"Even the best laid plans....."
Photo courtesy of Theme Park Review
I really planned for this trip.|
I mean, REALLY planned. I bought books and maps, and sent away for brochures. I called every single park - got their operating hours, admission prices, and the names, addresses and mother's maiden name of every single employee scheduled to work that day. I carefully planned each day, each ride so that I could make The Grizzly, a classic woodie, a proud and worthy choice for my 100th roller-coaster. This would go down in history as the most perfectly planned trip ever taken. I had three notebooks completely filled with excruciatingly detailed information such as:
6/17 Wed. AW Open 10:00 - 9:00, recommended food: Boardwalk Fries Possible RRCers to meet: Kip Ross, Brian Peters Overnight: Fredricksburg Econolodge, (540) 786-8374, I-95 exit 130B, $35.00, Queen size bed, Applebee's and IHOP nearby. Confirmation no. 53405865. Diners nearby: None.
I had lists on flight information, hotel information, car rental information, mileage information, park information, sustenance information.
The one thing I neglected to get was the weather forecast.
Thursday, June 11. I was scheduled to leave Minneapolis mid-afternoon and meet fellow RRCer David O'Connor at SFGAm. What a perfect way to start my trip! Seven great roller-coasters I'd never ridden at a park I'd been dying to visit for years but for some reason or another never did, usually because of weather.
I turned on The Weather Channel. It was pouring rain in Chicago.
Okay, this was going to be tricky. I had precious little time to waste. My plane didn't land until 3:30 and I wouldn't be at the park until 4:30 or 5:00. The park closed at 8:00. It would be a miracle if I rode every coaster in such a short amount of time. David was definitely in for a workout. Plus I was scheduled to drive another 4-5 hours to Jasper, Indiana that night. Any deviation caused by weather, traffic, carjackings, drive by shootings, whatever, would lay my perfectly constructed plans to waste.
I was doomed from the start. My plane was delayed and traffic on Cicero Ave. was backed up for miles. I didn't even leave the car rental lot until 4:00. And it was *pouring* rain. My plans were coming apart at the seams! I hard a hard time letting go of those seven seductive coasters and my dream of making The Grizzly my 100th, but common sense prevailed and I decided to just head on down to Jasper and hope David would understand. Looking on the bright side I figured I'd be refreshed and rarin' to go for the next day's event - Holiday World's Stark Raven Mad!
What the hell are all these tolls for and why do I have to stop for one every ten feet? These are the worst roads in the world, where's all the money going? I opted to bypass the interstate in Indiana and instead take Hwy 41, which is practically a straight line running down the western edge of the state. I figured this would result in a shorter driving time to Jasper.
What I failed to take into account were the one million stop lights that have been installed all along this freakin highway.
5:30 and I was starving. I pulled into a Burger King and ordered a Big Crapper with cheese. The minute I pulled out of the parking lot and encountered my one millionth stop light I took a bite of my crapper and its entire contents plopped out of the bun and fell right onto my lap.
Now I've had it, I've just had it. I've got a lap full of crap and I'm stuck in Stoplight City. I'm getting off this stupid highway. And THIS CRAP IS GOING OUT THE WINDOW!
At North Hayseed I turned left and grudgingly made my way over to I-65. As I entered the interstate I thought to myself "Okay, the bad part's over, time to enjoy your trip." That's *precisely* when the rain began to pick up. Cue thunder, cue lightening. Add to that the annoying problem of my windshield wiper, which seemed to clear every bit of the window except that tiny area that fell precisely within my line of sight.
Scrunching down in order to see out the window, I turned on the radio to get a weather report and could not get the AM/FM switch to work. There was also no obvious scan/seek or dial function so I'm stuck listening to whine rock. The deejay so taken with Alanis apparently had no concerns about the weather. As I neared West Lunkhead the traffic was down to 50 mph. The storm was getting much worse. Each time I'd shake my head and think "it *can't* get any worse" IT GOT WORSE! Finally traffic slowed to a crawl and the interstate became a one-lane 20 mph caravan. Then all of a sudden everybody just stopped driving. I looked to my right and saw little bits of trash swirling about in the air. Oh my God, there was OBVIOUSLY a tornado somewhere. I drove to an overpass just ahead and got out and hid with about 20 or 30 people. There were little kids screaming and crying - it was awful! It didn't really feel like we were in THAT great of danger but it *was* definitely scary.
After about 5 minutes the storm died down and I took off. No cars, children or cows were carried away and I never did see a tornado. Still, it was not the kind of excitement I had so meticulously planned for this trip.
My reward for this hellish first day was a stop at Steak-N-Shake, conveniently and beautifully located just off the interstate near West Lunkhead and the Tippewhocares Battlefield State Memorial. Once the storm had passed the skies cleared and I had an extremely uneventful drive to Jasper, save the incredibly winding and beautiful drive through Hoosier National Forest.
Friday, June 12.
Ah, sunshine!!! A nice hot day in Southern Indiana. Now I wonder what this park is going to be like. I imagine it to be fairly small and flat, with lots of older kiddie rides and one good but very short roller-coaster. I am not much impresssed with Indiana, I have to tell you. But I'll be meeting alot of RRCers for the first time today, and I'm really looking forward to it.
I stopped at the Time-For-A-Quickie store to pick up some candy for Sam Ulrich. I got him a nice big bag, enough to give any growing boy a well-earned belly ache. Then it was on to the town of Santa Claus, Indiana and Holiday World.
I pulled into the parking lot and made my way to the registration window. So far nothing about this park is the way I imagined it. It seems bigger and cleaner, not as rinky-dink and more sophisticated than I pictured. There were three people ahead of me in line. One of them turned around, noticed my red customized RRC button and said "Oh, you have one of those fancy new ones!" Oh my God, it's Jim Westland! Hey, Jim, it's nice to finally meet you! I've been talking to Jim on line for a year now. He's sporting some cool looking shades, though he later tells me these aren't his regular ones.
We go inside and enter the plaza area. I'm not quite sure what to think. First of all, it's dead, there's nobody around. Second, it's like walking into a wierd scene from the Twilight Zone. The whole area is one big Christmas plaza, with a statue of Santa Claus to my left and a shepherd display to my right. Red bricks line the walls, and Merry Christmas banners hang from lamp posts. All the while I hear a soft but clearly recognizable song through the PA system. "Sleigh bells ring, are ya listenin......." It sounds haunting with nobody around.
There's no wait at all so we sit toward the back. Now I have a confession to make. I do *not* want to like this ride. Don't ask me why because I don't know and I don't want to be analyzed so leave me alone. Hmmm. Maybe it's because I know the ride is short. Maybe it's because I've heard people say they like it better than the Texas Giant and that annoys me. Maybe it's because it's in Indiana. Maybe it's because I have repressed anger toward my Mother. Who knows? Whatever the reason, it must be irrational so off we go.
That fifth drop is a doozy, and it begins what can only be described as a maelstrom. Through the misty forest we go and are you ready for a Big Finish? Oh yeah!!! I *LIKE* this ride!!! You know, I thought it was gonna be short, and while I'll admit it *is* kind of short - I still feel like I've had a good, full ride! I could tell immediately that I was going to enjoy riding this coaster all day.
And ride it I did, over and over again. The park wasn't terribly crowded and the longest time I had to wait was maybe 4 or 5 trains. That morning I mainly rode with two RRCers I had met at Full Moon Mania and became good friends with - Shawn McLaughlin aka RealtorGuy, and Cindy Stout. Shawn and Cindy surprised me when they agreed to drive up to Michigan with me the next day to ride the most talked about coaster of the year, Shivering Timbers. But on this day, today, we would truly enjoy riding The Raven!
That afternoon Holiday World's PR person, Paula Werne, opened up the back gates for attendees to walk through Ravenswood. It was there I met up with Mark and Debby Fluharty, Tom Kelley and Curt Hassinger, and Robert and Sam Ulrich, all of whom I'd met the weekend of Visionland's Grand Opening Day celebration. I told Sam I had something in my locker with his name on it, so be sure to follow me. I also met Dave Johnson, who kinda does, well, lots of different things at Holiday World. Dave doesn't post much on RRC but he does participate in the Monday night IRC chat, and what a nice guy he is.
At some point while shooting video in Ravenswood, I overheard a guy behind me absolutely *babbling* about Shivering Timbers. I turned around and said "You have GOT to be Ted Ansley!" and sure enough he was. Ted continued to talk about ST and I continued to be amused by his animated gestures and enthusiasm. He absolutely l-o-v-e-s that coaster!
The trip through Ravenswood was great. Shawn and Cindy thought so too.
That afternoon was a scorcher. Now I'm from Minnesota and not at all used to that kind of heat and humidity, so I took advantage of HW's free soda provided to all event attendees. I also had a conversation with one of the concessionaires and was really impressed by her friendliness. She said she couldn't have any of the soda, they weren't allowed! I thought that seemed very unfair, given the conditions she was working in. I offered to give her the first sip of my coke but she told me to just get my damn soda and leave her the hell alone. No, I'm only joking of course, but she did decline my offer.
This brings me to another observation. All the employees at Holiday World are good looking and friendly. They're all dressed immaculately, and their hair is groomed and they all have good skin. Now what is up with that? Is this a policy at Holiday World or is there something in the air around southern Indiana that makes everybody cute? I dunno, I haven't been the same since I saw The Stepford Wives. Whatever it is, they got it goin' on, that's for sure.
That afternoon, we finally explored the rest of the park. Wow, is it ever nice. First of all, there's a constant change in the gradation, you're either walking up or down. Second, the maturity of the trees is really welcome on such a hot day. And again, the landscaping is just immaculate. This *is* a theme park, and the theming is extremely well done, but nothing is overwhelming - it's all done in good taste. The overall effect is relaxing to the eye and the psyche.
Robert and Sam went with Dave down to the waterpark, which looked pretty busy. It also looked very impressive from what I could see. But again, being from Minnesota, where we don't start tanning until after July 4, I feared a minor panic would spread over the park if I dared bare my lily-white skin to everyone. So I chose to sweat it out with the other water-haters in our group.
Over by the river rapids ride, I saw they had water cannons. Now I had heard about these and couldn't wait to try them, but they didn't work! Curses! Anyway, it was there that I met Tim Melago and Adam Revesz. Tim barely said a word but he sure smiled alot - boy he's got some nice, white teeth. Adam was with some friends who don't like hanging out in large groups (is that code for we hate coaster freaks?) and he had to be respectful of that, but it was nice to finally meet him and Tim. Eight of us went for a ride on the rapids, and as we got in Curt Hassinger mumbled "I hate these rides, I'm always the one who gets soaked!" Now this was only my second or third rapids ride, and so far I've managed to escape getting wet. As we neared the end of the ride only Cindy Stout seemed to be fairly wet. We approached one more danger spot and Curt narrowly missed a good soaking, and just as he copped a self-congratulatory look - WHOOSH!!! Out of nowhere we hit a dip and a waterfall and Curt was thoroughly and completely drenched in a torrent of water. The expression of shock on his face was something I'll never forget. When we got off the ride Curt Hassinger was the wettest of the bunch.
We decided to head over to the Round Up so Curt and Cindy could spin dry. This turned out to be an incredibly relaxing ride. It's covered in shade, and the ride op ran it for a good long time. Many of us closed our eyes and took a quick cat nap! Curt, however, looked just as wet getting off the ride as he did getting on.
Around this time, three people arrived who I had been dying to meet. Dave Althoff, Sean Flaharty and Dave Sandborg. Sean gave me a hug - I think it's so cool when guys aren't afraid to do that - and he started showing me his 3-D video camera attachment. It's very cool looking. Dave Sandborg showed me his much talked about waist pack. I was amazed at how much junk he puts in there and how easily accessible everything is. Anyway, all three of these guys were exactly the way I imagined and I instantly felt comfortable around them. Dave Althoff went with us on the log ride and immediately started quizzing us. Oh my God, Dave, why must you test me? I know nothing! We also had a group spin on the Banshee, which was alot of fun. It was here that I first saw CoasterBob2, a person I'd had the misfortune of running into on one occasion and couldn't get rid of if I jumped into his arms and called him my bitch.
We left CoasterBob2 and went over to The Flyers, where I briefly met Roz Stevenson and John Cline. I've never done the flyers before and I didn't even know Holiday World had them. Their flyers are painted like giant birds and they looked like alot of fun. I watched several groups while Tom Kelley tried to give me an impromptu lesson. Unfortunately I made a fool out of myself when it was my turn to fly - I had no idea what I was doing or how to "feel" the wind. Tom looked completely disgusted when I got off and I was thoroughly and deeply ashamed.
I was also intrigued. Watching some of the more skilled flyers made me realize these are the greatest flat rides I've ever seen! Daves Johnson and Sandborg were clearly the cream of the crop and we gave Dave Sandborg a round of applause once he got off.
Dave Althoff asked me to come out to his car with him. One time I had mentioned in passing that it would look cool to have a t-shirt of a classic coaster pulling into the station with a ride op pulling the brake lever. Sure enough, Dave pulls out a big 11 x 14 full color photo of Cedar Point's Blue Streak, in the station, with one ride op standing on the runner boards and the another manning the brake lever. He also gave me a coaster video. I was floored. We'd never even met before - this is why I think people on RRC are truly special.
It was time for dinner and I was starving. I'd had some blue ice cream earlier in the day but that was it. Holiday World's pizza and fudge has been touted as THE best meal at an event, so I was saving up my appetite. However this has always sounded like a very strange combination to me. Pizza and fudge? I dunno.
Everybody gathered in a banquet room inside Kris Kringle's Cafe or something like that. The room was huge - I didnt realize so many people were here for this event, at least a couple hundred. We lined up for our sodas, then walked to a back wall and helped ourselves to plates loaded with *huge* slices of different kinds of pizza and a pile of potato chips. There was also a large table that had individually wrapped blocks of fudge. None of them were marked however, so I had no idea what I was getting. I'm not too big on fudge anyway so I figured I'd .....what's this? Orange fudge?
I grabbed a block of orange fudge and found a spot next to Sean. A couple of minutes later this guy walks up and says "Are you Mark? Do you mind if I sit here?" "No, of course not, who are you?" "I'm David O'Connor and you stiffed me yesterday at Six Flags Great America." No, he didn't say that, I'm only joking. I met David and his Dad, and we all had a great time at dinner. Sean regaled us with tales of his trip to Texas and some of the more, um, ah, unusual people he met. David and I tried the orange fudge - it tasted like those orange, foam candy peanuts, yuck. However the pizza WAS as advertised, magically delicious!
After dinner it was time to get down to business. The Raven, all night, in the dark. Jim Westland brought his bubbles and filled the back of the station with them. Adam Revesz had a kazoo. I videotaped Sean as he turned around and had a conversation with me during the entire ride. What fun we had. Now *this* was the kind of fun I had planned!
The distant lightning and thunder was getting closer and closer. It made for an incredible light show during our rides, but frankly I was getting a bit worried it might bring a halt to our ERT. Shawn and I went to retrieve my belongings from my locker and take them out to my car. When we got up to the plaza there were two security guys with walkie talkies. I guess HW had positioned employees around the park to monitor security and the weather. It was very cool to witness this kind of "behind the scenes" operation. They told me a tornado warning had been issued for the neighboring county and was headed directly our way and would be here within 30 minutes.
Visions of the chaos that ensued the night before immediately came to mind and I quickly got my stuff and ran it out to my car. By the time I got back they had stopped ERT and told everyone they could ride out the storm inside Raven's station. That lasted about thirty seconds, then they hurried everyone out of the station and asked us to wait inside Kris Kringle's Cafe. None of the enthusiasts seemed very concerned - in fact they seemed more worried about the storm damaging the coaster than ourselves. Half the group took up tables inside the large cafe, while the other half mingled just outside the doors in the plaza area. Within 15 minutes the wind picked up and everyone took shelter inside. This was kind of fun! The folks from Holiday World did their best to keep us entertained - both Pat and Will Koch made speeches and assured everyone they would remain with us throughout the duration of the storm. I think they were worried, both about the storm and the effect it was having on our ERT. But nobody cared, it was obvious everyone was having a good time.
Now imagine 200 plus people scurrying out into the middle of a severe storm, with trash and twigs and branches flying past as everyone ran the switchback trail down to the gift shop. I told Tom Kelley "You can tell who the runners are in this group!" as we were first to arrive. What a scene! All of us huddled in the gift shop as the storm descended upon us, and it quickly turned into the social hour of the season. It was SO MUCH FUN! Some guy from NPR recorded a conversation a group of us had, Dave Sandborg quickly and thoroughly disgraced himself with his shameful juggling skills, and everyone seemed to effortlessly float from one conversation group to another. It was marvelous, one of the most memorable moments I'll take with me from this trip.
Re-rides became the standard for the remainder of the night, and everyone went wild. People were high-fiving as we left the station, cheers and clapping, yelling, waving and screaming. The Raven tossed its passengers around so violently it became a coaster riders nirvana. In the station the atmosphere was electric. CoasterBob2 came over as Sean tricked me with the worst double-cross I've ever fallen victim to.
Then we started riding silly. Dave Sandborg, David O'Connor, Sean and I began to ride with increasing abandon. First we rode with our eyes closed. Then it was eyes closed, arms raised. Then it was eyes closed, arms raised and feet off the floor. Then we rode "vampire style" with our eyes closed and our arms criss crossed over our chests. We rode looking to the side. Then Dave suggested we ride looking over our shoulder.
As we came off the first or second hill and headed toward the turnaround over Lake Rudolph something happened. A pain tore through my left side that was *excruciating.* It knocked the breath right out of me. As I tried to turn around it ripped through my chest, my legs, my arms, everywhere. I yelled and grabbed onto my side, put one hand on the lapbar and tried to hang on. I yelled, "Sean, this isn't working out!" but my breath was so taken away it had a halting, gutteral sound. I hung on for the rest of the ride and tried to get my breath back but it only came in short bursts. Fortunately it was the second half of our re-ride, and once I got off I let the group go ahead of me while I hung back by the photo gallery with other riders who were taking a break, including Sam Ulrich, who was nursing one hell of a belly ache. >-)
Uh oh. This was bad. I must have *really* bruised myself. What happened? God, I'm gonna pay for this tomorrow. I hope it doesn't ruin my ride on Shivering Timbers! What the hell am I gonna do now? Oh my God, I am in serious trouble. Well, I'm riding, I'll just hang on. I won't do anything stupid.
So I rode. I hung on and rode and had fun, despite the pain. It was bad, but what was the alternative? NOT to ride? No thank you, this is too much fun.
The rides were the wildest, most out of control experiences I've ever had on a roller-coaster. I rode maybe five to ten more times that night. Each time it got to be a little bit worse until I was taking longer and longer breaks and I finally couldn't take it anymore. I told Cindy I had had enough and couldn't ride any longer. It was after midnight, she was feeling pretty tuckered out by this time, too, and we had a long drive ahead of us, so she decided to wait with me. We were standing near the exit ramp when David Hamburger passed by me. Sean had pointed him out to me earlier and I really wanted to meet him since he's someone who I've always admired from RRC. I called out his name and ran up and quickly introduced myself. He kept right on walking and said "Hi, I'm sorry, I gotta go." Well, smell you, Miss Thing! Later in the week Dave apologized for being so abrupt and explained he was just trying to get in one last ride before they closed off the line.
Shawn, Cindy and I were leaving together for our drive to Michigan the next day. I hadn't seen Shawn in awhile but I knew he was still riding. When he finally came down he...... he had this look. It was the look of a person who's found something they really, really like. And Shawn had found The Raven. He wanted one more ride. Isn't that what it's all about?
We left Holiday World around 1:00 a.m. We drove all the way to Bloomington, Indiana, where we stayed at a Motel 6. The woman in charge of registration was sound asleep and we had to buzz her for 10 minutes before she got up. She was mean to us. I mean both Cindy and I were genuinely afraid of her, so much so that after we got our room keys we realized that neither of us wanted to ask her for a wake up call. Cindy was grateful that I was a man about it and called down to the office. After I hung up the phone I rang Cindy's room, and she asked in a trembling voice "Was she mean to you too?" Shawn and I shared a room, which was supposed to be two double beds. There was only one. What a dump. I got three hours of sleep.
The next day we would make our way up the state toward Michigan's Adventure. There's not a whole lot about Indiana that impressed me. But Holiday World definitely did. That is one park I plan to come back to every year. Stark Raven Mad is the perfect event for coaster lovers. It was hard work getting there, but it was worth it. Still, as Cindy said offhandedly the next day while waiting in line for Shivering Timbers,
"Indiana, I've done the whole thing."
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