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Return of the scream machines

Adrenaline addicts queue up for their visit to thrillsville OVERHED DECK 4.5/30/1 Waterfront carnival delivers a taste of terror Ñ for a price

The cost of thrills is soaring.

Consider the Big Sling. That's the most expensive ride this year at Pepsi Waterfront Village. The ride, if you can call it that, flings daredevils 300 feet into the air, providing the dose of instant adrenaline that comes when you go from 0 to 90 mph in just under 1.5 seconds, hitting about 5 Gs in the process, or five times the force of gravity.

The cost? A cool $30. Or $50 for two. Plus another $10 if you want a videotape so you can relive your 75-second trip.

If war and SARS and recession aren't scary enough, the Portland Rose Festival this week once again offers its annual collection of thrill rides, a springtime staple of the city's waterfront.

No matter how bad the outside world, you can always make it a little scarier with a ride on the Big Sling or one of its cousins.

The opening of the carnival on the Willamette River marks the Rose Festival’s move into high gear. There was the Portland General Electric/SOLV Starlight Parade last weekend, of course, and next up will be the arrival Thursday of six U.S. Navy ships. Finally, there's the biggest event of the festival, the Southwest Airlines Grand Floral Parade, on Saturday.

The riverfront thrill rides are only part of the attraction to the midway. There are opportunities for thrills for all ages Ñ from pony rides to the Big Sling. And while the thrill rides enforce height and weight restrictions, there's no age limitation for feeling the sense of danger they offer.

'I'm invincible!' said Ken Burdick of Lake Oswego after riding the Big Sling with his wife, Janet. 'If we were going to die, at least we'd have died together.'

His wife didn't share his pre-ride feeling of immortality, but she enjoyed the experience.

'I'm proud of myself. I didn't scream,' Janet Burdick said after her ride. 'It wasn't that scary. It was just thrilling. I'm ready for another corn dog.'

All thrill rides use roughly the same methods to reach similar ends. They send you spinning into some high-speed whirl of vertical, horizontal and lateral motions Ñ often all three Ñ mixed with height, loud music and flashing lights. The point is to simulate the threat of imminent danger without actually reaching it.

The result? Wide eyes. Slight panting. Wobbly legs. And the inexplicable exhilaration that comes with having survived something scary.

The Big Sling is a good example. The ride, built in Austria, is the only one like it anywhere, the largest portable ride on Earth, claimed operator Jerry Crane. Factoring in everything Ñ construction, insurance and the transport trailer Ñ the price tag was nearly $1 million, he said.

The gawkers come and stare, and when one of their number musters up the courage to get on, bystanders usually cheer and marvel at their guts. And sometimes they line up to be next.

'Dude, I am totally going on there,' Todd Turner told his friend Eric Kennedy after watching the Big Sling in action. They then climbed on, shrieking and waving the whole time.