October 08, 2016

I survived "The Slide"!

Let me state right from the beginning that I do not like scary rides.  I live in New York City which I find thrilling enough without seeking additional excitement in the form of roller coasters or haunted houses.  So when my husband informed me that he wanted more than anything to ride "The Slide" at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London, it took barely a nanosecond for me to say absolutely not!

It didn't get any better when I looked on the website and read the description as "visitors will descend the world's highest, and at 178m, the world's longest tunnel slide...they'll pass through light and dark sections with London's dramatic skyscape whizzing by!"

Maybe it was the art element in that the slide is part of an outdoor sculpture created by Sir Anish Kapoor for the 2012 Olympics.  Or maybe I figured if I was going to be widowed I might as well be there too, but against my saner instincts I ordered two tickets for earlier this week when we would be in London for the Frieze Masters art fair and some other events.

Briefly, The Slide is a collaboration between Anish Kapoor, the Indian-born artist now living in England who is probably best known for his lovely mirror sculptures, and Carsten Höller, a Belgian-born artist now living in Stockholm who has earned quite a reputation for slides.  The genesis of this project came from a conversation between the former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and Lakshmi Mittal, head of ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steel company.  Mr Johnson was exploring the idea of creating a lasting monument to commemorate the Olympic and Paralympic Games and Mr. Mittal enthusiastically offered to supply all the steel needed for the project.

Enter Anish Kapoor who worked with engineer Cecil Balmond to create Britain's tallest sculpture, the ArcelorMittal Orbit, as the symbol of the London Olympics.  Created out of 600 star shaped modules, held together with 35,000 steel bolts, the design loops in and out in a sort of giant red ampersand.   Love it or hate it, the ArcelorMittal Orbit received 130,000 visitors in August of 2012 before being shut down as part of the re-development of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to assume its post-Olympic role as a community green space.  The sculpture re-opened to the public in April of 2014 and once again visitors could ride the elevator to the viewing platform and enjoy spectacular views stretching for 20 miles.

The City's skyscraper as seen from the Viewing Platform
But the developers wanted something more than just a tall sculpture with an observation deck, and the final phase, the design and construction of The Slide, was completed just a few months ago.  Now we come to the reason for my excursion on the Tube to Stratford in East London on a beautiful Monday in October.

In case you were thinking, as I had, that the spiral you see above is The Slide, think again.  This is a gently curving staircase easily walkable in a descent from the viewing platform.  The Slide, on the other hand, is a 580 foot long stainless steel tube that twists like a corkscrew from the top to the bottom of the sculpture and ends in a fifty foot drop to the finish.

Of course I didn't realize all this as I grimly rode the elevator to the first observation deck, the "launch pad" for The Slide.  There I joined a small group of fellow "sliders" as we nervously joked about the long list of do's and don'ts and geared up in protective arm pads, knee pads, and helmets.  One by one we were instructed to recline on a felt "toboggan" holding onto the reins with both hands, not to sit up nor lie down flat and not to lean into the curves.  When the monitor indicated "go", we were to pull ourselves along the slide to the precipice and then, heaven help you!  It was far from reassuring to hear the yelps and screams emanating from the tube as they disappeared into the great beyond.

Finally it was my turn.  My helmet was double checked, I assumed the position and off I went.  Honestly, I was too terrified to scream as I hurtled downward sometimes in darkness, sometimes in light, twisting and turning and dropping seemingly vertically into a black hole.  The idea of "seeing London's dramatic skyscape whizzing by" was preposterous as I was entirely focused on surviving.  I told myself just to hang on and it would soon be over and then, almost before I knew it, it was done.  I emerged from the tube a little wobbly but unscathed and greatly relieved that it was behind me.

Would I ever do it again?  Probably not.  But I earned my stripes and can truly claim to have survived "The Slide"!

Looking down at the slide through the floor of the Viewing Platform

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