The Newest Tallest, Fastest, and Longest

Designers are constantly pushing the envelope of roller coaster construction, so that pretty much every year there’s the announcement of a new “tallest, fastest, and longest” coaster.  This year, the honor goes to the Canada Wonderland theme park in Ontario, where the Yukon Striker coaster will be opening.  (Given the weather this winter, it’s probably going to be a few months before the grand opening, so coaster fanatics have got time to make their travel plans.)

maxresdefaultThe description of the Yukon Striker ride in the attached article sounds, well, pretty intense.  For one thing, it’s 3 minutes and 25 second long and covers more than a half mile of track.  The ride will reach top speeds of 80 miles per hour, has one drop of 245 feet — that’s more than two-thirds of a football field — and an underground tunnel that, according to the photo, opens in an amusement park lake.  The article states, somewhat breathlessly:  “At the top of the drop, you’ll be held for three seconds over the 90-degree drop before you drop down into the underwater tunnel, and there’ll even be a complete 360-degree loop for an extra adrenaline rush.”  (Like that will be needed!)

Oh yeah — the ride also has four different “inversions,” where riders are turned upside down before being turned right-side up.

The Yukon Striker won’t achieve the fastest speeds of any roller coaster in the world, an honor that’s currently held by a coaster in Abu Dhabi, but it will be the fastest “dive” coaster, “where there’s a straight vertical drop which sees riders facing down.”

I like roller coasters, and it’s interesting to read about the newest advances in coasters, but I really wonder whether we’re reaching the point where coasters are eclipsing normal human tolerances.  A more than three minute ride that jets you along at speeds faster than the speed limit on most highways, puts you through 360-degree loops, plunges you straight down into an amusement park lake, and then flips you over and back four times sounds like a lot more than my psyche — and stomach — can stand.  I also think that, in their zeal to be the highest, fastest, and longest, roller coaster designers are ignoring other creative design elements that make coasters exciting and interesting without torturing riders and exploring the limits of human endurance.

I’m sure there will always be thrill-seekers who want to ride the newest “tallest, fastest, and longest” coaster, but it will be interesting to see whether, after a ride or two, most visitors at the Canada Wonderland park pass on the Yukon Striker and try to find their amusement park fun somewhere else.

Our One-Cent Bill From The Great White North

Guess what?  American bureaucracies aren’t the only ones that are ridiculous.

IMG_3407Last October I went to Lake Temagami in northern Ontario, Canada for a wonderful few days of fishing.  To get there, I drove on the Express Toll Route.  Rather than simply paying the toll as you pass through, the ETR takes a picture of your car, figures out where you live, and then sends you a bill.

A few weeks after my trip ended, I received a bill.  We paid it in full.  Then, some time later, we got another bill — for four cents.  Why the four-cent differential?  I’m not sure, but I’m guessing the U.S. dollar-Canadian dollar exchange rate might be responsible.  In any case, we wrote a check for 4 cents and sent that off.  Obviously, the cost of postage and the cost of processing the check on both ends far outstripped the 4-cent payment.  But, so be it!  We are interested in maintaining friendly relations with our Neighbors to the North, and if I ever am invited back to Lake Temagami I don’t want to be hauled away as a scofflaw and tossed into debtors’ prison by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Then we received the bill above, demanding a balance due of . . . one cent.  One cent!  I’m blaming the exchange rate again, because the bottom of the bill says, under “amount paid,” “Canadian funds.”  Of course, there is no way I can write a check on my American bank for one cent, Canadian.  The letter specifically says that I can’t send cash.  And if you think I’m going to risk giving my credit card information, on-line, to bureaucrats who are trying to chase down people who have paid, in full, twice already, you’ve got another think coming.  So, my only choice is to write a check for 5 cents, American, and hope that it accounts for the exchange rate and is finally accepted as payment in full by the ETR collectors.

I’ve never really thought much about toll booths before, or fully appreciated the schmoes working inside.  Now, I do.  The next time I toss 75 cents into the collection bin, I’ll relish that I can simply drive on, free from care that I’ve just become mired forever in an endless sea of red tape.

The Sky Is Wide, And So Is The Water


I was looking through my photos of my Lake Temagami adventure today, thinking about how much I enjoy just being on the water — the sound of it, the smell of it, and the look of it.  A lake pushes the horizon back, making the sky seem wider and the whole world seem more expansive.  When this hardy soul left the dock in his little outboard craft on a cold afternoon, he seemed to be heading off into eternity.

View From An Outhouse

The place where we stayed on Lake Temagami had an outhouse.  That’s right — a real, old-fashioned, wooden framed outhouse that had everything you could want in an outhouse except a crescent moon carved in the door.

What does a city boy do when he goes to a place with an outhouse?  Well . . . try it, of course!  The temptation was irresistible.  If you’ve never used an outhouse, how can you pass up the chance to add it to your list of enriching life experiences?  It might not be on your bucket list, but it’s an obvious character builder.

I admit I approached the prospect with some trepidation.  My grandmother had scared UJ and me with tales of the outhouse at the family homestead when she was growing up, including one incident where she looked up while using the facilities, saw a huge, hissing black snake above the door frame, and bolted out of there before her business had been completed.  So, naturally, my first step was to check the surroundings for any signs of poisonous or carnivorous creatures.  The fact that it was about 20 degrees gave me some confidence in that regard.  The icy temperatures also meant I didn’t have to worry about swatting a swarm of flies while answering nature’s call.

Of course, the cold was a double-edged sword; it also made me reluctant to fully commit to the process.  I was afraid of losing some skin to a frozen plastic seat.  Fortunately, the throne was made of some spongy material that didn’t pose a risk of frozen cheeks.  So, with a deep breath, I forged ahead.  The frigid temperatures were a terrific incentive to stay focused on the task ahead and finish the job as quickly as possible and not linger, admiring the view, pretty as it was.

As I left, I felt both lighter and more seasoned.

Trying To Row In A Straight Line, And Learning A Lesson

One morning during our visit to Lake Temagami, the Elder Statesman and I went fishing in a rowboat.  The Elder Stateman rowed us out onto a bay in the lake and we drifted along, trying without success to get a nibble.

After a few hours, the sky grew cloudy, the wind had picked up, and we decided it was time to head back to the island.  I felt guilty sitting back while a senior citizen manned the oars, so I took over and began to row us back.  I’ve never really rowed before, except for trying a rowing machine or two in visits to workout facilities.  But, I’ve seen people rowing in perfect precision in sculling competitions, and the Elder Stateman had capably piloted us out into the bay.  How hard can it be?

The answer is:  a heck of a lot harder than I thought, and frustrating besides.  There’s lots of moving parts.  You’re trying to achieve uniform strokes, at uniform depth, hitting the water at about the same point and then pulling through.  And, you’re doing it all while you have your back to the target.  If you don’t know what you’re doing — and I obviously didn’t — it’s very easy to veer far off course.  And then you have to figure our which oar moves you back in the right direction.  Add in a little wind and chop on the water, and you’ve got a tough challenge for the novice know-it-all.  I soon realized that my confidence in my innate rowing ability was sorely misplaced.  I was not making much progress and instead was cutting long, looping S curves through the water rather than moving directly toward our destination.  It was frustrating and embarrassing.

After a while I got the hang of it — sort of — and made some progress in moving us across the bay, but as we neared the island I gladly yielded the oars to the Elder Statemen to steer us to the dock.

You’d think that a 55-year-old would have realized by now that it is foolish to have mindless confidence that he can do something he’s never done before.  Obviously, I’ve still got a lot of life lessons to learn.

Ducks On The Water

We didn’t see a lot of birds on our trip to Lake Temagami.  I’m assuming that most of them had already gone south for the winter . . . and if so, their timing was impeccable.

We did hear the cries of a few loons — a disconcerting sound if you’re not used to it — and early one morning I saw a flock of ducks land on the water near the island, do some quick diving for grub, and then get into formation and sail regally into the distance.

On Catching A Fish And Eating It

Until last weekend, in my 55 years on this planet, I had never eaten something that I caught or killed.  Last Friday, that all changed.

As I mentioned yesterday, thanks to the excellent guide work of Woody Becker, our little party found an area where the fish were biting.  I caught a plump small mouth bass that, according to my much more experienced companions, probably weighed between 3 and 4 pounds.  It fought like crazy as I reeled him in, bending my fishing rod almost to the breaking point, and after Woody netted it and we dropped it in the tub it continued to flop and thrash.  At the time, it was exciting.

When we later returned to our dock, and one of our party prepared to fillet the fish, I began to feel uneasy.  The fish stared at us, wide-eyed, and its gills continued to flutter.  My friend the Brown Bear loves to fish because he likes the challenge, but he’s a catch-and-release man.  Perhaps I should let the fish go?

The temptation to at least try eating something that I had caught and killed, however, overcame my reservations.  My friend expertly filleted the fish and tossed the remains into the harbor, where it would serve as sustenance for other aquatic parts of the food chain.  I felt guilty, but remembered that I had caught the bass only because it couldn’t resist gobbling up the live minnow that I was using as bait.  The fish clearly understood the circle of life and the notion of survival of the fittest — or so I rationalized.

We prepared the fish fillets in simple fashion, by dunking them in corn meal and then dropping them in a skillet where hot oil popped and snapped.  After a few minutes the fish fillets were ready, and they were astonishingly good — the flesh firm, light and mild, absolutely fresh, with no oily or fishy taste.  It was, quite simply, the best fish I’ve ever eaten.  I’d do it again.