My mind races as I slowly ascend the lift hill of the roller coaster, the rhythmic clash of metal and wood echoing in my ears. To either side of me sit my favorite strangers, my loyal companions, my two-minute family.

180 feet to go.

I think about summer 2003. How Uncle Richie goaded me to take on Big Bad Wolf at Busch Gardens. How he left me trembling with the oh-so-comforting words of “Trust me” and “I’ll meet you at the exit,” which I bit down on like a bullet through my first thrilling coaster rush. How I tightly hugged him afterwards, my blown-back hair and smiling face pressing against his blue windbreaker.

130 feet to go.

I think about the creation of the mechanical monster. How every beam, every support, every track segment had been fabricated hundreds of miles away. How every twist and turn had been drafted on paper, revised, and then modeled before construction. How it all started in the crazy, wild, ingenious dreams of someone with enough audacity to imagine. How it stands before me now.

80 feet to go.

I think about the concept of roller coasters. How absurd it is that riders are so voluntarily submissive to the flinging, whirling wrath. How it would be senseless to undergo such physical handling in any other context but thrill-seeking. How it all makes sense after experiencing the adrenaline surging faster than the coaster itself through my nerves, from the tips of my fingers to the roots of my hair to the tightened muscles in my chest.

40 feet to go.

Anxious riders foresee the coming adventure and squirm and giggle.

I think about my anticipation. How I jumped, danced, beamed when Mom and Dad told me we were going on a trip. How I studied the park map during the car ride, planning out the most effective way to hit all the attractions in our limited time. How I waited for an hour to sit in the glossy plastic seat. How worthwhile it is to sacrifice time for precious experience.

20 feet to go.

Two rows back, a father double-checks the slack in his daughter’s harness.

I think about the thrills. How the train snakes around the premises, dodging obstacles, narrowly escaping disaster. How it feels when my mouth inflates with wind like a parachute. How I embrace the sheer force. How I can replay the flashes of thrill, the swings, plunges, tilts, dives, rolls, dips, spins, curves, loops, drops over and over and over again in my head. How my legs will wobble as I step from the car onto the solid platform, my body still pulsing with motion. How ridiculous I’ll look in the on-ride snapshot, a captured moment of ecstasy.

10 feet to go.

I see the tiny onlookers below, the endless miles of trees before me, the glowing horizon in the distance.

I think about everything and nothing. My mind straddles the fine line between synaptic overload and free tranquility. I’m a blank slate ready to absorb sensation.

Hands up… Scream.