Last year, when my world was crashing down and I hopped on that first roller coaster at Lagoon and started using thrill rides as therapy, I could have never imagined that the journey would lead me to Cedar Point. When I think about it, though, it’s incredibly fitting.
Reaching my emotional tipping point as my grandmother was losing her battle to cancer made me think back on all of the good times we had shared, as well as the one road trip we never got to take. For two summers, we’d made plans to get to Sandusky, Ohio but something always stopped us from making the relatively short trip from Detroit. Finally, carrying some of her ashes with me, we made it there earlier this month.
Words can’t describe how joyful it felt to finally walk through the gates of the “Roller Coaster Capital of the World.” At the same time, however, my anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), which manifests as germophobia for me, was along for the journey. After 30 years of waiting, would having to stay in a “germy” hotel and getting on rides with hundreds of people derail my plans?
First Hurdle — Cedar Point Express Hotel
Approximately 2.2 million adults in America live with OCD. The more common indicators of the condition being “contamination, cleanliness, aggressive impulses, or the need for symmetry,” and then needing to perform an act to alleviate the anxiety. As I’ve written before, traveling with OCD is very difficult for me. I’m extremely picky about where I stay, because my germophobia is triggered by hotel carpeting, public bathrooms and beds where strangers have slept.
To my relief, the recently renovated Cedar Point Express Hotel looked fresh and clean. I still wiped down all the surfaces and used disinfectant spray on the pillowcases and door handles, but staying at an obviously well-maintained property allowed me to relax. It also allowed me to reflect on the fact that, while it’s still difficult, traveling for this thrill ride journey has made staying in hotels a little easier.
One other thing that is hard for me is noise. If I hear things out in the hallway, I’ll obsess over it and the frustration of being disturbed makes it hard to sleep. Despite being on the first floor near the lobby, it was incredibly quiet and I was able to sleep soundly before my big day at the park!
Calming Park Experience
One of the biggest perks of staying at the Cedar Point Express Hotel is that guests can enter the park an hour before it opens to the public. This was essential for me, because battling intense nerves around larger crowds is a lot more difficult. I was grateful to have less of an audience as I started my day.
After entering the gate, another big worry was crossed off my list because it became immediately clear that the team at Cedar Point is well-trained, which is so important considering the high volume of visitors they see every day. Everything was efficient and the ride operators seemed to take safety seriously, which is very important to a nervous rider!
Aside from the actual rides, another huge hurdle as someone with germophobia is having to eat in public. Things can be a little sketchy at theme parks, and I’ve been known to leave hungry as a result. Watching closely and armed with hand sanitizer, I was really impressed by the food handling at Cedar Point and felt comfortable enough to sit down for a whole meal! That’s very unusual for me!
Cedar Point Is Great for Thrill Ride Therapy
When I learned about Dr. Kevin Meyer, an Ohio-based assistant professor who took his psychology students to Cedar Point for therapeutic reasons, I had already started my journey. Watching his videos and reading the articles just confirmed that I was on the right track. I’d accidentally stumbled onto a great resource for emotional healing!
Cedar Point really is the perfect place for anyone wanting to try thrill ride therapy. With 18 roller coasters in the park, it’s easy to start with something like Wilderness Run before moving up to bigger rides. While I wish I could have stayed longer, I didn’t want to push myself too hard, too quickly. With my husband, Josh, by my side, we tackled the six rides I’d chosen ahead of time.
With it’s winged, floorless track and keyhole elements, Gatekeeper looks a little intimidating, but it’s actually an ideal option for those who are looking to move up to more intense rides. If conquering a beyond-vertical roller coaster is on your wish list but you want something fun and unique without being extreme, you’ve got to ride Maverick! Looking to try a dive coaster? Valravn features a 214-foot, 90-degree drop and reaches a maximum speed of 74mph while managing to feel light and carefree.
Once you’ve worked your way through the tamer rides at Cedar Point, and you feel ready to really challenge yourself, some of the best choices are Millennium Force, Steel Vengeance and Top Thrill Dragster. I’d never ridden anything like any of those three before, and getting on them was absolutely terrifying — but exciting!
Millennium Force — My First Giga Coaster
It felt poetic that my first giga roller coaster happened to be the first giga roller coaster ever made. When it opened in 2000, Millenium Force was the first roller coaster to top 300 feet, giving it the “giga” designation. It reaches a maximum speed of 93mph and is still ranked among many enthusiasts’ favorite steel coasters. Knowing all of this did not help my legs feel any less wobbly about boarding it that morning, which is why I decided to ride it first.
Needing extra support, with watery eyes and a pounding heart, I made a Facebook Live video to ask for support. Some other people in line heard me, and soon I had an in-person moral support group cheering me on! During the short wait, I explained my story and suddenly I had strangers cheering me on. It really helped, but I’ve never been more nervous before a ride. To my panicked mind, the lap harness seemed so small, but not small enough to escape my disinfectant wipe — yes, germs were still scarier!
It’s easy to see why people love Millennium Force. It’s smooth and incredibly well-designed. That being said, I greyed out after the first drop, and despite quickly recovering, I think this 41-year-old mom of six’s giga days are behind her. It’s a great roller coaster, but after months of riding, I’m kind of glad to have found my limit.
Steel Vengeance — The First Hyper-Hybrid Coaster
Yet again, Cedar Point had me climbing on a ride that is the first of its kind. Steel Vengeance is a wooden roller coaster, but it’s also a steel roller coaster and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I put this off until the very end of my day because I was having second-thoughts. It’s a world-record breaker in that it’s the tallest (205 feet), fastest (74mph) and longest (5,740 feet) hybrid coaster — all things that sounded like reasons to run for the door to me! Fortunately, we met more great people in line and they helped me stay calm.
Another huge reassurance was the ride operator, Carson. He took his role preparing riders very, very seriously. While he went through the safety protocols, I gratefully used hand sanitizer to clean the restraints. This was possible because personal items are stored in a pouch under the seat on Steel Vengeance!
Again, the climb was the most nerve-wracking part, because I knew that I’d be facing a 90-degree drop on the other side of it. I’m so glad I didn’t back out, though, because Steel Vengeance ended up being in my top three favorite rides of all time. It features the most airtime (nearly 30 seconds!) of any roller coaster in the world and it felt like I was time-traveling on a horse through the Wild West. There is absolutely nothing like it, so if you get the chance, saddle up for Steel Vengeance. Considering how scared I was a year ago, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I wish I could ride it every day!
Top Thrill Dragster — My Personal Goal
My kids and I used to watch roller coaster videos on YouTube, and whenever we saw Top Thrill Dragster, we’d wonder who was crazy enough to ride it. More than a year ago, when my thrill ride therapy began, it became my personal goal to conquer it. The original strata roller coaster, Top Thrill Dragster reaches a speed of 120mph in 2.6 seconds, and then rockets up and over a 420-foot “top hat” element.
Having ridden Do-dodonpa at Fuji-Q Highland in Japan last month, I was prepared for the feeling of an extreme launch coaster, but nothing I’ve ever done compares to the height of Top Thrill Dragster. We just stood there in awe for a few moments before even joining the queue.
I’m not going to lie about this — seeing people watching from the bleachers, I felt so strong and powerful. Not because I felt superior to them, of course, but because I’ve come so far. I wasn’t watching from the sidelines anymore. I was living my life to the fullest, and that feeling buoyed me enough to climb into my seat. After watching the videos over and over for years, Top Thrill Dragster felt like an old friend. It was surreal to finally be waiting for my turn!
The hot rod dragster theming really is fantastic, with the checkered flags, spectator seating and traffic lights. When the light turned green and the “tires” squealed I knew it was time, and after that, everything became a spectacular blur. We were up and over that top hat and crossing the finish line in 17 seconds, and all I could do was scream “I did it! I did it!” Fear did not win that day!
A Shift In Thinking
My day at Cedar Point ended with something unexpected — a shift in thinking. I’m starting to realize that I don’t need to jump on the biggest roller coasters to push myself anymore. I’m actually starting to enjoy the experience rather than being completely terrified by everything around me. Staying in hotels is getting easier, I’m using less sanitizer between rides and interacting with people has been a largely positive experience.
I’m far from free of OCD, but I’ve learned some great coping mechanisms in order to live my life to the fullest. I’m not sitting in the shadows, watching everyone do the things I want to do. I’m out here doing them and loving every minute!