My oldest son, Chase, is a theme park junkie. He always has been. Like myself. Like my father. It was prevalent on his mother’s side as well. She loved them, so did her father. For the first few years of Chase’s life, we only went to Busch Gardens, in Williamsburg, Virginia. When he got old enough to start riding the kiddie rides, we began getting season passes to Kings Dominion, a theme park just north of Richmond, Virginia. Chase always had a fascination with rollercoasters, playing the game ‘Rollercoaster Tycoon’ on our computer. It was an impetus behind his desire to learn to read.
Once he actually rode one, though, he became obsessed with the rollercoaster. His first one was the Barnstormer, which was—oddly enough—at Disney World in Florida. From that point on…and once he could read…he started learning all he could about the various rollercoasters in Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens. Riding each one with him, as was able to ride them, was such a thrill. Not only for the ride itself, but seeing his reaction. The sheer joy he got from riding them. The sense of accomplishment when he could, finally, ride that ‘big boy’ coaster or the one that had tallest inversion or this or that. It was just as much fun for me seeing his reaction as it was for him to ride them.
Indeed, when he was able to ride the Hypersonic XLC at Kings Dominion, you could not smack that smile from his face. See, this thing was a launch coaster, went straight up and straight down. The whole ride was done in just seconds. It looked menacing. His sense of accomplishment was off the charts. This particular rollercoaster, though, did not become a favorite. The next time he rode it, it gave him a really bad headache. I felt horrible for that. The rollercoaster was dismantled shortly after that anyway. But, that first ride…I don’t think I have ever seen that much enthusiasm, joy and wonder from him. It was awesome. He hasn’t been that way since. Oh, sure, there were times where he came close, but nothing has really matched that … until recently.
Before I share that, though, lets continue with his journey into rollercoaster enthusiasm excess.
Every vacation we had was planned around some kind of amusement or theme park trip. Be it to the great land of of Orlando, Myrtle Beach South Carolina, or where ever, there was an amusement park close by. We hit parks like Disney World, Carowinds in Charlotte, the two in Virginia, Six Flags America, small ones like Family Kingdom, the Pavillion and Hard Rock Park (all in Myrtle Beach) and Trimpers and Jolly Roger in Ocean City, Maryland. Recently, we made it to Dorney Park in Pennsylvania, but that was just a day trip. There was one park, though, that remained elusive.
All through his young life, Chase would read all he could and watch all he could about rollercoasters. He read about the tallest, the fastest, the longest, etc. One park kept showing up with all of these wonderful machines: Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio.
He desperately wanted to go. For years, my late wife and I had planned to take Chase. We even got as far, about ten years ago, as reserving a room near Sandusky. Unfortunately, life kept getting in the way and we never made that trip.
In 2010, Chase’s mom passed away. Early that year, before she became ill, we had talked about going in 2011. As her health declined, so did our plans, once again. I took Chase and his cousin on a sort of rollercoaster ‘tour’ that summer, but Sandusky wasn’t in the cards.
Two years ago, Chase got his drivers license and decided to go to work. He fulfilled one of his lifetime dreams and worked as a ‘scare actor’ at Kings Dominion. He is really good at it too and is doing it again for the third year.
Chase and I had talked about going to Sandusky last year, but, as was always the case, it just did not work out. But, as he always has, Chase did something I never expected.
He gave me one of the best Christmas presents ever: a rollercoaster tour that was to include Sandusky. We started out by going to Carowinds, a place special to us both for reason I won’t go into now. Sentiment aside, it really is a nice park and, if you get there, ride the Fury 325…one of the best rollercoasters ever.
As summer went on, we kept hitting this snag or that and our trips were delayed or altered quite a bit. Our trip to Dorney Park was to be a two day trip, but turned out to be a day trip…quite a drive to ride a handful of coasters, but the time we spent in the car was well worth it.
So, getting back to the sense of awe and joy he had with the Hypersonic…well, he showed it once more when we actually pulled into the parking lot. I felt it too. After about twelve years of trying, we finally made it. Walking through that turnstile, seeing the old Carousel and, looking to our left, the bus used for the Hallow weekends and seeing the Raptor…well, seeing the look on his face…was priceless. Even at 19, that sense of wonder shone through his very adult face. My eight year old boy from 2005 was with me once more. We were both quite, walking around, taking it in. The park was not busy and we were able to ride one of the coaster he had only dreamt of riding just a few years ago…the Raptor.
The next day, we spent walking around, riding the coasters, taking photos (that was me) and not believing we were actually there. Fortunately, the park was not busy and we were able to walk on to most of the coasters. Millenium Force has to be one of the smoothest rides ever. Exciting, fast, TALL…this was THE coaster he wanted to ride. Of all the coasters anywhere, this was the one he had talked about the most, since he had first seen an on ride video. Getting to ride it, for the first time with him, that was special.
We spent that day, not really saying much, but bonding and have a great time. The place is massive and we have to go again. But, any other visit there will not be the same or as special as this one. Sure, it will be great to have my other two sons and my wife with me (I was lucky to have another wife who also loves the parks, she’s pretty awesome) but this visit, well…after so much anticipation…well, it was just special.
Perhaps the most ironic thing was that it ended up with Chase taking ME instead of me taking him. And that’s pretty damn cool.