Be Your Own Birder

Rediscovering the Thrill of Flight

A core philosophy of Be Your Own Birder is that everyone ought to enjoy birding in their own way, and there’s no single right way to be a birder. Our world is filled with so many amazing things that birding ought to be only one of our passions, and it’s important to love and enjoy much more of the richness available to us. Whether you’re passionate about a career, your family, other hobbies, craft projects, travel, food, charity work, enjoying more than one thing in your life helps bring balance, pleasure, and fulfillment to your days.

Pigeons in Flight – Photo by Carmine.shot

For many years, I was passionate about roller coasters. I visited Cedar Point Amusement Park several times through my childhood and early teen years. I rode my first coaster when I was no more than five or six years old, and while I was terrified at first, by the end of the two-minute ride, I was hooked on what would be a passion for the next 20 years.

During college, I worked summers at Cedar Point, doing a variety of jobs in different departments. This included Ride Operations, where I learned to operate, inspect, safety check, clean, and troubleshoot some of the park’s coasters, both old and new. Whenever I wasn’t working, I’d often be back in the park enjoying more laps on the coasters.

Raptor at Cedar Point – Photo by Jeremy Thompson

Even long after college, my joy of coasters continued. In the early years of my marriage, some getaways involved visiting amusement parks, and even when we moved across the country we planned the route to encounter different coasters along the way. I even returned to work at Cedar Point again when my career plans shifted and I was trying to find more passion.

But gradually, that joy disappeared. We’d moved to an area of the country with only one amusement park, and its coasters simply weren’t more than meager carnival rides. As budgets grew tighter and airfare grew more expensive, it was impossible to travel extensively to visit other parks. Other parts of life crowded out my passion, and I forgot just what I used to love.

After returning to Florida, I was hesitant to return to roller coasters. The twists, turns, and loops of life I’d encountered in 14 years had destroyed my confidence and passion. But finally, just this week, I found myself once again hearing the distinct clacking of lift hills, the roar of passing trains, and the screams of happy riders. As I walked up the queue line of what had once been my favorite coaster of all, Kraken at SeaWorld Orlando, I started to feel strange, unnerved, and uncertain. I was starting to remember.

Fast forward two days – I’d now ridden Kraken for seven laps, and experienced two new coasters, Mako (four laps) and Manta (five laps). I’d been accelerated over and over, felt heavy G-forces and anti-gravity, and been flipped upside down a total of 55 times. I had bruises on my shoulders and thighs from different harnesses, and a blister on my heel from trekking back and forth across the park to visit the different coasters.

And I haven’t been so happy in more than a decade.

Roller coasters are supposed to incite fear and adrenaline, and indeed they do. But for me, they also create joy and power, a sense of accomplishment, and both emotional and psychological freedom. They reduce stress and anxiety, and loosen tight joints and tense muscles. The speed, flips, twists, and curves relax me, and make me happy. They are a passion.

I can’t believe I ever forgot this.

Manta at SeaWorld Orlando – Photo by Melissa Mayntz

For me, roller coasters are flight, both psychologically and literally. When riding, I’m not worried about the dozens of deadlines on my to-do list, I’m not trying to cram more into my overcrowded schedule, and I’m not muddling through one more work-related task long after the sun sets. Instead, I’m reaching amazing speeds, breaching barriers, and soaring.

Interestingly, this also connects to birds. A flying coaster design, such as SeaWorld Orlando’s Manta, puts riders in a face down position for a flying sensation as they swoop around curves, through twists, and around inversions. Other coasters, such as Raptor at Cedar Point, are named after strong, powerful birds and also induce flying sensations. Furthermore, you can do some great birding from roller coasters – I spotted limpkins, great egrets, mottled ducks, and an osprey while riding SeaWorld’s coasters.

I won’t forget this passion again. For years, I’ve struggled to reduce stress, lower anxiety, and feel more at ease even with a short bit of time off. Now, I’ll just ride it out – on more coasters.

Let’s fly.

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