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.

Into Grandma Neal’s Collection Of Horror Stories

A woman died Friday night after falling from the Texas Giant roller coaster at the Six Flags theme park in Arlington, Texas.  It’s a horrible story, one that is a nightmare for everyone who likes to ride roller coasters.

Which is precisely why I thought of my grandmother when I read it — because it’s the kind of story she would have read with interest, remembered forever, and recounted with relish.  For a genteel woman with refined tastes, Grandma Neal definitely had an appetite for the bizarre.  She could converse endlessly about frog wars in some faraway land, or rabbits taking over the Australian countryside, or hardy crocodiles flushed down toilets in New York City that grew to gigantic size and roamed the sewers beneath the streets of Manhattan, ready to gobble up unwary workers.

But her specialty was stories especially calculated to thrill and terrify children.  Grisly thrill ride accidents were common topics for discussion when Grandma and Grandpa Neal took UJ and me to the Kiddieland amusement park in northern Ohio.  Whether the ride was a Ferris wheel or a roller coaster, the end result for any misbehaving patron was death.  In one yarn, a woman was decapitated after standing up on a roller coaster, and her head dropped to the ground with a thud right at Grandma’s feet.  In another, a boy who rocked the Ferris wheel too far tumbled out and was impaled on machinery.  And speaking of machinery, it was likely to catch on any nearby clothing, pull you into the gears, and leave you a crushed, blood-soaked pulp.  And while we’re on such topics, did I tell you about the boy who stuck his arm out a bus window and had it chopped clean off by a passing truck?  Now, who feels like some shoe string potatoes?

I still enjoy roller coasters, despite having my head filled with such stories long ago.  When I ride a roller coaster, however, I always double and triple check to make sure that my safety harness is well-secured, and I keep my hands inside the car.

Crashing The Gatekeeper

Cedar Point, in Sandusky, Ohio, has a new roller coaster — and it looks awesome!

It’s called Gatekeeper, and it’s the first new roller coaster at the Point since 2007.  It uses a winged, center rail approach that is supposed to give riders a sense of flying as they plunge, twist, and turn at speeds of almost 70 miles per hour — which is faster than you can legally drive on most Ohio highways.  The video above shows the coaster during its early testing phase, when it was running at significantly reduced speed, and it still looks like a fantastic ride.  The story linked above includes a video showing the Gatekeeper today, when it was opened to some lucky members of the public for a sneak peek.

I’d be willing to wait in line for an hour or more for a chance to take a crack at this one.

Getting To the Point

On Wednesday the annual Webner family reunion gets underway.  To start the reunion off with a bang, a bunch of us will go up to Cedar Point.

If you’ve never been there, Cedar Point, in Sandusky, Ohio, is one of the premier amusement parks in the world.  It is a destination trip for roller coaster afficionados because it has more than a dozen roller coasters that variously take you 310 feet into the air, blast you from a dead stop to 120 miles per hour in a split second, and corkscrew you head over heels at high speeds.  In addition to roller coasters, Cedar Point also has water rides and other thrill rides.  This year’s new ride is called Windseeker, which is a like the old swing ride found at many amusement parks — except on heavy steroids.  Windseeker takes riders 300 feet into the air, far above the Lake Erie shoreline, and rips them around at 30 miles per hour.

I’m looking forward to the visit because I haven’t been to Cedar Point in a while, and it is always fun to test your nerve on the new rides and the old favorites.  The best ride at the Point, in my book, remains Millennium Force, which is one of the highest, fastest roller coasters in the world.  The official point of view video gives you a sense — but only a dim sense — of what it is like to ride this monster: