In most cases, when I told my friends and family that I’d be among the first to ride Carowinds’ new Fury 325 roller coaster, I’d get a lot of jealous looks.
“Yeah, this thing is going to be amazing,” I told them, cracking my knuckles and soaking up the envy. “The initial drop is 30 stories at an 81-degree angle, and the top speed is almost 100 mph.”
Then I’d usually make some tired joke about how mine was a tough job but somebody had to do it.
On Wednesday morning, though, as I waited with a couple hundred others to board one of the three trains, I realized this was not like being among the first to get the new iPhone, or the first to eat at that hot new sushi restaurant.
This was more like being the first to – oh, I don’t know – to try a new type of parachute.
“During some of the initial tests, they put water dummies in the seats and had them ride the ride,” a guy who does public relations for Carowinds told me. I didn’t get a chance to ask him how the dummies fared, but after that, I couldn’t shake the image of a mannequin falling 325 feet and then exploding into a horrific display of spray on the concrete below.
At least, that was until we got a little closer to our turn on the ride, when a group that had just completed the 3 minute, 25 second circuit was stuck in its seats for several minutes before being freed from their restraints. (What you don’t want to see when you are about to get a ride on a very new/very scary roller coaster is four people standing inside the control booth pushing buttons, talking on two-way radios and scratching their heads.)
After that, I couldn’t shake the vision of a malfunction causing me to hurtle through the mild spring air at 95 mph in one direction as the train dove in another.
To be fair, this is Carowinds, which is owned by Cedar Fair Entertainment Co., which holds its parks to high safety standards; Carowinds, in fact, hasn’t had a coaster incident since a few employees were injured during a preseason test run of Nighthawk in 2007.
But these are not the things that cross your mind when you are about to ride one of the tallest and fastest roller coasters in North America.
So, the ride: Once the train leaves the station, you start your ascent of the hill that leads to the big drop, and you get 37 seconds of reflection that includes asking yourself questions like, “Did I eat enough this morning?” “Did I eat too much this morning?” “How much change is going to fall out of my pocket?” and “Will this person next to me surreptitiously take video of me crying out for my mommy?”
In general, though, you really do experience a lot of clarity in those 37 seconds – a clarity that is sucked from your brain the moment you start that first descent, a descent so steep that the track disappears from your view as the ground rushes toward your face.
The rest is a blur of twists and turns, a flood of screams and rushing wind all around you, a few moments when – if you’re raising your hands in the air like you just don’t care – you pull them back a bit because it appears that a low-hanging bridge or piece of track might turn you into a double amputee.
And, toward the end, there are three hills that give you a brief sense of weightlessness, and that will provide an answer to the “Did I eat too much this morning?” question.
As I climbed out of the train, still shaking off the buzz, I tweeted: “I haven’t uttered that many curse words in a three-minute span since I broke my toe a couple years ago.”
Then I turned around and got back in line.
The giga coaster is designed to simulate the flight of a hornet, Carowinds says. Riders will board one of three 32-passenger open-air trains and ascend to the top of a 325-foot hill (over 30 stories), followed by an initial 81-degree drop. The train races through hills and curves at speeds up to 95 mph.
What’s a giga coaster? It’s a coaster with a height or drop of 300 to 399 feet that completes a full circuit. Interestingly, there are also strata coasters, boasting a height or drop of 400 feet or more and completing a full circuit. Carowinds refers to Fury 325 as “the world’s tallest and fastest giga coaster,” which – while impressive – is kind of calling a 7-foot-1 NBA player “the tallest NBA player between 6-10 and 7-1.”
Opening weekend: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Details: www.carowinds.com.