By Nicko Place

A few years ago, I travelled to the United States with my two boys, then aged 18 and 15. My youngest son wanted to go to Harry Potter World in Orlando, Florida, and so I found myself in the unlikely situation of staying at the Hard Rock Hotel, with a magnificent guitar-based artwork fountain in the forecourt, as part of the sprawling Universal theme parks compound. As we waited for dinner, I watched my oldest son have an arm-wrestle with Shrek, or potentially a guy in a Shrek costume. He said he was Shrek, so who am I to argue? Anyway, welcome to America.

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See, I’m not making this shit up. Dinner at the Hard Rock Hotel, Orlando. Pic: Nicko

This was all fine, even if I was a little blown away by the underwater music in the Hard Rock Hotel’s pool, and the general cheesiness of the entire manufactured experience, but where I was challenged was the moment we walked into the Universal theme park itself.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to one of these parks but they bring together all the franchises and intellectual properties that a mob like Universal control. So, depending on whether you’re at a Universal or Warner Bros or Disney park, you wander through a Simpsons world, or a super hero world, a Star Wars world, or, in this Orlando park’s case, Dr Seuss world, en route to Harry Potter world.

But what bothered me was overhead. It sounded guttural, like some hideous demonic animal screaming, as it roared past us through the sky. It was the Hulkcoaster: the biggest, meanest, scariest rollercoaster I had ever seen. Corkscrews, 360 vertical loops, lurching tight corners, it had it all. Way above our heads, I noticed fine fishing net had caught sunglasses, phones and other incidentals that had been shaken out of the pockets of upside down patrons as they hurtled, screaming, through space. I gulped.

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The Hulkcoaster: like a demonic presence overhead.

I didn’t have a long or enthusiastic history with rollercoasters. I didn’t even work up the courage to go on one until I was about 20 – slightly drunk at Luna Park in Melbourne – and I’m still not a huge fan. But my youngest son loves them and so he took one look at this monster and immediately said, ‘Dad, let’s go on it!’

And there was my dilemma.

Because I have a rule. One of those personal rules you develop over time, so that when you get to a certain age, as we are, it is part of you and demands respect.

Unfortunately for me, on that day in Florida, the rule is this: if the only reason I’m baulking at an experience or a situation is because I’m scared, uncomfortable or challenged, then I HAVE to do it.

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‘I hope you can find your way to the Hard Rock (Hotel)’, as Carole King might have sort of sung. Pic: Nicko

Let me unpack that for you: it’s about realising that the only hurdle here is a reluctance to leave your comfort zone, and refusing to let that instinct define you.

If somebody offered me a syringe filled with heroin, I would be very comfortable saying no. While I would definitely be scared, uncomfortable and challenged, I would also have a clear sense that this is probably not great for my health, and my wider life if I happen to like it. I’ve been around enough blocks to know what hard drugs can do to people. Thanks, but no thanks.

However, when faced by a monster rollercoaster, where there is no discernible actual danger (ok, that one in a million chance that something goes wrong at the exact moment you’re on it, sure, but that’s not enough to factor in), then why aren’t I going on it?

Because I might not enjoy it? Yes. But how do I know if I haven’t tried?

Because I’ll be scared? That’s the point.

Because I’ll look feeble in the eyes of my youngest son? To be honest, that’s not a big factor for me. My eldest son HATES rollercoasters and had zero trouble saying he would not be joining us, and I respect him for that. I think if you know you’re going to actively not enjoy something, then why would you do it?

So ultimately, it was only a reluctance to leave my comfort zone that was holding me back. I was only ambivalent and therefore my rule kicked in. I HAD to do it.

Slightly jelly legs were not enough reason to actually say no.

And so we lined up. And because of those stupid staying-at-the-resort-VIP wristbands, we went straight to the front of the queue.

And so we were being strapped in and I was thinking, ‘It’s ok. You have that long clackada-clackada climb up the first hill to prepare yourself.’

Thinking I was back at Luna Park in 1985.

So of course, instead, a recorded voice on a loudspeaker yelled something like, ‘Oh no, we have a breach. The Hulk has escaped!’ I didn’t hear the end of it because we were already going from zero to 60 miles per hour in literally four seconds and I was suddenly upside down, being thrown through the air in a long twisting corkscrew with my eyes streaming and my heart and breath left somewhere 500 metres behind me.

And so I screamed. As loudly and with as much abandon as I could and I kept on screaming for the whole fucking ride. Until we somehow glided to a stop and were unstrapped and found ourselves walking unsteadily down the exit ramp.

At which point, my youngest son said, ‘That was unbelievable. Want to go again?’

And I said, ‘Oh, you bet.’ And we went on the Hulkcoaster 13 more times in two days at the park. We went on it so often that we learned where the mid-ride cameras were, so we could smile happily, point fingerguns and make eye contact with them, while everybody else was freaking out. We had a ball.

And I got the over-priced souvenir photo and I keep it on my office wall, as a reminder of the rule.

The rule that has served me well, over and over again.

It saw me take up ice hockey as a sport at the age of 45, having never before stood on skates.

It has seen me experience night scuba dives and swim with sharks and step into a boxing ring with a former world heavyweight kickboxing contender (who luckily was only training me, not trying to knock me out). It has seen me crawl and wade through the illegal catacombs of Paris, 20 metres under the city in tiny 500-year-old tunnels, in the middle of the night. It saw me submit a draft of my first novel to publishers, risking ultimate rejection, which happily led to being published. More than once.

GiantsAmongMen is not here to tell you how to live your life. There’s enough Life Coaches and Thought Leaders and Inspirational Speakers trying to do that to you already.

I’m just saying, speaking personally, this rule is one of my best ones, and it’s this:

When in doubt, when the only reason I’m saying no is a reluctance to leave my comfort zone, then that’s the moment I must say yes.

And then buy the souvenir photo.

Come at me, Hulk