My 100th Roller-Coaster, Part 10


This report chronicles my unforgettable two week trip in June,
where I visited 12 parks and rode 42 roller-coasters, including my 100th.


Coaster Con at Kennywood/Conneaut Lake Park

"Food, folks and fun"

I've been looking forward to this day for almost a year.

It was the day before Labor Day last year that Susan and I spontaneously chose to visit Kennywood. What a wonderful decision that turned out to be! Kennywood was a total delight and a complete surprise to us both. Being fairly new to the coaster enthusiast's world, we knew next to nothing about this charming traditional park in Pittsburgh. Our visit was limited to just a few hours however, so returning to Kennywood was a high priority on our travel plans for this year.

Unfortunately Susan would be able to see Kennywood for only a few hours on this trip as well. She could not get away from work any longer and would have to return home this afternoon. So we left our motel in Harrisburg at 8:00 a.m. in time to be at Kennywood for opening bell at 11:00.

The drive from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh seemed endless! It took us approximately 3 hours and while the drive was pretty, we really wanted to spend our time together in the park. I do not like feeling rushed and all morning it felt like I was hunched over the steering wheel urging the car to move faster.


Photo courtesy of Joyrides
Finally we arrived at Kennywood. This park is so gorgeous, it's hard to describe to folks who haven't visited. The combination of classic rides, historic buildings, immaculate grounds and a confusing layout makes it feel as if you're entering another time and another place.

We only had two hours to spend and fortunately the crowds were light so every ride was virtually a walk on. We elected to ride the Jackrabbit first. This coaster caught us completely off-guard last year. Neither of us had heard about the double dip - is there a single greater element on any roller-coaster? The fixed lap bars crack me up. I notice the trains have been painted too!

When we rode The Racer last year we were did not get any of the airtime I had heard about later. We rode in a middle car and thought it was a fun ride but liked Gemini at Cedar Point better. This time, however, we got a backseat ride. Whoa! This was a totally different Racer for both of us! We laughed and screamed and were amazed at how much better the ride seemed. If there were time we woul definitely want to ride this again!
Photo courtesy of Theme Park Review

We walked onto the midway and debated riding the Skycoaster. We had only done one skycoaster, at MGM in Las Vegas, and it scared the life out of me. Susan looked like she was game for it but I got wet feet and worried about the time. I did note that it would be great to get married on a skycoaster however. We could go up, just the two of us and our pastor, with all our friends and family gathered below us on the ground with microphones set up so they could hear the ceremony. I could even have a fake ring that I could drop into the crowd, Aaaaaah!! And as he pronounced us husband and wife we could pull the rip cord and fly down into the crowd! I thought it was a marvelous idea. Susan just laughed like she always does whenever I come up with a crazy idea.

The Thunderbolt. Susan suggested we go for the backseat. I was worried - up until now I had been handling the rides all right, but I remembered the strong lateral forces The Thunderbolt delivered and was scared Susan might slam into me. She promised she'd hold on so we went for it.

Big, BIG mistake.

She couldn't help it. Thunderbolt is just too strong. It slammed her elbow right square into my ribs and I let out a yell and doubled over from the pain. This one made me cry. Up until now I felt like I'd been walking a fine line between tolerable and intolerable pain, but this one pushed me over the edge. It took a few minutes for me to regain my composure and I decided we'd better take a break. Susan had her patch fries while I took another pain pill. All we had left was the Steel Phantom anyway, and I figured one ride would be all either of us could take.

I was wrong! For some reason the Phantom didn't hurt me at all! Susan, however, was not so fortunate. This ride is not so kind to shorter folks and Susan fell victim to Phantom's head-banging. I, however, felt very relieved to know there were three coasters I could ride for the next two days.

One quick trip to the PittFall and that was all the time we had. We had to get to the Radisson so I could check in for the Con and get my registration materials. The itinerary said registration 1:00-5:30, and Susan's plane left at 4:00, so I figured we could spend an hour getting registered and seeing what goes on at this kind of event before we had to leave. I also wanted Susan to meet some of the people I'd been telling her about for so long.

I had never been to an event like this so I had no idea what to expect. We entered the Radisson and immediately saw the registration tables. Everyone was very welcoming and friendly, and I was given an enormous amount of materials. I turned my head to the left and a very tall man with a huge smile on his face walked up and introduced himself to me. It was Chris Lucht. Chris is one of the friendliest guys I've ever met. He told us where to go for the sales tables and said he was going to see if the photographs were on display yet and would be back shortly.

Inside the sales room there were a huge number of vendors selling everything a coaster enthusiast could dream of. Books, t-shirts, patches, signs, buttons, clothing, paperweights, pins, all kinds of paraphernalia. I stopped at the ACE table and purchased two t-shirts. I also spent alot of time at Nancy Stillwagon's table where I purchased Robert Cartmell's book. Nancy is a natural salesperson - her Guenther Hall sells every kind of coaster trinket you could want and she makes it a pleasure to buy from her. Susan had a wonderful time visiting with Sarah Alvey and just browsing through the tables while getting her first look at the goings on of a Coaster Con.

Unfortunately we had to get her to the airport so we didn't spend alot of time at the sales tables. Our appetites were whetted by this first taste of Coaster Con and I couldn't wait for the evening's events to begin. I just wished Susan could have stayed for it. The past three days were perfect and I do *not* want her to leave. It's just not right without her. But I know she has to get back to work so we said our good byes at the airport. She told me she was sure I'd have lots to tell her upon my return.

Yes, I would have lots to tell her.

I would tell her about Sandcastle, the first event of the Con and one of the most memorable evenings of the year for me. Sandcastle is a beautiful boardwalk waterpark situated on the river's edge. Tiki torches lined the boardwalks, and a beautiful old bridge loomed just beyond the park. The place felt very spacious and the patio tables were laid out comfortably. A band was hired to play for the evening and a fantastic array of Pittsburgh area food was served free of charge: chipped ham sandwiches, sausages and kraut, perogies and Klondike Bars for dessert. The food was abundunt and the drinks were flowing. I finally got to meet Joe Schwartz and Dana Schwartz, two of RRC's more notorious posters. At one point I looked around the table and there must have been 15 or 20 RRCers hanging out, laughing and enjoying one another's company. I thought to myself "Yeah." This was a nice group of people I had associated myself with, and they were all very welcoming and fun. It didn't take much to feel I like belonged.

Later that night we had our first ERT session and I fested on Steel Phantom with Sean Flaharty. I was SO grateful (and extremely suprised!) to be able to ride this coaster pain-free. When Susan and I rode it a year earlier we could only manage two rides each before we felt beaten to a pulp, and while Susan had the same kind of experience earlier in the day, I was much more fortunate. It's a good thing, too, because anyone who can ride Steel Phantom painlessly will tell you it's an incredibly intense and thrilling ride. I like the first drop alot, but that second drop is just a big blur. The inversions are extremely intense and I noticed the support posts shaking as the train entered each loop. I know this coaster has its detractors but it's incredibly unique and I'm glad Kennywood took the gamble to build it. And oh, by the way, the entire night Dave Sandborg seemed to be under the impression we were riding "Chang!"
Photo courtesy of Joyrides

We also rode the Tumble Bug and attempted to "hump the turtle." Ummm.... I'm not sure we did this right. Basically it involved moving to the right as the car crested each hill. We were pathetic really so to avoid embarrassment I won't name any of the participants.

I avoided the Thunderbolt on this night and would only manage two more rides during the rest of my stay. As much as I love this ride I just had to concede defeat to its intense lateral forces and could only look on as a spectator.

Finally Sean and I headed over to the PittFall for a final ride of the night. Sean showed me a unique way of riding. The trick is to leave plenty of room as you pull down on your harness. Then slide out as far as you can. It felt like I was humping the seat! Then you throw your arms and legs out. What happens is when you start the freefall your legs come up over your head! It took alot of nerve to slide out and trust that the harness would hold me, but what a rush! My first day of Coaster Con had exceeded my highest hopes.

The next morning I woke up to rain. Waking up was by now extremely difficult and so I opted not to feel obligated to arrive in time for ERT. I did manage to make it to the park for the last half hour.


Photo courtesy of Theme Park Review
I walked over to The Racer and the first person I saw was Chris Lucht. We took the front seat of the green train and on our way up the lift hill Chris told me that the front seat of Jackrabbit had been blocked off in memory of Marie Miller, a popular ACE member who passed away recently.

With a park full of coaster enthusiasts there was lots of hand slapping on the Racer, and that ride was the best I've ever had! We had standup airtime in many places and the coaster just flew through the track.

ERT was over and I had mentioned to Chris that Sean and I were planning to ride the skycoaster. Chris said he would only ride a skycoaster if it were ten feet off the ground, but I encouraged him to try it. Sean soon came over and before you know it, Chris Lucht had signed up for his first skycoaster flight! Sean and I were also going to ride with Rich Guenthner, a skycoaster virgin as well.

I thought I was fine, really. But as we entered the dressing area and began suiting up for our rides I began to get scared. And when I get scared I shake.

I shook. And shook. And shook. The trembling got so bad there was no way to disguise it. I couldn't tell if Sean and Rich thought it was funny or they were genuinely concerned for me. As the cable pulled us up Rich made a comment about my Turrets Syndrome, and Sean *begged* me to loosen my grip on his arm. Rich pulled the cord and what happened next I honestly don't remember. All I know is I screamed like a girl and freaked out. I never did let go of Sean or Rich's arms and I think I screamed for a good long while. Chris Lucht was next to go with us and this time I had an outside position. Even worse. It is my decided opinion that people with a fear of heights have no business riding skycoasters. Chris was fine, a model skycoaster flyer. I, however, will not be on another of those things for a long, long time.

I hung out that morning with Sean Flaharty, Rich Guenthner, Tom Kelley, Curt Hassinger, Curt's Mom (who delighted me by enthusiastically riding every coaster at Kennywood!), Chris Lucht, Dave Sandborg, Tim Melago, Joe Schwartz, Dana Schwartz and Joe Krapf. We went from ride to ride and had a fantastic time.

Lunchtime at Kennywood was a picnic for ACEers to celebrate ACE's 20th anniversary. A huge cake was put on display in one of the pavillions. The food was served buffet style and what a spread! Barbeque chipped ham, corn on the cob, baked beans, cole slaw, two kinds of pasta salad, you name it. It was a feast fit for a bunch of coaster freaks. It was the first time I got to see just how large the contingent was for this Con. I also got an invitation to join Chris, Dave and Tim for an afternoon excursion to Conneaut.

I'm so glad I did this. Conneaut is a wonderful little traditional park. It kind of reminds me of the Minnesota State Fair. In fact it has a kind of fair atmosphere to it. The park was fairly deserted, shockingly so in fact. Still all the rides were up and running and we had a great time. The Blue Streak was not giving much airtime on the hills but it was still a great ride and later in the afternoon it was clearly warming up. There is a sharp lateral just after the turnaround and this caused me a great deal of discomfort. Had I not been injured I would have loved it! At one point Tim and Dave convinced Chris and I to try a backseat ride. HUGE mistake. Oh my god, the pain. Even Chris needed a break after that.
Photo courtesy of Theme Park Review

The Blue Streak ride ops were cool, riding on the front of the train as they pulled it into loading position. They let me tape POV footage from the front seat with my camcorder.

We also rode the Flyers, which were quite different from the ones I'd ridden previously on my trip. I never did get the thing to fly, though I'm sure there's a way. We also rode the Tumble Bug, and this one was much faster and better than the one at Kennywood. The elderly gentleman operating the ride took great pride in it, and I believe he said it was the oldest Tumble Bug in existence. If so they are maintaining it extremely well.

We rode Dr. Moriarity's Wild Ride, a......... coaster......... I guess. It was great fun and for some reason I got a big laugh watching Tim come down the hill in that car! It's a silly ride and the famous gum wall is just plain gross!


Photo courtesy of RRC Page
I can't even say how much I enjoyed my time with Chris, Tim and Dave. This was really my first time getting to know these guys and they are just the nicest guys you could imagine. We talked about everything during the ride up and back, and all three guys are easy to converse with. It really surprised me with Tim because he's very shy but I enjoyed talking to all of them.

I'm not sure how many rides we got in during the few hours we were there, but I have to say the Blue Streak and Conneaut Lake hold a soft spot in my heart.

When we got back ERT had already begun. I took the opportunity to take in the atmosphere of Lost Kennywood. There is simply no other place like it in any other park. I'm really drawn to places that take me back to another time, and Lost Kennywood has that old fashioned feeling. The fountains are mesmerizing - I could sit on the edge of the round fountain and soak up all that atmosphere the entire evening.

Dave suggested we do the Magic Carpet Ride (I believe that's what it's called). This was WAY intense!!! I've never been on a magic carpet ride that intense before! We also did the Bayern Kurve, and once again, Kennywood's is the best! I heard the blast from that horn for weeks!

Chris ducked out to find his roommate for the night, so Dave, Tim and I walked over to the PittFall. We ended up getting the last ride of the night on it. I suggested we take our shoes off and ride it Sean's way. We did, and it was the memorable ride I've had on PittFall to date.

The next morning I had no intention of riding anything. I just wanted to walk around on my last day and shop and videotape the park. Of course who should I run into but Chris Lucht! And upon leaving the gift shop, Dave Sandborg and Tim Melago! Dave and Tim decided to give us a dark ride tour of Kennywood. I had never done any of them before so this was a real treat. It's one of the things that I love about Kennywood. We also did Noah's Ark. This is a GREAT RIDE!!!! I was amazed at how much they packed in there! I won't describe the ride because that would spoil the surprise, but I must say this is a classic attraction that defines Kennywood better than any other ride. It was nice to run into Brian Peters on this ride as well!

It was time to grab some lunch and then go. We all wanted different things. I think Dave and Tim got a hot dog. I remembered a bit of advice Dave Althoff gave to me and decided to get a Kennywood Belgian Waffle. This was the best thing I have ever eaten at a park. It was a fresh Belgian Waffle with two scoops of hand dipped vanilla ice cream, a mound of fresh sliced strawberries, and the whole thing was smothered in whipped cream. It was almost sinful. I ate as much as I could but I barely even made a dent in it. Fabulous.

I bid farewell to Chris, Tim and Dave and in so doing realized that my trip was about to end. I didn't want it to end. I had managed to escape reality for the last two weeks. And while I encountered one hurdle after another, I still managed to make the most of my trip. I had the best time I've ever had in my life. I met the most wonderful friends imaginable. I visited the most beautiful parks and rode some of the greatest roller-coasters ever made. My 100th roller-coaster turned out to be a turkey, but it taught me a valuable lesson.

Every coaster counts.

THE END

Today for you, tomorrow for me
RunawayMT


Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10


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Email: MarkinArk@earthlink.net