The Last Ride Of A Roller Coaster

A view of Cedar Point's Disaster Transport and the Space Spiral, July 2012

Cedar Point amusement park, in Sandusky, Ohio, built in the mid-1980s a bobsled-style roller coaster named Avalanche Run, because it was the mid-1980s and bobsled-style roller coasters seemed like a good idea. My home amusement park, Great Adventure, had something called the Sarajevo Bobsled opened in that time because back then Sarajevo was thought to be a pretty good city apart from that unpleasantness seventy years before. But Cedar Point’s bobsled roller coaster had a longer existence than Great Adventure’s, and around 1990, it was rebuilt to something newer and more exciting, with a building enclosing it and a whole backstory behind the ride.

Back the two decades plus ago, it had a whole backstory, about how it was the bringing of supplies through space to a crashed Alaskan expedition and there were aliens and spaceships and satellites, and there were lights and sound props and custom uniforms for the ride’s operators and all sorts of things to expand on the atmosphere. That was all gone, even the custom uniforms, long before I ever visited the park for the first time. The lost props were victims of the way things just break down as they get older and it’s easier to find money for something new than to rebuild something old and after all, if something in a dark ride is broken you can solve the problem and save money by just turning the light off. By 2011 it had become essentially nothing but a ride in the dark, with just the haunting memory of light to suggest there was ever anything more.

Yet the ride continued on its lonely existence in a neglected part of the park, coming back every year for somehow more chances to ride when it wasn’t shut down for reasons mechanical or meteorologic. (Despite its being indoors, rain would still halt the ride.) Perhaps it was protected by Cedar Point’s reluctance to take out roller coasters and threaten its roller coaster record. Perhaps everyone in management just forgot they were still running it.

And then this summer came news that Cedar Point was doing the unthinkable, and taking out Disaster Transport (as well as the adjacent Space Spiral, a rotating observation deck part of the park’s skyline for a half-century now). I was shocked. My Dearly Beloved was horrified. We made an emergency visit to the park so that we could get a ride its last week of operation.

There is wonderful nostalgic romance in thinking of when one did something for the last time, particularly if — like me and like my Dearly Beloved — you are prone to sentimental attachment to all manner of things. But there can be unbearable heartbreak in knowing you are doing something for the final time. As we did go back and forth between Disaster Transport and the other rides in the park we had to wonder: could we get in our final ride without knowing it was our final ride?

The idea we had was to flip a coin after each ride. Based on its outcome we would either go back around and ride the roller coaster again, or walk off into the night. However many times we rode it, we would not know that we couldn’t ride it again.

In theory we might have ridden it an infinite number of times, or at least until the park closed or the ride shut down for one of its many malfunctions. In practice it would be remarkable if we rode it, say, ten times in a row. Yet, it wouldn’t be so odd to ride it twice in a row, would it?

If we have a 50 percent chance — we’ll suppose coin tosses are fair things since it’s too much work to bother with if they’re not — of going back for a fresh ride, then, how many rides in a row should we expect to get?

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

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