This summer has been one of my all time favorites if not the best summer ever. Thus I want to share that with you. Summer 2015
Sometime back in the Spring my friend Zach and I were talking as we usually do about life, pop culture, MS college sports, education, and of course roller coasters. We had long loved the thrill of a good ride full of drops, air time, speed, and of course helixes. I am not sure who’s idea it was to take a trip but there it was, an idea. What if right after school let out we just leave for a week and ride as many coasters as possible in the limited time we had. An email thread started between Zach and I as we deduced exactly which parks to try and the best routes to take. We finally settled on three parks towards the East coast: Busch Gardens Williamsburg, King’s Dominion, and Carowinds.
Our journey started the Sunday after the ending of school and we took a 6 day loop through Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Our driving hours totaled over 30 hours and almost half of that was on the first day. Bottom line: we drove a lot. If you really want to get to know someone take a long road trip just the two of you. There was no napping and very minimal bouts of silence. We started at 6 AM on Sunday, stopped for the quintessential travel meal: Cracker Barrel’s Momma’s Pancake Breakfast and drove through the day and into the dead of night. Traveling up the Appalachian Mountain foothills was both enjoyable and beautiful. Zach drove the first 11 hours and after a quick decision to switch drivers, he didn’t drive again until we were about 4 hours from home. We stayed at a timeshare resort that was graciously donated to us for our first two nights. We were directly across the street from Busch Gardens Williamsburg and could see the coasters rising out of the darkness to the sky, barely illuminated by parking lot lights. The next morning would be day 1 and the first 6 coasters of our trip.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg located right down the road from Colonial Williamsburg offers not only incredible coasters and attractions, but also boasts a beautiful campus, excellent food, and quality live entertainment. Our tour day of Busch Gardens found us visiting on Memorial Day. In order to avoid crowds we chose to spend some extra money to get the Quick Queue Unlimited. Although this was a good deal of extra money for the budget minded traveler ($50) we were glad to purchase it to make sure we did not stand in any long lines. By the end of the day we had the first seven coasters of our trip ridden and we were exhausted. The six coasters included: Loch-ness Monster, Apollo’s Chariot, Verbolten, Griffon, Alpingeist, and the brand new Tempesto. We also enjoyed the Busch Garden’s Food and Wine Festival and I found one of my top 3 theme park meals I have ever consumed at Trapper’s Smokehouse. Day 1 of riding also had a big surprise: I am not in college anymore. Meaning I was worn out and frankly a little queasy. I remember a time in high school and college where no thrill ride or scream machine could really take me out, but these six coasters almost did. More on that later.
King’s Dominion sits at about an hour north of Busch Gardens Williamsburg. In the morning, Zach and I took the easy drive north and arrived right after opening at King’s Dominion. Being the Tuesday after Memorial Day, we did not purchase an upgrade to avoid lines here. Most guests at the park that day were high school groups taking a senior field day to ride coasters. This park held a lot more coasters than Busch Gardens: almost double! I had to have my A game on. We start the day at one of my favorite roller coasters I have ever ridden: Volcano The Blast Coaster. Hard to explain but you essentially are launched into and up out of a volcano during the course of the ride. We also rode probably my new most feared coaster: Intimidator 305. Intimidator stands 305 feet tall. It breaks speeds over 90 mph and ends its first drop by flying into an upward helix. The upward helix element of a roller coaster almost always makes me lightheaded and I have the tendency of graying out. Intimidator 305 completely knocked me out for a few seconds. I physically felt my face go limp. Yes I did ride it again, but don’t worry I sat out of the third ride on it…….I mean I am not dumb. Again my weak body felt the weight of a thrill seeker’s life. Sitting on the bench in the shade while Zach rode again didn’t necessarily make me feel less of an adventurer, but there was something that hit me in my heart about it. More on that later.
The next day brought us back to Busch Gardens Williamsburg……at the crack of dawn. We were the first vehicle at the gate and were quickly joined by 2 other cars. Security met us at the gate and led us to a back parking lot directly next to the front gate to the park. There we met a Busch Gardens employee ready to lead us into the park before any other guests. The reason for all this was that Zach and I booked a VIP behind the scenes Roller Coaster tour of Busch Gardens. They only offer it once a week and the price is very affordable ($80). The tour took us to 5 out of the 6 coasters at Busch Gardens. We got to explore the maintenance bays of Loch Ness Monster, Griffon, and Alpingeist. We also enjoyed a trip to the top of Griffon’s lift hill, a trip inside of Verbolten’s show building, and double rides on each coaster without a wait or other people on the ride! When you are a roller coaster nut like Zach and I are, this tour must be added to your list of things to do before you die. It was exciting, informational, and fascinating. Around lunch we decided it was time to eat our last meal at Busch and head south to our next destination. I picked up the role of driver for the next 5 hours as we drove through Virginia and North Carolina heading to Charlotte and our last park Carowinds. At our hotel Zach and I decided to eat right across the street at a Ruby Tuesday’s. It wasn’t my first pick but the meal was fine. As we sat there eating and looking around at the few patrons in the store I started to think about life again. There really couldn’t be a sadder place in life than a Ruby Tuesday’s at 9:30 PM on a Wednesday night. Don’t get me wrong the food was good and the service was excellent, I just couldn’t shake the idea that eating here on this trip was settling for less. More on that later.
Our final full day of our trip found us at our main event not Carowinds, but the signature just opened attraction at Carowinds: Fury 325. This brand new coaster rises out of the earth to 325 feet and flies over hills and around curves at a speed of 95 mph. There are no upward helixes on Fury 325 so I was hopeful for a ride that I could remember every aspect of. We did purchase the express passes at Carowinds even though it was a low crowd day. We did not want to jeopardize our chance to ride Fury 325 as many times as possible. We rode it four times that day. It was by far the best coaster I have ever ridden. There were many other coasters we tried at Carowinds including a smaller Intimidator that was less intense than it’s brother up at King’s Dominion. We also rode a wooden coaster Thunder Road that is now closed forever. There were another 11 coasters to add to our count on the trip bringing our grand total for the week at 30 different coasters. But again no matter how neat and fun the others were, nothing beat Fury 325. It was the most fun I have had on a coaster in my life. I remember hitting the top of the lift hill, cresting it, and falling faster and faster towards the earth. I think it was at about the second hill that I was screaming and laughing like I was a ten year old. At the end of it I took a deep breath, skilled, and looked at Zach and said, “let’s do that again.” On our last ride of Fury 325 and our last major coaster of our coaster crusade we thought that the on ride photo pretty much summed up our trip. Tell me this isn’t the face of pure joy and excitement.
Now to my points from the previous paragraphs. Zach and I thought up the idea to go ride coasters at multiple theme parks in one week. What we finished with was a 3 theme park tour that included 30 individual roller coasters that we rode at least once. You would think that this trip would be completely un-educational, but it was much more than that. The major lesson I learned on this trip is that I really need more coaster crusades in my life. So many of us are guilty of thinking of an idea or a dream and saying, “that would be really fun, I should do that one day” and then we do NOTHING about it. We don’t plan, we don’t save, we just say I should do that and then ignore it. I was reminded about how short life is. It has only been a decade since I was finishing high school and riding whatever coaster came my way as many times as possible. Thats not the case anymore. Zach and I took multiple breaks to prepare for the next round. When it came to Intimidator 305, I really wanted to feel bad about not riding again, but I have to be honest, sitting there watching the ride go on without me was incredibly peaceful. Knowing my limitations and being at peace with it is something that I have always struggled with. That day I didn’t. Sitting at Ruby Tuesday’s on that Wednesday night made me really think about where I want to be in the next 5 years. Being there was not a bad experience, but I know that I wanted something more. It’s true here back at home now too. In 5 years I don’t want to look around and realize that I settled for something that I didn’t want in the first place. Finally I felt the true joy of going for a goal and meeting it. At the end of the trip, my individual roller coaster count hit 100, a personal triumph. Also we rode the brand new Fury 325 and it was as incredible as we thought it would be. Sitting back and thinking about that trip now just makes me want to create a whole new agenda for Coaster Crusade part 2. Do you want to come along with us?
There is so much more I could write about this trip……in fact I think I will. A friend of mine from the Disney blog world suggested that I pitch an idea to a book company about the Coaster Crusade. Well to make a short story even shorter, they liked the idea and I will in fact be writing a book about this trip to be released hopefully by the end of the year. Getting published is a personal goal I wrote down last year during chemo and I can’t believe it is actually happening. I will have more posts about the process and I hope that you will join with me in the journey! One thing is for sure: this Fall will be one heck of a roller coaster!