The clack-clack of certain doom

Saturday, August 11 - Valleyfair, Shakopee, MN

More than fifteen years after my first, and last, roller coaster ride, I was a bit apprehensive about visiting Valleyfair again. I had long held that roller coasters were simply not my thing, having hated the slow, seemingly endless climb to heights which a fall from would mean certain doom. The clack-clack of the rail car and the half laid-back angle meant only one thing to me, that I was trapped, whether I like it or not, no longer having the option to say "maybe not", and completely without control over what was about to happen to me.

Bike Racing
Bike Racing Pic

But fifteen years is a long time in the life of a child turned young-adult. I had learned to drive, found pleasure in taking corners tight and fast, become an avid bicyclist and competed in numerous races, learned to climb vertical rock faces and ride a motorcycle. Bicycle racing gave me the ultimate in handling situations which I cannot completely control and learning to analyze the situation to manage my safety without backing down. Rock climbing taught me to abandon fear of heights through understanding and applying safety techniques. I've been knocked off my bike by other rider's mistakes and biffed it of my own accord multiple times. I've rock climbed to the point where my tired fingers cannot hold on any longer and, trying for that one last climb, the rope catches me five to ten feet below where I had just been.

Despite these years of experiences, that held notion that I could not enjoy being whipped through the air left me in doubt of what I faced, but I knew it was time to try. After a little preliminary research I thought it would be good to start on something small, so I wouldn't just die halfway down (or up to) the first hill. The natural choice was High Roller, being the most basic roller coaster in the park, but that was the very ride which turned me away from roller coasters as a kid. I remember that lap bar feeling very inadequate as though I would slip right out from under it. The Corkscrew seemed like a natural alternative, being similar in size but having a shoulder restraint... because it goes upside down. The only concern with The Corkscrew was motion sickness.

Finally the day came and fate had to be dealt with. I popped a Dramamine as we neared the park and hoped for the best. As we decided where to start I suggested something smaller for my sake as a rookie. I slightly favored The Corkscrew, for the shoulder restraint, but we decided on High Roller. We loaded on and I was pleasantly surprised to see it had a lap belt in addition to the lap bar. Merely a backup, but it still made me feel better. I've never been able to trust restraint bars though I have no trouble with conventional belts. I guess this is because I can see the locking mechanism. We rolled forward onto the hill with that noisy "clack clack" of doom drowning out most sounds and the train jerking as we we're pulled up. The ascent was faster than I remembered, either through changes to the ride or changes to my level of fear. We were seated mid-train and I, to some extent, tried to just ignore what was going to happen. Over the top we dropped and I just held on as we fall facing straight down and I feel myself lift off the seat. Another similar drop and we were up on the flat U-turn where I lifted my arms and felt the forces pulling on them. My arms were up and down the rest of the ride as I first came to a realization why people lift them like that. It's darn fun. So we unloaded and I put a tick-mark on my mental score card that said, "ok, I survived that, how long is my luck going to hold out?"

Power Tower
Power Tower Pic

We followed up on the Flying Trapeze, a spinning swing ride, to mix our drops and our spins. Joe had to sit out as the ride was not giant-safe and I was unphased by the idea of riding it, having ridden that type before. In general, the idea of spinning never bothered me too much, only falling but still there was the slight fear of motion sickness. The ride went off without a problem and I did feel very slightly dizzy afterward but that's to be expected, like the strange feeling of walking after skiing or skating.

Back to the drops, we headed to the Power Tower, an up-and-down tower ride. Part of our group opted for being shot down while the rest of chose getting launched up. I paid attention as we were in line and saw the cue that preempts getting launched. We got secured in and I paid attention, saw the cue, and then up we went. I mostly tried to ignore what was happening, though we had a nice view across the river which I took in a bit of. The zero-G and falling back down were very foreign, so I just tried to keep ignoring most of the ride. Put another tick-mark on the "I survived" list.

Next on the list was the tilt-a-whirl, which I've done many times without trouble but decided to take a break instead so I wouldn't push my luck on the spinning end of things. I spun myself sick once at the state fair with a few other 4H guys in the berry ride, so I knew there was some potential.

After grabbing some lunch we decided to cool down with a ride on The Wave. It was chosen under the delusion that we would get a little wet but not soaked like the other water ride near by. I wasn't sure what to expect, since it was larger than a conventional flume boat and had restraints. It certainly was different. Just a fun drop and then I felt the water hit us and looked down to see my shorts were only part wet. "Not bad", I thought, "wet but not too wet." Then we hit the other side of the wave, and it almost never ended. I let out a thrilled scream at the mix of adrenaline and an incredible amount of cold water. It hit the spot on a hot day and eliminated the delusion of staying somewhat dry. At that point there was no question, getting soaked on the bridge by the next boat was a must.

For the first wave we experienced from the bridge I was near the right end of the middle grab rail. It was awesome. The wall of water just pummeled me in the chest as I let out another refreshed scream. We hung around for one more, which I took in from the middle of the bridge, but it was nowhere near as good.

Corkscrew
Corkscrew Pic

After some attempts to dry ourselves off we headed next door to The Corkscrew. I had never done an inverted ride before. In fact, I don't know that I had ever really been inverted before other than a few cases of being held that way and a little fun around water. I approached the ride with uncertainty, but was glad that the shoulder restraint would hold me in. We loaded on and took off in probably the third row. Again I knew what I faced and just tried to ignore it. Survival was the only goal. Down the first hill and through the loop I just focused on the seat in front of me. Having survived that I relaxed a little and enjoyed the rest of the ride a little more. That was really fun and I wanted to do it again but we didn't have enough time in the day. It will be neat to take in the loop a bit more next time.

Making our way across the park we lined up for the Xtreme Swing. This didn't look too bad, nor too good. The seating is more or less like a conventional playground swing, only it seats ten people on each side and has solid arms rather than chains, but hey, it's not too tall. Well, it also doesn't have shoulder restraint and you go slightly past horizontal while facing down. This still confuses me, but I guess it worked. Not a bad ride. I was seated at the far end by the support post, but that didn't phase me. There's little bit of fear that you'll fall out of the thing so it's good for a scare and the amplification of the feel of a normal swing is pretty cool.

Next up was Wild Thing. I have no clue how this was a good idea. That thing is huge. It towers over the entrance even though it loads halfway into the park. This isn't starting small and working up. Crap. We loaded on and thankfully got second-row seats. I'd rather dangle than be whipped over the top. The hill is huge. It doesn't look that big until you look at the stairs along the side. I've never seen a staircase that big. We reached the top and started over while the rest of the train continued on it's way. And we dangled. And we dangled some more. It was kind of awesome. Then we fell a long ways. I held on tight and tried to survive the 196 foot drop. Up and down another hill and I started to loosen up, knowing that it would be less and less the rest of the way. Put my arms in the sky as we tipped to the side and down into one turn and then around through another. I was starting to feel like roller coasters weren't that bad after all.

We decided to take another run at it since it was so fun and there was a ride camera to have fun with. This time we ended up third row from the back, first row of the last car. That was different. The thing bucked like crazy down the first hill. It was seriously weird to a rookie but the rest of the ride was a good fun time.

Dolphins
Dolphin Pic

Now time for another break we headed to the IMAX show on dolphins. It was a good film and the air conditioning was wonderful.

Renegade
Renegade Pic

Making our way toward the back of the park we hit Renegade, the new all-wood roller coaster which opened this year. The waiting line was inside of a loop preceding the return to station, so a train of screaming people would pass every so often. The train consists of a bunch of single-row two-seat cars, so it's a bit different than most. The wood structure of the ride looked incredible. Onto the train and up the hill we were probably near the middle. Over the top was one heck of a surprise. I envisioned a conventional drop but this one rolled right dropping us to the side of the hill and then rolling back to the left before we reached the bottom. From there on out the ride was all turns. The train went everywhere as the track tied itself into a knot. That ride was simply awesome. Renegade is quite a fantastic roller coaster.

Excalibur
Excalibur Pic

Ending our day we headed to Excalibur. It wasn't planned as the end, but as we stood in line we could see dark clouds approaching and, noticing that only one train was in use, we feared that it could be shut down before we got through. I remember as a kid when Excalibur was new and that it was just incredibly tall with a very steep drop and pretty much was the culmination of all the fear I could possibly have embodied in a mass of wood and steel. This thing wasn't even fun to look at. Now was the time as an adult to face that which had held my fear for so many years. The structure was enchanting to look at, a steel track bed on a wooden frame. We loaded on in the middle and zipped up the hill. As we crossed over the top I looked down ahead of us and thought "oh geez, is that little drop all this has to offer? We're not even descending fast." So I threw my arms into the air just in time for the speed to pick up and our angle to tip further down. Turns out this ride had trim brakes added to the top of the first drop. We finished out the ride and though it was nice it lacked wow. The scariest thing thing I had ever seen turned out to be rather ho-hum. Of course, Excalibur does deserve a second chance as a first ride of the day trying out a different part of the train. I'm sure fun can be found in it.

So that was our day at Valleyfair. As drips of rain began to fall we booked it out to the car, arriving just in time before the heavy stuff rolled in. We headed to Southdale for dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. I had the Crispy Spicy Chicken Sandwich, which was just wonderful with enough buffalo sauce to be tasty but not so much that it dominated. Dessert was Chocolate Coconut Cream Cheesecake, which was incredibly savory and definitely a wonderful experience. Now that I've found out what roller coasters are like I want to go back today just to experience it some more. So if anybody ever wants to go be flung through the sky, just let me know and I'll join.