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Speed, Time & Riding Rollercoasters

Riding the Dragon with Hands Raised

By: Patrick Bishop

Note: although never published previously, the majority of this post was written in 2004 and some of the stats (particularly the rankings listed in the opening sentence) may have changed since then. One stat I know has changed, my daughter is now 17, not six...

Shivering Timbers, the world’s fourth-fastest, fourth-longest, and ninth-largest wooden rollercoaster can be found less than sixty miles from Grand Rapids, in North Muskegon at Michigan’s Adventure. This mammoth coaster boasts an initial 120-foot drop, followed by another five peaks which get slightly smaller as you go. The drop from this 11-story behemoth reaches speeds up to 65 miles-per-hour; literally lifting you out of your seat during the two-and-a-half minute, hair-raising, multi-crested ride. The final punishment is dealt out in a gut wrenching, 530-degree twirling lateral loop, bombarding you with heavy g-force, then spitting you out to the ending like a rascally child spewing spinach. Shivering Timbers is not for the faint of heart.

Speed. We’re addicted to it. Besides our screaming roller coasters, we love our fast food, quickie lube, speedy tire, minute rice, and instant oatmeal. We want things Hot-n-Ready and Hot-n-Now. Why? Because life is fast. Because we can. Because, it saves us time.

Have you ever wondered, where does all this “saved” time go? Think about it. These conveniences don’t really give us more time -- they merely shorten the task. A task that use to take hours, now takes minutes. That’s nice, but what do we do with that “saved” time? We simply fill it with more tasks. In other words, we’re simply doing more, faster. Then, when people ask how we’re doing, we say we’re busy like it’s a badge of honor. But consider this interesting contrast -- the Chinese pictograph for ‘busy’ is composed of two characters: heart and killing. That’s a picture worth a thousand words.

Where’d all this focus on time come from? It started with the railroads. In order to meet scheduling requirements, they created the time zones. Before that, being “on time” meant being within about 20-30 minutes either way of the appointment. It’s hard to believe, but less than 125 years ago, there were no time zones. Now, we schedule our entire lives around a clock that shows Eastern, Central, Mountain, or Pacific. We are in an age where we can keep time, spend time, plan time, fill time, make time, be on time, kill time, and do time. If TV or the Internet has become the opium of the masses, time is certainly the commodity of the masses.

Get this: we can now measure time so accurately that our official time keeping efforts are off by only one second every million years. It’s called the atomic clock and it measures time by the rotation of an atom. One second equals 9,192,631,770 cycles of the Cesium atom. That will come in handy when scheduling around the kids soccer game.

Not only can we measure time atomically, scientists know exactly how the brain keeps time. You’ve probably heard that our internal clock is located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus, right? Sure, everyone knows that. You know, it’s the cluster of about 10,000 cells at the brain’s base where protein enters and exits cells based upon the amount of light in a day. The more light there is, the more protein enters the cell, the sleepier you and I become. Of course, it’s not quite that simple, but that’s the basic design of our inner clock.

Even more interesting is this: it appears that the brain’s internal language is analog, versus digital like a computer (Dr. Freeman Dyson). How they determine this, I have no clue. But here’s the conundrum -- if our brain’s language is analog and we live in a digital world, aren’t we asking for trouble? On the face of things, it appears the answer is yes. Fortunately for us, this is a conundrum that can be easily remedied.

How? We must recall that we are the timekeepers -- time should serve us and not the other way around. It’s a matter of perspective; a paradigm shift. Remember the 65mph monster of Shivering Timbers? It is a daunting menace of mayhem that can be tamed by the free and easy spirit of a child. At the age of six, my daughter rode Shivering Timbers for the first time. Standing in line, the excitement mounted as her heart pounded, beating to the rhythm of butterflies flying in formation in her belly. She could feel the shaking of the wood below her feet as she neared the front of the line. Her breathing became faster and faster as the person in front of her got in the car and she realized she was next. The thrill of the moment rose in her chest as her coaster rolled to a screeching stop in front of her. She climbed in, sitting next to me. Screaming all the way through the peaks and valleys, she continued making choices that led her further from fear and closer to exhilaration and joy. At the tender age of six, she fell in love with the wooden tower of terror and tamed its spirit. That day, she rode Shivering Timbers four times. While riding, she screams, giggles, laughs, squeals, holds her arms up, and soaks in every bump and twist. And when it’s over she squeals, “Let’s do it again!”

Life is like that sometimes. Some days we are hurried and harried like riding a 120-foot free falling rollercoaster that makes us gasp. The next day we’re on top of the world and the view is breathtaking. Leadership guru, Stephen Covey, said between the stimulus and response of experience is a gap where we can choose our reaction. What we call our experience is our choice. Shakesphere said, nothing is bad or good, but our thinking makes it so. What one person calls anxiety, another calls excitement. Ultimately, we’re all on the same ride, experiencing the same jogs and tittles. The difference is our decision: do we hold on too tight or let our hands fly free. How are you taking the ride?

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