Heart pounds, eyes close as 50-year-old ex-smoker tests tallest waterslide at up to 70 mph

A 10-minute climb up 264 steps to the top of the world's tallest waterslide is followed by 10 seconds of adrenaline in a raft rushing nearly straight down at up to 70 mph.

Reaching the summit of the ride named Verruckt — German for "insane" — was such a relief that I didn't have much time to worry about what awaited. A worker at the Schlitterbahn park near Kansas City had explained before I started up the stairs that one possible hazard of riding the slide was ... death.

But the main anxiety I felt Wednesday on the 168-foot monster came as my raft drifted toward a gate that was about to open, sending us rushing headlong down what the designer calls "the baddest ride ever built."