“Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme! Get on up, its bobsled time!”
It was a warm summer night and we were lounging at our rental Air B&B in East Europe, watching Cool Runnings, knowing that the next morning we get to wake up and drive 200 miles from Estonia to Latvia to go summer bobsledding. “Are we really doing this?” we were saying to each other as we were watching the movie. “Heck yea!” It was too late to back out.
So how did four Americans go from sunny California to bobsledding in East Europe?
Last summer, I went on a 2 week trip to East Europe with my fiancé, Joel, and our two friends, Rama and Katie. I was born and raised in Latvia for 16 years so automatically the job of finding cool stuff to do in Europe was assigned to me. I didn’t mind. As I searched the internet for unique and interesting adventures to go on, I came across summer bobsledding in Sigulda, Latvia. When I brought it up to my travel companions, we all immediately agreed to try it out.
It wasn’t until we were driving to the track that we started questioning our decision. How safe was this? Do they keep up the track, or will this be one of those stories where Americans do something stupid in Europe and end up in the hospital? But we set our doubts aside and decided to go through with it regardless. When in Latvia…
When we pulled up to the track, we all got that holy-crap-what-did-we-get-ourselves-into look on our faces. The track was WAYYYY bigger and more intimidating than we ever imagined, winding down the hill and at times disappearing into the woods. As we walked around the track trying to find the attendants, we came across old relics like a real winter bobsled. My friends started getting in it when I asked “Are we allowed to do that?” “Who knows” Rama replied. “It’s Latvia. I don’t think anyone cares”. That seemed to be the theme of our trip.
After we found the track attendants and checked in there was still quite the line in front of us, so we decided to walk around some more and check out the humongous track and facility. The bobsled track had a 6 story old building on the property, built in typical Soviet style of a square building with small windows, much like the thousands of other Soviet buildings scattered all over the Baltic landscape. Although at one point this building was flooded with people while it was used for Olympic bobsled training, now this building seemed to be barely used anymore except for the ground level. We wanted to explore this partially abandoned building so we asked the attendant if we can use the bathroom and instead we sneaked over to the elevator and took it straight to the top. As we walked the empty hallways I thought to myself, this is what it must feel like diving in what remains of the Titanic.
At the top floor of this building, we found an unlocked door to the rooftop and our curiosity took over so we HAD to check it out. As we stepped out onto a somewhat sketchy looking roof, we saw the most amazing panoramic view of the track and the surrounding Sigulda park. All around there were trees as far as the eye can see, and even a castle nestled in the forest in the distance. As we soaked in the beautiful view on the rooftop, we watched other racers slide down the bobsled track and we were starting to get excitement jitters.
When it was our turn to ride, we headed down and picked out our one-size-fits-all (not really) helmets. We had no idea what to expect next. After we stood there trying to decide who would be the brave one to steer the sled and finally voicing our concerns, the real driver came up and laughed. Of course we don’t get to drive it, silly us! They have a professional who we can trust with our lives as we speed down the almost mile long track. Fair enough! As he laughed at us and got in, Joel and I got our helmets on, got strapped in and off we went.
The sled started rolling forward and there was no turning back. Waving goodbye to our friends, we drove on the track and started picking up the speed. Within seconds we were going 50 miles per hour and the adrenaline rush was incredible. The helmet I picked out was too big and had slipped down on my head, so I tried to tilt my head back to get a glimpse of the view but I immediately regretted that decision. As we zoomed down the 16 turns on this track with incredible precision, the amount of force started bouncing my head around like a bobblehead, hitting the sled’s safety shield left and right, but I didn’t even care because I was enjoying the thrill of the ride so much.
After the minute long ride ends, you wish it lasted forever. Joel asked me if I was ok since he could hear my helmet bounce around like a ping pong ball. Of course I was ok. My only regret was not going twice! Once we got pulled back up to the starting point, we got to watch our friends do it too. They came back just as excited and thrilled as we were.
If you are traveling to East Europe and want to try out summer bobsledding, the track’s summer business hours are from 12:00-5:00pm on Saturdays and Sundays between May and September, and the cost for one summer bobsled ride is 10 EUR which converts to around 11 USD. Winter bobsledding is also available during the winter season and I’m sure it’s just as exhilarating. The Sigulda summer bobsled track is located only an hour away from the capital city Riga and it’s definitely worth stepping away from the main tourist attractions to try this unique, once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
If East Europe is a far trip for you, don’t worry, this adventure is also available in other locations like the Utah Olympic Park in US or the Calgary Olympic Park in Canada. So step outside of your comfort zone and try it out! This is a thrilling experience that will leave you with a memory for life.
Written by Laura Sausina.