Friday, October 3, 2014

Cedar Point

[Or "And Then Things Took A Turn For The Awesome"]

I got lost in Cleveland.

It's embarrassing -- I mean, Cleveland?! -- but looking back, it affected the rest of my day ... and therefore the entire experience I had that weekend.

My first view. The emptiness did not last.
I'd awoken at dawn on Lake Erie with only 108 miles to cover that day. There was space in my schedule from when I'd thought I might have a last-minute companion; since that hadn't panned out, now I had spare time. I dawdled as well as I could -- took my time eating breakfast, went for a walk, geocached, slowly dismantled camp. Despite my best efforts, though, I was ready to go before noon. This was important! It was Cedar Point day!

Cleveland changed things. If I hadn't gotten lost, I would have been significantly early to Sandusky -- instead, I rolled in to the hotel parking lot only fifteen minutes before "official" check-in, a point where I didn't think I had to find a way to kill time. There was a line (of course) but the front desk agents were well-practiced. By 4:00 I was in my room; by 4:30 I was downright antsy.

Top Thrill Dragster. For perspective, the top of that loop
is 420 feet in the air.
Cedar Point, in addition to being huge, has a special event in the fall known as HalloWeekends. They open only on the weekends (this is Ohio, after all, and it starts getting cold after Labor Day) and have a host of Halloween-themed events: haunted walkthroughs and houses, a parade, people in costume wandering around, later hours than usual.

They also have their usual perks -- most importantly for me, season ticket holders and park-associated hotel guests get in an hour early (a handful of the Big Ones are open for that hour), which meant I wanted to be there by 5:00. I joined the line at 4:45, taking in the crowd (not yet huge) and the buzz (high).

As it happened, I found myself waiting by a man, his daughter and her friend. His Lions jersey prevented me from immediately striking up a conversation (I'm not proud), but before long we were chatting ... and he [I'll call him Elderberry] invited me to be their fourth. Seeing his daughter's look [I'll call her Raspberry], I didn't immediately agree -- I'm maybe a little too familiar with that "my dad insists on talking to strangers" feeling. Once inside, though, Elderberry offered again and I decided tagging along sounded okay, at least for awhile.

It took about two coasters to learn that I hadn't just found riding partners. I had tripped across incredibly friendly season ticket holders that were happy to hang out with the random weirdo that turned up all by herself. Besides being awesome people, though, they know things; they have been coming to the park for years, including HalloWeekends. They know the ins, outs, shortcuts, routes and discounts. They know which rides will have the longest lines later. They have tried and true strategies for ... everything. And they tolerated my dead weight like true champions.

It. Was. Awesome.

Mean Streak. Dad, this photo is for you.
We hit the park hard that night, knowing that the Saturday crowd would be insane and we'd want to not be in a rush. By the time we parted ways at midnight, we'd hit eight of the ten rides on my "must try" list, several of them twice. We'd been through most of the haunted walkthroughs but hadn't yet convinced Raspberry and her friend (The Root) to go through a full-on haunted house. We'd eaten very well.

Waiting for a haunted house in view of the Gatekeeper. As it happens,
this was also the longest line we waited in.
It had been an action-packed day and I was warned that it was likely they'd sleep in the next morning; I agreed to meet up with them at some point, definitely before dark. (Haunted houses? Way more fun with people you already know.)

The next morning, I was back for early entry and hitting my newly discovered favorites. Soon after the park opened to the public, I found myself in line for the last of my must-rides ... and I looked up to see three familiar faces walk by.

I spent the rest of the day with them. Aside from the nail marks The Root left in my arm during one haunted house, it was nearly perfect. Even when it started raining. (Heck, that made the crowd clear up a little bit.)

Always. Always talk to strangers.

Even the ones in Lions jerseys.

... And now I miss Ohio.

End note: I also fell madly in love ... with a roller coaster. Allow me to introduce you to Millennium Force, the one coaster I couldn't get off my mind. 320 feet tall, 93 mph, and a full two minutes of adrenaline. As it happens, it was also the last coaster I rode. In the dark. In the rain.

It was amazing.


[That's right, Elderberry. I finally picked a favorite.]

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