reservations regarding Big Thunder, and not just of the FastPass+ persuasion. Coffee and creamed-colored crags cast troubled shadows at my feet as we inched closer; it was very clear to me I was in the wrong place. My wife, unfortunately, was not persuaded.
I’ve heard the claim before. Upon our return from a quick Christmastime visit to the Magic Kingdom with my immediate family, my wife and my brother both suggested that Big Thunder Mountain Railroad might actually be an attraction I would enjoy, as it lacked the typical large drops that so twist my stomach in knots—as well as not’s, as in “I’m not going on another of these rides, I’m not going to eat again, I’m not feeling especially manly . . .”, and so on. At this point, my faith in other people’s assessment of whether or not I will enjoy/survive unscathed any thrill ride has been shaken, not to mention roughed-up and made queasy and more than a little cranky.
Non-chickens just don’t understand how unthrilled we chickens are of thrills, and how little it takes to cause them—at least the kinds of thrills that result from too much gravitational exhilaration. I prefer to refer to this sensation as feeling butterflied or enqueasened, or simply as being made cranky.
Shortly after that conversation with my family, a foolish, yet relatively harmless idea crossed my mind. I should experience all of these so-called “mild” thrill rides to disabuse non-chickens of the notion that what they find mild is a universal sensation, or rather, non-sensation. That would show them. Of course, what it would show them would probably be about as interesting as showing someone the Studio Backlot Tour, only with less crying. I quickly dismissed the thought, grateful I had no reason to pursue such a foolish quest, and confident I never would. I laughed at the notion.
Ah laughter, I think I miss you most of all.
As with the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, we arrived early in the day and with the addition of our FastPass+ reservations, I had no time to stop and enjoy the interactive queue or contemplate the level of detail in every nook and cranny. From what I could tell, none of the crannies were quite large enough to hide in anyway. I had no time to check the nooks. As usual, the theming was impressive; I really felt like I was in what was once an old-timey mining company, granted one established in the middle of a theme park.
Briefly, I wondered if there were some way to suspend my admittedly self-inflicted obligation to complete the so-called “thrill ride challenge” at Walt Disney World. The question was especially irksome, considering it was I who so-called it. If I never rode another thrill ride again—even a mild one—who would know? Well, besides my wife. Trust me, she’s not telling anyone—first of all, it’s very difficult to work my thrill ride chickenness into polite conversation, and secondly, she’s much too nice to humiliate me in public. In all honesty, I don’t the need help.
We loaded our train, and soon it was off. Making our way up a small incline, we were treated to a lovely cavern of stalagmites and stalactites and I thought for a moment of how nice it would be to go spelunking, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the lap belt off. I listened for the sound of happy little miners singing a happy little tune, but instead, all I heard was the voice inside my head making a big to-do about shaking its own, albeit disembodied head. Outside, there was only the clickety-clack of the train inching ever upward, and an eerie silence, which is my least favorite kind. If experience is any indicator, the kind of silence I’m most comfortable with is awkward.
We dropped and to my surprise, the descent was slow and measured. Gone, however, was the silky smooth glide of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train tracks, the happy little dwarfs, and my posterior’s sense of well-being. In their place, the rickety, clickety-clackety, shake-you-uppity twists and breaks of Big Thunder’s railroad. Apparently, the Mining Company of the Magic Kingdom learned a thing or two in track design between their first operation and their most recent. Of course, both mines are relatively small, which makes me wonder why they bothered with trains in the first place. Couldn’t they have just walked back to headquarters? Walking I can do all day. I could do that in my sleep. Walking, that’s where I’m a viking.
Despite the differences between this and the Mine Train, I had a disturbing sense of deja vu, less the singing of course. I started to yell “heigh-ho,” but was quickly silenced by the second incline quickly approaching. I think somewhere along the way, we must have passed Tumbleweed, but I was so distracted by my body’s attempt to occupy more than one point at the same time, I hardly noticed. We reached the summit, and I caught a glimpse of the craggy red-brown spires of Big Thunder Mountain and thoughts of the Grand Canyon failed to come to mind, along with many other thoughts, since the voice in my head had now taken to clucking its disembodied tongue with a disdainful sanctimony. We reached the peak and rushed down the other side almost as quickly as the honey oozes down the wall in Winnie-the-Pooh’s infamous queue, and with just as much shudder-inducement.
Once again, we were subjected not so much to gravitational contempt, as railroadal bumpery. The worst and most memorable parts of the experience were the deceptively-named “bunny hops,” which are small and seemed to multiply like rabbits, but weren’t nearly as furry or gentle. Of course, I’ve fortunately never run over one in a train or otherwise, so I can’t say for sure, but I have my doubts. No sooner had we jumped up we were immediately yanked down and dropped what felt like inches. To my stomach, it felt as if we’d jumped and fallen twice as far. The bunny hops definitely pulled the rug out from under my stomach, but they also really tied the ride together. As we shook from side to side and up and down, I resisted the impulse to flail about like a marmot in a bath of warm, soapy water.
Then we entered another cave and approached the third spire. There had to be a third spire. Why did there have to be a third spire? My mind raced with all manner of dreaded expectation, once again certain they were saving the best/worst drop for last. My stomach fluttered for a second, then decided not to speak to me the rest of the day. A couple of smart-alec mountain goats looked down upon us from the smug security of their cliffside and I began to plot my revenge. Like the other drops, however, it appeared more intimidating than it actually was. Suddenly, I was filled with something akin to cautious hopefulness, even as we were unceremoniously tossed and bumped and shaken.
The Big Thunder experience was an odd mix of merry-go-round and jump castle. Any number of bad birthday parties with legions of screaming children came to mind, but were quickly dislodged by a sudden, sharp turn or bunny hop. The screaming child, however, was never far away. Fortunately in these situations, he usually just curls up in a ball and waits for everything to be over with.
As brief as the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was, this one felt ten times longer, but not in the way I expected. For the first time in a roller-coastery ride, I wasn’t filled with visions of death and calamity—I never actually thought/worried that the car was going to free itself from its railing home and sail, carefree and briefly into the thick, Florida air. That is in itself odd, as the coaster is supposed to give riders the feel of a train on a rickety track on the verge of collapse. I never got that. I probably never got to the point of enjoying myself long enough to do so. Instead, it simply felt like a movie that had gone on just a few minutes too long—granted a movie where the guy behind you is constantly kicking your seat.
As we departed from underneath the shadow of Big Thunder’s formerly ominous peaks, I took comfort in knowing that although bumped and shaken, rattled and nearly made cranky, my stomach and I survived, unenqueasened. I could take comfort knowing that despite its best attempt to thrill me, this dude abides.