An Olympic experience not for the faint of heart

  • 2008-09-18
  • By Kristina Pauksens

AFTER THE RIDE: Our reporter is still in one piece.

RIGA - Last weekend I had a truly terrifying experience that I would gladly repeat again. For a mere six lats, I helmeted up and hurtled down a mountain at high speeds, locked inside a bullet-shaped go-kart on wheels. The experience was breathtaking and exhilarating. It made my jaw drop for a split second before I realized I'd better clench my teeth to prevent biting my tongue off.

The Sigulda bobsled track is located in a beautifully wooded and hilly river valley in Latvia's premier national park on the Gauja River, considered the most scenic of all rivers in Latvia. The park is a popular site for canoeing, hiking, and visiting castle ruins and manor houses. But while all of these activities offer thrills of one kind or another, the bobsledding experience is truly in a category of its own.

The first part of my adventure was actually finding the entrance to the track 's you can't enter the facilities from the bottom of the sporting complex. A gruff but helpful middle-aged woman guarding a heavily chained fence in the middle of the forest set me straight, and after 10 more minutes in the car I reached the summit. In typical Latvian style, no one seemed to be in charge, but I was soon directed to the bobsled trainer, a young woman with a slightly crazed look in her eye who seemed like she would do well on "American Gladiators."

The wild-eyed woman handed us our helmets, allowed me to take some zany bobsled pictures, asked if we were scared, and put us in the sled, which resembled a missile on wheels 's pleasantly reminiscent of a good old fashioned go-kart. To my surprise, our trainer hopped in with us 's I had naively assumed that I had the skill to maneuver an Olympic bobsled! But still, I was worried that this crazed-eyed lady was controlling the cart. This was not a rollercoaster, fastened to an iron track. One wrong move, I thought, and we would hurtle to our deaths!

The fearsome moment had arrived: we were now ready to fly. It was an experience like no thrill ride I had ever ridden before 's and I love roller coasters, "drop zone"-style stunt towers, and even those questionably safe midway rides that are so popular among traveling carnivals. My helmeted head rattled against the caged siding of the bobsled. A few sharp turns, and then, like a flash, we lurched to a halt, awestruck.

Then, as though this were nothing out of the ordinary, the bobsled 's passengers and all 's was hitched to the back of an ordinary four-door sedan, which towed us at a moderate speed back to the launching pad. It was almost surreal, this incongruous mixture of the thrilling and the mundane. Again, I was struck by the absurdity of all that had happened, and I walked away convinced that it was only possible to have such an experience in Latvia.

Racing down a standard Olympic-sized bobsled track is an experience I would heartily recommend to my friends 's  and to enemies who are afraid of heights.

SIA Bobsleja un kamaniņu trase «Sigulda» is located at Sveices iela 13, Sigulda