When we last saw our hero, he was asleep in a motel room in Sandusky, Ohio.
Well, sleep may be a strong word. At about 8:30AM I found myself being awakened from a restless sleep. I had spent the night tossing and turning in anticipation of my visit to Mecca. After a quick shower and some grumbling, Dr. Doolittle (as I began calling her) and I made our way to the park, cat and dog in tow.
The animal part isn't as ridiculous as it sounds. Cedar Point has its own kennel, where you can board your pets for the day for a mere $10/day/pet. $20 later, we were on our way back to the normal people parking lot, where we put on sunblock and made our way to the gate.
The first ride we found ourselves on, owing more to a mistake in navigation than anything else, was Mantis. This turned out to be a pretty good start to the day because the line was manageable (half hour or so), it's got a few inversions, and it had been a while since I've been on a stand-up style coaster. For some reason, the harness wasn't as tight as I would've liked it, so I spent a lot of what would be the better parts of the ride trying to keep myself wedged in, but that didn't take anything away from the adrenaline rush.
Next, we headed over to Millennium Force. This thing is a freaking monster. It opened in 2000 (hence the name), and even after almost four seasons of massive build up in the coaster world, it's still the fifth tallest, and fifth fastest coaster in the world. Amusement Today rated this thing the best overall steel roller coaster in the world for the last two years. Reading about this ride is what convinced me that Cedar Point is Rollercoaster Mecca.
So anyway, we get right off of Mantis, and right into line for this beautiful brute of a ride, and I forgot to have a cigarette in between. By the time we were most of the way through the line, I was in rare curmudgeon glory, finding ways to be annoyed at just about everything. The fact that I was in the midst of a simultaneous nic. fit and caffeine D.T.s wasn't helping matters.
It was worth it.
The ride up the first hill is a spectacular anticipatory agony that just... keeps... going. When you top out at 310 or so feet, you have that split second of "Ok... this is either going to be really good or really bad, because even though I'm not afraid of heights, we are really far away from the ground right now." Then, just as fast as it comes, it's gone with the swooshing acceleration of zero to 93 miles per hour on an 80 degree incline. You would think that that would be enough, right? Just the lift hill alone would cover the needs of the average mortal, but it keeps... on... going. The track is over a mile long, and it's not one of those decaying sine waves like a traditional out and back coaster. This thing tosses your ass all over the place. Here's what it looks like from the driver's seat. You'll have to imagine the side-to-side forces.
While we were in line for Millennium Force, we kept an eye on the progress over at Top Thrill Dragster. I think I mentioned before I left that it occasionally has mechanical difficulties, and that day was no different. While we were watching from the other side of the park, they were working furiously to get all the trains to actually go over the summit. I still haven't learned exactly what the difficulty is, but apparently the ride takes a while to get working correctly, and even then it's subject to breakdowns that shut it down for an hour at a time.
It was just after noon when we got off of Millennium Force, and we decided to take a walk over toward the general region of Top Thrill to get a better idea of where things were at. We never quite got that far, because we were waylaid by lunch. By the time we were done eating, we decided that we really had to get on the ball if we were going to hit every coaster in the park, so we headed to the nearest one, Mean Streak.
Mean Streak is a really big wooden coaster (4th tallest in the world), and it was actually the one ride that I had been dreading for weeks. For those of you who haven't been keeping track, I fractured a rib 4th of July weekend, and historically, wooden coasters are the ones that kick my ass. Specifically, every time they turn in such a way that I'm on the outside of the turn, my ribcage bashes into the side of the seat, almost exactly where the damaged area was. As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about, although I did have a slight back spasm (on the opposite side, go figure) about halfway through the ride that prevented me from keeping my arms outstretched. It also kept me sufficiently distracted that I don't really remember much about the ride other than the fact that it winds in through itself pretty viciously (which is a good thing).
With Mean Streak out of the way, we finally headed over to where Top Thrill was, just to see what was going on. There are two basic rules that I follow about the marquee ride at any given park. First, if you're not the very first one through the gate in the morning, wait until everyone else is having lunch before you get in line. Second, you will never be the very first one through the gate unless you pay off a shady employee or something. Unfortunately, since Top Thrill didn't even open until noon or so, the normal rules were pushed back a couple hours, and we had to settle for some other rides (When the placard at the beginning of the line says "4 hours from this point", and there's a line of a couple hundred people to get to the placard, now is not a good time to get in line.)
Right across the walkway was the entrance to Corkscrew, and the wait time said 15 minutes (which is as low as they go), so we figured, what the hell. Corkscrew is a pretty short ride, but if nothing else, it keeps you busy while it has you. The basic premise of the ride, if you couldn't guess from the name, is to flip you around as many ways as possible (keeping in mind that it opened less than a year after I was born). It was a nice change to be in an actual car (as opposed to standing or hanging) in a looping coaster. Not better, strictly speaking, but it added variety.
Figuring (correctly, as it turns out) that with what seemed like most of the park in line for the tallest and second tallest coasters there, the third tallest might not have much of a wait, we went in search of the entrance to Magnum XL-200. Back in 1989, it had the distinction of being the tallest coaster in the world. The reason for the "200" at the end of its name is that it was the first coaster to break the 200ft. mark. Not only that, but it was probably the last time that Cedar Point had the ability to build a signature ride without having to shoehorn it in somewhere. Even if it weren't a fantastic ride in and of itself, the views you get would be worth waiting in line for. It starts out in the park itself, but coming down off of the lift hill sends you screaming toward the lake, and at the last second, you dogleg left along the water, and in three directions all you can see (aside from metal beams hurtling by at a frightening clip) is Lake Erie and the amazing beach that you're cruising above.
After Magnum (which is in the northeast corner), we decided we needed to take care of another cluster of coasters that was all the way at the other end of the park, so we walked down to where the line starts for Raptor.
Raptor is a fun ride (hence the hour or so in line). It's an "inverted" coaster, meaning that you're hanging from the track, and its designers made full use of that fact to showcase the best of what an inverted coaster does. There are loops, twisting turns, and all of the other stuff that makes these kinds of rides great.
Right behind Raptor is a wooden coaster called Blue Streak. This ride has the distinction of being the oldest coaster there, and that day it had the further distinction of being the one with the shortest line. There wasn't one. That's not to say that nobody was riding it, but rather that we walked from the entrance to the line, all through the livestock pens, all the way onto the third or fourth car from the rear without stopping once. Blue Streak is the kind of coaster that every major park needs, because it allows kids to transition from kiddie rides to the real thing without causing a nervous breakdown, and it serves a similar function for adults who don't like the "big boy (or girl, as the case may be)" rides. Beyond that, I'd say we did it because the line looked short, and we were going for completeness.
Since we were already in the southern end of the park, we decided to hop in line for Wicked Twister, which is a shuttle type of coaster (i.e. it doesn't make a loop, but goes back and forth on the same track) that shoots you straight up in the air (again, over the beach) and twists the cars away from each other so everyone can get a clear view. That last bit can be a bit disconcerting for people when the train is moving backwards, because everyone suddenly gets a nice clear view of the ground, which is 150 feet or so straight down, and straight in front of you. Basically, like Corkscrew, it's a fun ride that adds a little variety to the day.
Next on the list was to make preparations. I was fairly adamant about the fact that if I had to make the choice between riding Top Thrill once, or getting every other coaster in the park, the big boy was going to win every time. With that in mind, we got some dinner and caught up on hydration, I smoked a couple of butts, and we sat for a few minutes girding ourselves for a four hour wait without benefit of food, drink, nicotine, sunglasses or chairs. One of the somewhat disconcerting things about Top Thrill is the fact that they won't even let you in line if you have any personal belongings that aren't securely attached to your body, so when we were ready to get in the line of our lives, everything went into a locker.
Miraculously, the wait didn't happen. Ok, we waited, but nowhere near four hours. It was closer to one. I can't accurately describe the buzz I had while we waited. We were standing there, trying to make smalltalk with the guy behind us while every thirty seconds or so an train loaded with 18 unsuspecting victims went careening out of the staging area, only to appear on the other side of us after a half mile run that only took about 15 seconds. I'm getting a little twitchy even thinking about it now, a week later.
When we boarded the train, an attendant came over to me and said, "This is going to be a little tight..." before assaulting me with a restraint system that completely immobilized my body from the waist down. They were going out of their way to ensure that I, as a passenger, knew that I was not going to fall out, come hell or high water. At the time, I thought they were just being a little overzealous to keep everyone honest. Heh.
The train left the station, and rolled gently down a slight grade for about 50 feet or so. Speakers on either side of us cranked out the sound of a dragster engine starting up at over a hundred decibels. The disembodied voice of an announcer said something like, "Head back, and arms inside. Get ready!", at which point the motor sound, having now been sufficiently warmed up, started revving. The train slid back a foot or two, and I knew that we'd been switched from whatever safety device to which we had been attached to something unsafe. Something very dangerous indeed.
A second went by, then the lights in front of us started. Yellow. Yellow. Yellow. Gre..
"Oh. My. Fucking. God."
By the time I was done with that utterance, we were traveling at over 120 miles per hour, and heading straight for a ramp that would shoot us into the sky.
The funny part is that that is where things started to get surreal.
We hit the ramp hard, and before I had even recovered from it we had traveled over 200 feet into the air. In the space of what felt like twenty feet, the entire train rotated to the right by 90 degrees. I was in the left seat. It was at this point that I realized why they had expended so much effort into making sure that I was attached properly, because I found myself suddenly floating beside the train. With the radical shift to the right, inertia had kept my torso behind, and with the tweaked perception that circumstances had thrust upon me, I found myself looking down at the side of the train. As I began to come to terms with my situation, I happened to look up toward the front of the train, where I saw something small, white and rectangular floating in the air. There was so much adrenaline coursing through my body at this point that time slowed down to an almost standstill. I reached for whatever it was, but my nervous system couldn't get my arm to move fast enough, and I missed it.
As I was rather philosophically contemplating the failure of my newfound cat-like reflexes to do something as simple as catch an unidentified rectangular object that I noticed five feet in front of me while going really frigging fast, I was snapped out of my reverie by the stark realization that we were about to make it to the top, and we got to do it all over again, except this time going straight down, and with a 270 degree corkscrew.
I wish the person who designed that ride had been sitting on the bench next to its exit. I would've kissed him or her full on the lips (which is probably why they weren't there, or if they were, not advertising their presence).
Fresh off of the high from that ride, we decided to do a round-up of all the ones we hadn't yet hit. After all, it was only like 7:30, and we had hours until we had to pick up the herd. First, however, we had to head over to the lockers to pick up our stuff. I spent the next half hour or so trying to get cellular reception (while chain smoking) so that I could gloat to a couple of people. What was especially amusing was that upon finally getting in touch with my buddy on Long Island, he pointed out to me that the last time that I had called him, it was from the infield of the Daytona 500, to gloat (he's not only into roller coasters, but also NASCAR). Yeah, I'm an asshole, but G., I learned from the best, baby.
Once I was done harrassing (and getting harrassed by) my friend, we found ourselves in front of Gemini, so we decided to cross it off the list. Gemini is perhaps the perfect complement to Top Thrill. It's a wooden racing coaster, and because there's not too much in it that's hairy, you spend a great deal of time razzing the other train (regardless of who's "winning"). We were even trading high fives with the passengers in the other train while going around corners. It's just damn fun. It also helps that I haven't been on a real racing coaster in years.
With Gemini out of the way, we moved on to the Cedar Creek Mine Ride, which doesn't sound like a roller coaster, but it is. This is basically the steel version of "Blue Streak", where it's doing a public service by not being too high or too fast. Especially compared to all the other rides, this one is just silly fun.
Next, we hit Iron Dragon which has the distinction, for me at least, of being the first "suspended" coaster I've ever been on. A suspended coaster is one where you're in a normal car, but the track is above you and the car will independantly swing left and right relative to the track. Because they're not rigidly mounted, you probably won't find any that go upside-down or anything too crazy, but the swinging does add dimension to what would otherwise be a fairly sedate track. So, for me, having ridden this means that I've been on every type of roller coaster out there, except for "flying" coasters (headfirst, like a hang glider) and this one of a kind.
With the completion of Iron Dragon, we had twelve coasters out of the thirteen (there are officially sixteen, but two of them are kiddie rides, and the third is really a dry toboggan ride), and it was pretty much dark, so we took a quick break from coasters to do Power Tower, where we did the "Turbo Drop" option. It was nice to see the park all lit up, which was basically why we did it. The scary part is that when we were at the top of that tower looking down on the world, we had to look up to see the tops of two of the rollercoasters there.
Once Power Tower was done, we headed across the plaza to the one coaster we had remaining. Now, most people would write it off as a kiddie ride, but Wildcat is a lot of fun. It falls somewhere between a kiddie ride and a "wild mouse" ride (which are not kiddie rides, though they may look like them), and it offered a nice way to wind down the day.
With our list (well, really my list) completed, we headed over to the Pepsi Diner or whatever the hell it was for what they call a milkshake (that's a frappe in my world) and headed back to the motel, where I slept like a baby.