Trying Out: Enchanted Village at Wild Waves (Week Forty-One)
(There were not a lot of images I could put into a baby shower article. But roller coasters? Pfft. I can link YouTube videos all day to that. Interactivity!)
Technically I have been on a roller coaster before. I suppose that it depends on your definition.
Say that you go to a little wooden track that, at its peak, stands ten feet off the ground. Say that seat belts are provided, but no metal bars lower down and lock you into place. Say that the top speed is probably twenty miles per hour. No loop the loops, no dramatic careening from side to side. There was a hill or two; more like a bump. However it was more of a family activity than a thrill ride.
That was my previous roller coaster experience. (Unless we count Ferris Wheels. Which I do not.) It was time to take it up a notch.
I have very little desire to go to fairs or carnivals that operate on a traveling basis. If I am going to ride on something that defies gravity and travels at high speeds, I do not want something to moves from town to town on a trailer. Traveling rides make me wary. I want concrete foundations, darn it.
In my area there is really only one roller coaster destination. Thankfully, they boast several impressive rides. The one that I felt I had to try, the main focus of this mission, was the Timberhawk. It is a large roller coaster, and one of the oldest and biggest wood-track roller coasters in operation. I went online, all set to book my trip… only to find out that they were closed.
Apparently, after the busy summer, the amusement park shuts down. I suppose it makes sense. After all, the heart of the place is a water park. One can only sport swimsuits for so long. I was miffed that I had missed my shot. (Plan everything far in advance! Forget spontaneity. Bah!)
Then I noticed that they had this event called FrightFest. I am not a Halloweener, but plenty of people are. So, starting in October, the park (but not the water rides) was open for about five hours each weekend night. Hope returned! I simply had to ignore the suggestion to dress up in costume. I hopped online, bought my ticket, paid for parking, and off I went.
(This is the only activity this year where you more or less have to pay them for parking. They are sort of in the middle of nowhere and the acreage is all theirs. So if they want to charge you twelve bucks? You are going to pay it. Somebody has to pay for the dump-trucks to deposit all that gravel.)
I showed up fifteen minutes before the gate opened and there were already an hundred people in line. You want ride-geeks in front of you who know what they are doing. The maps were few and far between. (Also a little hard to navigate.) So I did what any sensible person would do. I watched the small children and excitable teens. The spot they ran to first must be the go-to destination.
Sure enough, the crowd made its way up a hill. This is where being six-foot-three comes in handy. I was not about to run, but I put my long legs to work and was soon at Timberhawk. I wanted to tackle my prime destination. If I liked it, I would hit it again before I left.
This was when I noticed a trend. The staff members, the ones manning the controls? Employees charged with my safety? They were all teenagers. From the first ride on, all I could think about was the movie Adventureland.
It makes sense. Local kids need jobs too. They are free weekend nights. Voila. They never did anything too crazy or caused me much concern. But there were nagging doubts in the back of my mind. “What if they look at their phone in that crucial moment? They are half my age. They are running this machine, but do they even have a driver’s license?”
Yes, I was a little ageist. I shoved the notions to the back of my brain. I decided that the bosses had been through this for decades. There were numerous safeties in each device. Why sweat it?
That was mostly my attitude for the next hour or so. I blame it on the fact that, when I was a teenager, I spent much of my time ushering a documentary titled, “Thrill Ride: The Science of Fun.” In it, the filmmakers documented a few rides around the country, how they worked, and the tricks employed to make them scarier. Whenever my brain was starting to venture into thrill territory, science brain kicked on.
Anyhoo, I and five or so other kids were the first ones on Timberhawk. We were told to put anything that might fall out of our pockets on the platform. This meant a few hats and jackets were thrown over our hands and fell haphazardly on the walkway. The staff person gave instructions, the metal bar was placed across our laps, and we were off.
Again, six-foot-three. I know people only get decapitated on rides when they stand up… but still. The engineers did their job well in freaking me out. With every dip under a support beam or bridge, I felt myself leaning forward and hunkering down. I never had any desire to throw my hands up in the air.
“They create a downward angle that had plenty of clearance, but it makes you feel like the opening is small. Also, they place the support beams close together so that you feel claustrophobic. Oh, and once the initial momentum is gone, it is hard to build up more; so the first jolt will probably be the scariest.”
Uh huh. Sure. I knew all that. I still ducked. I never screamed, I never closed my eyes, but I could certainly feel my heart rate go up.
I collected myself. I thought that is was no so bad, and set out looking for my second roller coaster to ride. Those maps… I tell ya. I tried to figure out what were real rides and what were silly distractions. (Shooting galleries? Nope. Bumper cars? Pass. I have enough neck injuries already.) I ended up walking around, working the perimeter and closing in on the center.
Out of sight, and almost devoid of people, was the Timber Axe. (Should they really have two rides with the word “timber” in the title if that is what someone yells right before a tall tree falls down? Just a thought.)
There were only five of us so I sat down in the front. If you are going to fall to your death, you might as well get the best view. Even if it does increase the risk of someone throwing up on your neck. (Happily I never saw or heard of a single person throwing up in the park. But more on that later.)
I sat in the front of the axe. A metal bar was lowered over my torso. And then, much to my surprise, the floor started to drop out beneath us. I was not quite ready to lose contract with the ground, but there it went. It was a good thing it did, because the giant axe started to swing in its full pendulum arc. Up up up we went. I thought we might gradually build up, swing back and forth a little bit. But no. It started is off on a full swing. I had always wondered what it would be like to go all the way around on a swing-set. Now I was finding out.
“Those metal bars are perfectly capable of keeping you in place, despite the fact that you are currently hanging upside down. There is probably several sets of steel that keeps them from flying open. The height of this ride is not nearly enough to worry that the whole rig will fall over. And, should something happen in mid arc? Gravity will ensure that it comes back to its neutral point and end with you sitting near the ground.”
These were the thoughts I had as the one-hundred and eighty degree-plus arc left me with an excellent birds-eye view of the ground. The clarity of it all. The breadth of the landscape. All were taken in as I hung there, in mid-air, waiting, in all meanings of the phrase, for the axe to fall.
And, you know, why go simply in one direction? Why not go in the opposite arc, so you can feel it all happening before you can see it? That sounds like a hoot, right? Great! ‘cause we are doing it.
A simple ride. A fun ride. A ride that turns your world upside down.
I assumed that I would not hit all the rides. Start off slow on your first time out, right? Besides, if you have all the fun the first time out, there is no reason to go back.
I turned to the staff person there and asked the teenager, in all her years of wisdom, what ride did I absolutely have to partake in?
I was told to go the Brain Drain. That is it was terrifying. “Just go straight that way and it is past the Ring of Fire.”
A: Their pathways are anything but straight. “Enchanted” invokes images of twists, turns, and surprise dead-ends, and the park does not disappoint on that front. B: “Ring of Fire”? Like the Johnny Cash song? Or is it “Reign of Fire”, like the Matthew McConaughey, Christian Bale, dragon-fighting movie? Hmmm…
I strolled. I meandered. I took some wrong turns. Eventually I found a few more rides.
I was tempted to go straight to the Brain Drain, but I got distracted. There was this small ride called the Disk’O Flashback. Humble in look, low in height, but it had a curious way about it. Sitting on an arc, maybe one hundred and thirty-five degrees, it also turned on a giant wheel. You went up and down as you curved around.
Being on the ground only gave science brain more time to analyze.
“Oh, look at that. The ride takes the person’s field of vision past the arc of the ride so that it feels like they are about to rush over the edge. Clearly it cannot do that. Oh, and the person is facing outwards, further adding to the feeling that they have nothing between them and the ground. How novel. Once again a ride slowly builds up to a peak height, hovers there for a bit, and then solely descends to a resting point. Simple physics.”
Yeah, science brain was a little smug at times.
The crowds were getting a bit bigger, so I was able to coast off their enthusiasm. You know how watching comedy is more fun in a crowd? How you can build off their reaction and let the infectious humor carry you towards a greater emotional enjoyment? Same thing. The kids were all screaming. While science brain was going through the step-by-step methods, kid-brain was laughing on the inside at the shared state of terror.
And right next door to that ride was the Ring of Fire. It was right there. Mere feet away. If I rode it, the Brain Drain would be right next to it. Three in a row. And everybody loves a trilogy. Why not build up to it?
The Ring of Fire operates on almost the exact same concepts as the Timber Axe. I was confused why the line was so long. Maybe it was late enough that more people had gotten into the rides; nothing more. Regardless, I sat back and looked at the big metal circle in front of me.
“Ah yes, more swinging in a vertical, circular arc. Oh, but instead of being attached to a fixed point that is thrown, one is put into a wheeled transport which is propelled through the circle. And the guide wires are there because, yes, this ride just might try to pull side to side due to its great height. Also, should the people in the vehicle create some disparity in weight, there are safeguards in place.”
One thing science brain did not warn me about was the need for pairs. “Everybody will need a partner”, it was repeatedly announced. I chatted up some folks in line, not really in the mood to make new friends. Part of me assumed that the staff would find a person for me. Surely not everyone comes here on a date or a family of four. I had a back-up person. However I figured they would work something out.
As the line moved, ever-so-slowly, a call went out. “Any singles out there? Any single riders?” I looked at the dozen or so people in front of me. None of them raised their hands. So I ditched my back-up buddy and waded up past the others. So long, suckers! Have fun standing in line with your special someone. Us single folks are gonna go on the actual ride! (Please lack the note of quotation marks. Think these things. Do not shout them.)
I made friends with Chris, a chaperone. Chris and I were belted in. Let me correct that. Chris and I, two full-grown men, well over six feet, ducked, squirmed, contorted, and forced ourselves into a seat that was about the size of a mini-fridge. Then the staff came along and bolted us in. There were metal bars that went above our heads and they latched each one down. You could hear them working their way past the others with metallic sounds. Clunk-thunk. Clunk-thunk. Clunk-thunk.
We were all set. There had to be some sort of diesel engine or generator powering the device. I could hear it trying its hardest. Ever since I had gotten in line I had smelled something like gasoline. We were fully into the industrial age on this ride.
Unlike the Timber Axe that went straight to full circles, the Ring of Fire built up to it. Swing uuuuuup, and doooown. Swing UUUppp, swing DOowwwwn. After three or four of those, we went for probably one hundred and seventy-nine degrees, then careened back down. It was as if they wanted us to believe that we would be traveling a full circle, but it was just a tease. No, we would have to swing backwards another half-circle. But sure enough, on the next go, we went in a complete circle. A paper fell down from the person’s jacket and headed towards the ground.
“That could have been a person!” Kid brain screamed with the others.
Science brain was unimpressed.
“We just saw these tricks employed two rides ago. Surely the Brain Scrambler is more terrifying.”
My stomach was too busy to listen to either of them. My stomach was talking. Loudly.
“I don’t care for those fumes. That’s what this is, right? Gasoline fumes? I mean, we’re outside and all. But dude, I could really use some fresh air pretty soon.”
I half scrambled, half fell out of the ride. The fumes might have done it, but I think my body was not expecting me to take it through such a series of events in under an hour. I walked towards a larger, possibly calmer roller coaster. I took a quite a few deep breaths. My default settings were not returning.
I called it. The Brain Drain and its ilk would be there another time. I still had an hour’s drive to contend with.
I made my way towards the exit, passing several vendors’ booths as I went. They sell food there. That sounded like a terrible idea to me. “Here, small child! Suck down all this sugar, run around, then get tossed an hurled ‘round and ‘round! It’ll be fun!”
The security guard offered to stamp my hand for reentry, but I waved him off weakly.
I lay down in my compact car. I sat in the doorway and leaned over. I sat in front of my car. Nothing worked. My stomach would not return to normal. Surely I was over the gas fumes by now.
“Are we going to throw up? Because there is a reason we only throw up every seven years. Like the Seinfeld episode! But yeah, I would really like to not throw up today.”
“Perhaps you are simply experiencing the last effects of the fumes. Or maybe you should not have eaten that granola twenty minutes before the Timberhawk. It could be anything, really. Would it not be advisable to start heading home now, before you have to contend with the dark?”
“Guys. Really. Not feeling great here. Puking would almost be a relief. Let’s form a plan of attack. Y’know, like now? Urgh.”
I hopped in my rather new car with its rather new interior and rather clean seats. I drove past about ten exits on the interstate. Then, for the first time ever, I pulled over to the side of the road, crawled over the console, opened the passenger door, and threw up on the side of the road.
“Well, you wanted to try something new. And you have never upchucked on a highway before. Congratulations.”
I spent another ten or so minutes, still trying to settle my stomach. I had no desire to vomit again, but if I did, I was hoping to get it all over with. Throwing up while driving sixty miles per hour? In the dark? That simply sounds unsafe to me. However, I tried to power through.
“If I can just make it to that exit.” Deep breaths. “Well, I made it there. Can I make it to that next exit?” Deep breaths. “Hey, we made it off the freeway. Think we can get all the way home?” Deep bre—
Nope. Pulled off (in a parking lot this time, thank you God), and removed the last of the offending chemicals in a BMW-sponsored pile of dirt.
“Well, at least you are returning nutrients back to the soil. I am not sure those are the most beneficial nutrients… but at least you tried.”
“Can we be done puking yet? I do not like puking. Are we done?”
“Home. I want to be home. Now. Cat. Couch. Garbage can. No more driving. Home.”
Fifteen or so minutes, and more deep breaths later, I made it. I popped some antacids, I grabbed something to puke in, and I hit the couch. No more movement. Certainly no more loop-the-loops. Just purely horizontal calmness.
Would I do it again? Probably. Would I do four rides in an hour? No. Maybe I need some Dramamine. Maybe the fumes did me in. Or maybe I am not built for roller coasters.
All of my voices were glad this was not a first-date activity. (Stick to adventure rooms, doe-eyed couples.) That plan would have gone horribly awry.
(Special thanks to those crazy enough to videotape their roller coaster adventures for all to see. And CoasterForce, I do not know why you stole your font from Batman & Robin, but I appreciate your existence.)