Good idea or great story?

Originally published on This Logophile Life, July 13, 2018

Yesterday, the motivational quote on my disposable cup (you know, the little paper ones for teeth-brushing) read, “It’s either a good idea – or – a good story.”

My immediate thought went to book story ideas. What a myopic lens I’m viewing life through lately! I’ve been so engrossed in working on my manuscript that even the bathroom cups seem to be speaking to me personally, lending me writing advice.

When the next cup in the stack declared, “Wake up. Be Awesome. Repeat,” I realized these were not aimed directly at me. That Dixie was reminding us all that adventures that aren’t such a great idea, that we should probably avoid, make for great cocktail party stories.

Riding a bobsled, for example.

While in Park City almost precisely one year ago, three colleagues and I decided to spend an afternoon exploring Utah Olympic Park, home of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

The most exciting draw at Olympic Park is the opportunity to ride the bobsled track, the actual course run in the Olympics and now a training track for future gold medal hopefuls. For just $100, you can sign your life away and experience hurling down a mountain at 70 mph.

Before being transported to the top of the mountain, an orientation video explained that we’d be riding in a 4-person sled, modified to run on wheels during the summer, with an experienced pilot who would control the steering and brakes. The track is 8/10 mile with 15 curves, including a 400-foot vertical drop. We’d be traveling with up to 5G’s of force.

No red flag went up during the orientation section entitled “If you are having second thoughts…” I was nervous, but in that scary-exciting way that one might be nervous before a blind date or singing karaoke.

Once we reached the summit, however, I spent a lot of time staring at the “EXTREME CAUTION–Severe injury or death can occur beyond this point” sign as we awaited our turn. I texted my mother and got her commitment in writing to adopt Wrigley if I didn’t make it home. I let her know who to contact regarding my life insurance policy.

Ten seconds into the run, I was ready for it to be over. What followed was the longest 51 seconds of my life.

I made the mistake of attempting to sit upright, thinking it would create drag and slow our momentum. I silently begged please, please, please slow down. Please let the end be around the next curve.

I was a bobble-head doll in the heavy helmet as we whipped down the bumpy track. At one point I heard a crack and my head ricocheted backward. I thought I had smacked helmets with the person in front of me. But it was just my neck.

The week that followed, back in Virginia, was a streak of oppressing hot days where there’s no way to avoid wearing sundresses and tank tops. But I wore my skinned elbows and softball-sized bruises as badges of honor on each arm.

“You may think I was beat up in a back alley, but in actuality, I went bobsledding last weekend,” I proudly announced to the salesman at the car dealership. During one of many physical therapy sessions that followed for the neck pain, I boasted, “No car accident here! It was the Olympic bobsled track that did me in.” With anyone who would listen, I shared my newfound respect for bobsledders and the sport’s physical demands.

So was it a good idea, or just a good story?

I think my sled-mate summed it up perfectly, as we recounted our bobsled experience for the upteenth time recently. “I would probably regret it… except that I like telling people I did it.”

So if you’re tempted to add the bobsled to your bucket list, I might suggest sky diving or hanggliding instead.

Unless, of course, you’re looking for a good story. In which case, riding the bobsled is great fodder for years of dinner conversations to come. A once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Because, trust me, you won’t consider doing it twice.