My 100th Roller-Coaster, Part 4


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



Knoebels

"When you're down and troubled and you need some loving care...."


Ticket


I woke up Monday morning after three hours of sleep and could not get out of bed. I couldn't move. My back hurt so badly I could not turn over even once, not even a little. Even turning my head to look at the clock made me groan. My chest felt swollen and it hurt if I took a deep breaths.

This couldn't be happening. Not today. Today was Knoebels Day, the park I was most looking forward to visiting.

I laid there and tried to think what I should do. I was supposed to meet Cindy Stout at the park in a few hours. Should I go to the hospital? Or should I go to Knoebels? Hospital, Knoebels, hospital, Knoebels.

Finally, I made up my mind. I'm going to get myself out of this bed and I'm going to get myself ready, and I'm going to Knoebels. This trip is a disaster. No it's not. Yes it is and you know it. No, it's not! I'm just not going to let this ruin my day. Whatever it takes, I'm going to have fun today. That's all there is to it.

I was late getting started but hey, I'm hurt. Okay, if I'm going to get through this trip I'm gonna have give myself some leeway here. I can't just jump up and move around like I'd like to. People are gonna have to understand that I'm sore and I can't do everything I'd like to. Oh brother, like anyone really cares. If you'd just shut up about it nobody would notice. For God's sake, I can't even breathe without it hurting. God, I am gonna be toast by the time Susan joins me on Thursday night. This trip is a complete disaster. Oh, just shut up and drive.

I took a detour and made my way to the town of State College, home of Penn State University. This is also the home of Ye Olde College Diner, where I intend to have breakfast, specifically their world famous "griled stickies."

I stopped for gas in a little town just outside of State College. Pennsylvania is full of these little towns. They are throwbacks to a different era, where time doesn't seem to effect much change. The people here are tight. While I'm pumping gas 4 or 5 old men have gathered just outside and are shooting the breeze. Every single one of them eyeballs me with suspicion as I walk by. When I walk in to pay for my gas a female customer is laughing and chatting animatedly with the woman behind the counter. As she turns to head for the door she sees me and immediately stops laughing. Her smile turns to that same suspicious stare I received from the old men standing outside.

God, I love this state.

I found my way to State College and drove past the football stadium. Lotta history in there, but I still harbor bad feelings for this school which beat my alma mater, the University of Kansas, in the Orange Bowl in 1968, 14-13. Someone gave me directions to the diner and I entered the main part of campus, which is pretty. All the buildings have that old style of brick - this is a REAL college campus, not like the giant, impersonal commuter campus at The University of Minnesota.

Ah! There it is! Ye Olde College Diner. I grabbed my video camera, walked in and immediately saw the glass display counters that showed off an array of pastries and breads. Just to my right were the distinct signs of a genuine train car! I started videotaping the train section and pretty soon I heard a woman yell from the kitchen "There's some guy out there videotaping the counter!" The swinging door opened, a woman came out and asked "Can I help you?" I said "Is this a real train car?" "Yes it is, well that part is anyway. The rest of the diner isn't, but this part is."

"Cool! I want some grilled stickies."
"How many orders?"
"Ummm.....how much are they? No nevermind, I want two. Do you mind if I videotape this?"
"Are you serious?"
"Yeah! I'm kind of into diners and I've read alot about this place."
"Ooooohkay.....knock yourself out."

I sensed I was about to get the same kind of treatment I got back at the gas station. Whatever, this is just so cool. I started taping everything. Four old guys sat at the counter eating breakfast, while three booths in the back were filled. A temporary wall had been erected and painted with a bizarre looking mural. My waitress came back out and eyeballed me again.

"Hey, where's the rest of the diner?"
"It's closed off, they're remodeling."
"Is that what that temporary wall is for?"
"Yeah."
"So behind that wall is more diner?"
"Yeah."
"And that's where all the drunk people would go?"

Everybody started laughing.

"Yeah, and there were a lot of em, too."
"Cool. This is so cool."

A man sitting two stools away asked me why I liked diners so much, so I told him they were old-fashioned and reminded me of when I was a kid and I used to go with my Dad to Margaret's Cafe every Saturday afternoon for chicken fried steak.

The man started asking me if I'd ever heard of such and such a diner, and the best diner in Pennsylvania was probably a place I'd never heard of. I had. Another of the guys at the counter joined in and before I knew it two of the waitresses came out and joined in the conversation. I found myself in the middle of one of those "diner moments" with strangers engaging in friendly talk. Then they brought out the grilled stickies which I recorded for posterity. These things are just incredibly good, way better than your average sticky buns. I left Ye Olde College Diner feeling much more invigorated than when I first arrived. I will always have warm memories of this place.

The drive to Elysburg did not seem to take that long. Perhaps it was the drive, I don't really know. There was a light mist all morning, and it seemed a fitting atmosphere for the mountains of Pennsylvania. Some people find rain depressing but I think it's moody and romantic.

The drive into Knoebles was a strange one. One back road after another, it really does feel like it's in the middle of nowhere. When I entered the parking lot I must say I was not terribly impressed. The park seemed.......flat. I was expecting a dramatic mountainous landscape, but this parking lot was just an open field.



Photo courtesy of Theme Park Review
I entered the park after passing through a narrow grove of very tall pine trees. Hmmm. This isn't terribly impressive. It looks like your typical midway at the fair to me. And it's not *that* tree-covered. Oh, there's the High Speed Thrill Coaster, hmmm. I can't believe that's the same ride Todd Long waxes nostalgic over. This is so strange from what I envisioned!

I met Cindy in front of Shoot the Chutes. She looked as tired as I felt. I was awfully happy to see her. Have you ever met somebody that you instantly wished you could see all the time? Better yet, did you ever have a friend in grade school that you felt such kinship with that you went around pretending you were cousins? That's my experience with Cindy. She my cuzzin.

Cindy was quite taken with the spray delivered on the Shoot the Chutes. We stopped to watch it for awhile and she was right, it *was* impressive! See, this is the thing I love about her - she has a keen eye and makes brilliant observations, the kind that make you smack your forehead and say "now why didn't I think of that?"


Photo courtesy of American Midway

We rode the Axis. I did not like the placement of this ride, it seemed carnival like. The Axis makes the strangest noise. It's a very low hum. I kind of like it in an annoying sort of way. The ride itself is great fun. I just love being hung upside-down.

We walked a little further into the park and I saw the Giant Crystal Pool. It was closed due to the inclement weather, but it looked like a great pool and distinctly *un* amusement park-like.


Photo courtesy of Julie's Coaster Pictures
I turned and saw the Knoebels gate and the famous Knoebels Carousel. Oh, this is awesome! The music it plays is pure classic carousel. We walked past the carousel and over the covered bridge. This is absolutely beautiful. The soft rain put a warm muffle on all the sounds throughout the park and it made the creek dance. There were hanging baskets full of flowers at each end of the bridge. A stone lighthouse stands at the end of the bridge, with a beacon of light at its top. This opened onto a stone and gravel plaza area that looked like something out of a renaissance festival. All the buildings look wooden and just a little bit miniaturized, as though they might have been built with children in mind.

Oh, my, now this is atmosphere. Neither of us were in that big of a hurry to ride anything, so we walked a bit further into the park. Oh! A paratrooper! I love those things! A little bit past the Paratrooper was a food stand that advertised perogies and tri-taters. Oh, Susan would LOVE this. The tables and benches were made out of logs and positioned under a set of three turning canopies! Cindy explained that the canopies were powered by the windmill over there! Oh, this is lovely! Absolutely lovely!

By now we were no longer walking on concrete or pavement, but loose gravel. This is so unusual, very intimate. It's charming, actually. We walked past a row of lockers and........there they are.

THE FLYERS.

I had heard about these flyers for over a year now. I was intrigued by the ones at Holiday World, addicted by the time I got to Blands, and now I was ready to tackle the ultimate in Flyers.

We sat in our tubs and the old guy cranked up the motor. ZOOM, we're off, these things don't waste any time. BRRRRR VROOOM, the motor kicks into high gear, it's very loud, and WOAH!!! We're FLYIN, BABY!!!


Photo courtesy of Theme Park Review

Now I am no expert on the Flyers. It doesn't matter, though, because you don't have to be. One trip on these things and I was immediately and unequivocally a Flyer Fanatic For Life. I got the cables to snap several times on my first go round, but more importantly, I couldn't believe how out of control they felt after two or three consecutive snaps. And the height they reach is amazing, much higher than the other two Flyers I'd ridden. The ride op ran it for a good long time, too. I was ecstatic!

"Well, how'd we do, Cindy?"
"We kicked, we rocked."
"Yeah! We kicked!"


Photo courtesy of Gene's Place
Finally we made our way to the back of the park. There it is, The Phoenix. The wait was nothing, so we went for the front as Cindy suggested.

The Phoenix just LOOKS like a grand old roller-coaster. It's dark colored wood, and it blends in well with the woods and surrounding mountainside. A light rain fell oh so gently against our faces, and as we climbed the lift hill I mentioned to Cindy that this was going to be my first ever ride in the rain. "REALLY!! Well, I hope it's a good one!"

IT WAS!!! I could NOT believe how much fun this ride was. I mean it FLEW down the track, and we flew with it! Up and out on every hill. I screamed my head off after coming up off the double down and into the final turnaround, then it was a lightening quick race back to the station, with about four incredible moments of major airtime, THANK YOU!!!

That first ride, and every ride we had thereafter, was incredible. It's the most fun I've ever had on any roller-coaster, and Cindy agreed it was in top-notch form. The effect of the light rain, which I expected to be painful, was instead exhilarating! It actually felt good!


Photo courtesy of Theme Park Review


Photo courtesy of American Midway
I was so psyched after we got off. I knew right then this was a special day indeed. We got right back on and rode the Phoenix five times in a row, each one in that flawless front seat. The speed with which the coaster was dispatched amazed me. The ride ops at Knoebels clearly put their guests first, with absolutely none of that "you MUST" mentality. Wanna videotape? Sure, no problem! Want me to hold onto that? Okay!" The old guy at The Flyers never failed to tell a little joke or riddle right before he let us on the ride. The entire day I would be amazed at the efficiency and attitude of the staff at Knoebels.

After five consecutive rides on the Phoenix I had a problem. I was DYING. I mean, I literally thought if I rode just one more time I would come back to the station a dead man. We walked back toward the front and I excused myself so that I could put my video camera back into my car. I told Cindy I would be right back.

I wouldn't be back for twenty minutes.

I went to my car, got inside and laid down. I'm not joking, I was miserable. Finally, I decided to take some more Advil, so I reached into my travel bag and.........what's this?

WELL, HELLOOOOOOO!!!!!!

A bottle of Flexural had been tucked away in one of my side pockets. These are heavy duty muscle relaxants which I use to combat an occasional problem with my jaw. I had completely forgotten I had packed them.

I immediately knew I had found a friend.

I took two pills and slowly walked back to the park. Now normally these pills really knock me out within 30 minutes, and I was a little worried about the effect they might have on me. But I had never taken them outside of my house, so I just hoped the excitement of being in the park would keep me going.

Besides, I had no choice, if they didn't work I would *have* to go to the hospital.

Thirty minutes later. Ahhhhhhh. Feelin' groovy. Not exactly ready to par-tay, but oh sweet Jesus, what relief. I could actually walk around the park without pain. In fact there were only two rides where I still experienced serious pain. One was the Phoenix where you come out of the double down and into the turnaround, and also the third speed bump which has a little extra "kick" as you fly over the hill.

The other ride was The High Speed Thrill Coaster. Um, okay, now I get it. This only *looks* like a kiddie coaster. After the first go round the motor kicks it up a notch and you come barrelling past the station and straight into the lift hill. This second trip around the track is *intense*! THEN you go even faster for the third trip, charging up the lift and BAM! OWWWW!!! The High Speed Thrill Coaster was great fun, but the pain was so great I became afraid to ride it a second time.
Photo courtesy of Ken's Coaster Page

After that it was about as perfect a day as one could hope to have at Knoebels. We ate pizza at Cesari's, which is so good I now have a three way tie for best park pizza, along with Holiday World and Blands. Cindy introduced me to Krunch Kote, her very favorite ice cream topping, found only at Knoebels. Krunch Kote is kind of a combination of finely chopped peanuts or peanut brittle and sprinkles. It's delicious! Cindy likes it maybe a little *too* much, as she said "once the Krunch Kote is gone, the rest is just a chore." We sampled their Italian Ice, which is the best I've ever had. And of course I had several sno cones. Knoebels is the best food park I've seen. Everything is so reasonably priced and incredibly good you could easily spend all your time eating and still have money leftover for t-shirts and souvenirs. And that's exactly what I did.


Photo courtesy of American Midway
We went through the Haunted House, which scared me so much I let out a very unusual scream, then got so embarrassed about being scared that I couldn't stop laughing for ten minutes. Cindy said she wished that moment had been captured on videotape because apparently it was classic.

We rode the Paratrooper, and Knoebels has the best one I've ever ridden. Their log flume is also one of the very best and has a nice view of The Phoenix's second turnaround. The Grand Carousel is the absolute best in the world. And of course we rode the Flyers many times as well as The Phoenix. And we never once rode anywhere else but the front.

There's something amazing about Knoebels. It sneaks up on you. You enter thinking "what's the big deal?" But as the day goes on and you peel away the many different layers within the park, you find yourself seduced by its charms. Midway through the morning I found myself saying over and over "this place is fantastic!"


Photo courtesy of American Midway

Cindy had to leave at 8:00 p.m. The park stayed open until 10:00 however, and I wasn't about to let this day end early. I continued riding the front seat of The Phoenix, and after approximately half an hour I noticed four people kept looking at me. After my ride I was walking down the exit ramp when I saw one of them waiting for me. He introduced himself as Andrew Hine, chairman of the Roller Coaster Club of Great Britain, and he said he and his friends noticed my Kennywood sweatshirt and figured I must be a coaster enthusiast.

The other people with him were Michael Bolton, and Kevin and Cal - who's last names I didn't get. I ended up riding the rest of the evening with them and they were incredibly fun and very nice people. Andrew gave me a RCCGB bumper sticker and other promotional materials, and Michael and I became good acquaintances and continue to correspond through e-mail.


Photo courtesy of Theme Park Review
The ride ops announced that the park was closing and we were on the train for the last ride of the evening. When we came back into the station the ride ops did not stop the train. Instead they let us go through for a double ride, and just as we passed the back row queue they suddenly turned all the lights off in the station and on the coaster. A double ride in the dark! As we exited the tunnel and climbed the lift we could see all the lights in the rest of the park had been turned off as well. It was one of the most unforgettable moments of my trip.

The Brits were staying in a guest house within the park, so I bid them goodnight and made my way out of the park and to my car. As I walked alone through the park everything had been turned off. The only person I saw was a maintenance man cleaning the Whip area.

"Good night!" he said. "Come back soon!"

Oh, I will, Knoebels. I'll be back. In four short days!


Next up: Six Flags Great Adventure


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