..."How to Prove You're Not Slowing Down At 40!"
I've done some crazy trips in the past. There was the time I drove from LA to PGA and back in a single day. Or the time my Dad and I flew to Chicago and drove to SFGAm, Cedar Point, and PKI in a 3-day weekend. Or the time I flew to Dallas and drove to SFoT and SFAW in a weekend. Or the 11-day ConQuest trip that hit Compounce, SFNE, Quassy, Rye, Coney, Hershey, Dorney, Williams Grove, SFA, PKD, BGW, SFGAdv, and the entire Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware shore. And there was roadtrip Bass and I planned: driving from LA to Lagoon, SFEG, Lakeside, Vegas, and back. I had to drop out of that one but Bass did it...SOLO!
And then there was my trip to the Dells this past weekend. From LA to Wisconsin Dells and back in less than 48 hours!
My frequent travel buddies Dave "Flare" Fraser and Jim "jimvid" McDonnell were spending the weekend in the Dells along with fellow so-cal enthusiasts Chris "funtype" Murray, Jeff "mailman" Johnson, and Mike Kallay and their friend Barry "I'm not Scott" Short from Richmond. The clincher? NONE Of them knew I was joining them on Saturday...I was going to pull off a surprise
[NOTE - to skip the meatier details and get right to Hades and Avalance look for the **]
--FRIDAY, JUNE 17--
Leaving the house at 10am with my backpack I made it to Long Beach Airport by 10:30, plenty of time to check in and wait for my 1pm flight to Dallas. I grabbed a quick snack -- a gym-trainer-approved water and bag of nuts -- and waited for my flight. I sat next to a hunky blonde man who had been at the airport since 7am waiting for an open spot on a flight to Orlando and was still waiting when I boarded my flight.
Arriving in Dallas just after 6pm I found a Chili's and sat to eat before my 7:30pm flight to Chicago/Midway. Again, my trainer would be proud: I ate all the grilled chicken I ordered and none of the rice. After dinner I walked over to my gate and that is when I discovered that heaven exists at DFW!
You know those mall shops that sell those $2,000 leather massage chairs? They have them in the terminals at Dallas! 3 minutes for $1; 15 mins for $5, and more. Either they're really new -- Bass and I didn't see them a week earlier and we flew out of the exact same gate -- or we were just too tired and/or giddy about the trip to notice. Anyway I slipped a crisp new $5 and enjoyed a nice, invigorating back massage that ended as they called my section to board.
My two 1/2 hour flight to Midway went quickly, thanks to the USA Today crossword puzzle I attempted. Because I was travelling light -- everything I needed was packed into my backpack -- I was off the plane quicky and at the Budget counter in a few minutes. The woman at the counter, who had been there all day and looked exhausted, told me, "there are no cars ready in the class you rented and I'm too tired to wait for one so I'm going to upgrade you to a Ford Escape at no charge. Is that OK?"
My shiney new Escape and I were on the road by 11pm. Driving down Cicero Ave I gave Dawnmarie a call to chat. When she asked where I was I told her, "Cicero and 67th" and, thinking I'd flown into O'Hare, she informed me I'd gone the opposite direction of the Dells. "No, no...Midway was cheaper," I told her as I continued to drive down Cicero looking for the interstate. I pulled over briefly so Dawn could help me book a Motel 6 online -- thanks again, Dawn! -- and I was on the road again.
After our brief chat I began to worry that while on the phone I'd been distracted and missed the interstate. It was only supposed to be a few miles and I'd been driving for 20 mins. I saw a city sign for Alsip, pulled over to check a map and, sure enough, I had gone south on Cicero instead of north. Dawn was right...I was going the wrong way! LOL! Anyway I eventually found I-294 and began my trip around the city suburbs and north to Wisconsin.
By 1am I was at the motel in Janesville, just across the Wisconsin/Illinois border. Because my body was still on Pacific Time it took me an hour to wind down and fall asleep.
--SATURDAY, JUNE 18--
I woke up at 6:30am, a full 30 mins before my wake-up call. Because I wanted to have breakfast and was worried about missing my moment to surprise the gang I took a quick 10-min shower and was in the lobby to check out and cancel my wake-up call before the top of the hour.
I wanted to get about 1/2 of the drive done before I stopped for breakfast and found a Country Kitchen just north of Madison that fit the bill. I grabbed a local paper in hopes of another challenging crossword and sat to enjoy my healthy veggie omlet made without cheese and with egg whites only. My trainer would be so proud By 8:30 I was in the lobby of Mt Olympus' on-site hotel, Treasure Island, waiting to spring my surprise.
The surprise: earlier in the week I'd spoken with park owner Nick Laskaris about setting up a photo-op for Dave because Hades is in our 2006 calendar. He told me to have Dave page him during his visit and I passed that along to Dave. But I couldn't figure out how I was going to pull off a susprise at the hotel when I knew they would not give out their room number. And then an idea hit me!
Fast-forward to my drive from Midway to Janesville. I called Dave on his cell and told him I'd received a message from Nick that he was not at the park over the weekend but that his sister and park PR rep, Ruth Laskaris, would meet him in the hotel lobby at 9am. Of course there is no Ruth...he would find me waiting in the lobby!
Right on cue at 9am Dave walked in. I sat with a newpaper raised in front of my face so he would't see me. I lowered the paper, smiled and asked, "Looking for Ruth?" Hugs and laughter followed and he took me back to the room to surprise Jim. Dave opened the door and said, "Jim, I want you to meet Ruth..." Jim happened to be in the bathroom in a state of half-undress and in a panic threw a towel around his waste and yelled, "I'm don't have any clothes on!" I barged in and said hi...more laughter and hugs.
We met the rest of the gang for breakfast [lunch for me] near Little A-Merrick-A and then spent the next two hours at the park before heading back up to the Dells area. I'd been to the park a year earlier and posted a trip report for the park so I won't go into detail here but it was fun watching the guys "get" this quaint, cute little park. Construction on Meteor, the Schmeck Jr Woodie for 2006, is underway. The only attraction new to me was the park's small and quirky walk-thru Haunted House back behind the Scramber. It is easy to miss so anyone visiting please ask if you can't find it!
**By 3:30pm I was sitting in the last car of Hades, my 396th coaster. I admit that for the first time in a very long time I was pretty nervous about what was inside that tunnel. Sure we'd all seen pics but it was difficult to piece them together to get an idea of which element came where. All I knew is that the 90* banked turn was at the end of the "out" run.
Out of the station is a large, steep drop of about 60-70 feet that curves to the right. The track rises up and into a double-down. The double down provides the single-most extreme moment of air on the ride. Another right curving drop leads to a perfectly-executed s-shaped airtime-filled bunny hop before aligning with the lift and connecting with the lift chain.
Before you know it you're at the top of the lift overlooking the whole Dells area -- hey, there's Avalanche to the left! The drop from the lift provides nice floating air all the way to the bottom and suddenly you're enveloped in darkness when, if you'll pardon the pun, all hell brakes loose! The outbound trip thru the tunnel takes only 5-6 seconds and while its over much quicker that you expect it also feels much, much longer there in the dark.
Previous trip reports on Hades have all said the same thing: I don't know what happens in that tunnel but it sure is fun! Well gang I can't shed much light on the tunnel either...other than the 90* turn and one other element [see below] on the return run what happens in there is a mystery to me, too. But one thing I do know: for the first time in a long, long, long, long time I was actually screaming out of fear as every element in that tunnel hit me. There are moments of air, laterals, and lateral-air. None of those moments are excessively extreme but given the great speed at which you're travelling and the pitch-black darkness it feels as if each element is attacking the train.
So there I am, sitting in the back car letting out an involunatry scream every moment my body was thrown up, down, or side-to-side. I knew the 90* turn was near the end of the "out" run and I really began to wonder how it would feel. It is taken at such speed and with such grace that you don't even notice it unless you're sitting in the front.
The rise into the turn around gives riders a chance to breath before hurtling down a turning drop, over a speed hill that lifts riders out of their seats, and plunging back down into the darkness again before scaring everyone with a nice headchop. The return trip, slightly longer at about 6-8 seconds, is equally terror-inducing and ends with a very diabolical element: a turning bunny hop that is banked the wrong way! Just as you see a bit of light you're thrown up and to the right as the train goes up and to the left...it truly feels as if Satan himself is trying to toss you from the car!
Once out of the tunnel the train rises up a large hill, slows ever-so-slightly, and then hurtles down about 80 feet parallel to the lift with terrific speed. The end of the ride is an enlarged speed-filled undulating intense figure-8 that reminded us all of Raven's speedy forested ending.
VERDICT - Holy crap, what a ride! If this is what Gravity Group has in store for us the future is looking might fine, my friends
Before heading over to Timber Falls we took a spin on the park's other three woodies and the Medusa cart track. I'm happy to say that both Zeus and Cyclops were vastly improved from my visit a year ago. Its amazing what a difference warmer weather and full trains make. And the Medusa course with its wicked triple-down? Hella-fun!
It was a short drive down the strip to Timber Falls. We had dinner at Pedro's and celebrated Chris Murray's birthday. By 7pm is was time to conquer Avalanche. How to explain this ride?....Hmmmmm.
Avalanche runs a 3-car 2-bench PTC. 12 people ride at a time. The coaster is basically a 80 foot lift followed by a successtion of differently-shaped 20' high bunny hops coiled around itself twice. Its funky-looking and watching the the short train zipping around the course in breakneck speed looks cartoonish. If you've ever seen a CoasterDyanmix model in action you know what I'd mean if I said it appears as if the train is taking the elements at a speed unrelated to real earth physics.
My first ride was in the front seat; I managed one back seat ride before leaving. Out of the station a 90* turn to the left leads to the peppy lift. Once off the lift riders turn into rag dolls as the train goes up and over the bunny hops. No matter where you sit its airtime galore! There is not a hill that doesn't deliver and not a bad seat on the train. Inch for inch of track I can't think of another woodie that offers more airtime and more laughter than Avalanche.
VERDICT - Yes folks...it is THAT GOOD!
Jim, Mike Kallay, and I took a ride on the golf course's excellent flume while the others continued to ride the woodie. Its a nice flume that proved to be a soaker on the last drop.
We ended the night back on Hades before retiring to one of the hotel rooms after park closing to watch some of the video footage shot that day.
--SUNDAY, JUNE 19--
Just after midnight I decided it was time to make my drive back to Chicago/Midway. I said my goodbyes and was off. Four hours later I'd returned my rental, checked into my flight, and was relaxing at the gate waiting for my 6:30am flight to Dallas.
Once back in Dallas I had 30 mins to make my next flight. I took the shuttle to the gate, treated myself to another quick massage, and by 10am we'd taken off. Luckily I was able to get a little sleep on the last leg of the flight. We landed back at Long Beach at 11:30am, less than 48 hours after I left.
As much as I wanted to go home and collapse I still had father's day festivities to attend. I finally made it back home around 10pm, did a load of laundry, and was asleep my midnight.