A little under eight months ago, I made the five thousand mile trip to California to attend WWDC 2004 in San Francisco. I did not expect (or for that matter have any desire) to return to California in the next decade, let alone less than a year later. Lest the above comment offend any natives, please be assured that I myself am an American citizen. It is just that there are a large number of interesting places I have yet to visit, and returning somewhere I've been so recently doesn't strike me as a good use of either time or money.
However, when one is doing a research M.Sc, sometimes one does not have a choice. My funding included a travel budget which had to be used, and, following discussions with my supervisor, it was decided that I should attend FPGA 2005 in Monterey. With an eleven and a half hour flight needed to cover the five thousand mile journey (note to Boeing and Airbus - a long haul SST would be appreciated), I felt that a few extra days would be nice. The funding would only cover flights and the period of the conference. However, this was not a problem due to the state of the dollar; a few nights of hotel accommodation wouldn't break the bank.
When I left Dublin on Wednesday morning, it was wet and windy. The temperature was running at around 7-8°C, not at all bad for Dublin in February. We landed in Los Angeles in beautiful sunshine (what you could see of it through the smog) and a temperature of nearly 20°, something not out of place in an Irish summer. Though a little cooler, the glorious sunshine was still present as I made my way across the road from my hotel to Knott's just before 9:30am. I had been carrying my light summer jacket under my arm, but it quickly became clear that I would not be needing it. A quick detour back to my room solved that problem, and by the time I made it back the ticket office had opened.
With my wallet lighter by nearly fifty dollars, I joined the crowd standing at the entrance. The various staff members stood solemnly behind the closed gate as the National Anthem began to play over the PA system. Their revery was only spoilt slightly by the clunk-crash-whoosh of Montezooma's Revenge, quite probably the noisiest ride in the park, being rudely test fired. The crowd, the majority of which seemed to be locals, didn't seem to be taking the affair too seriously; one teenager in front of me started singing along with alternative words that I cannot in good conscience reprint here (but which I very much enjoyed).
On my last visit to Knott's, Silver Bullet (#379) had been in the early stages of construction. As it turned out, I was the first person to reach the ride, so I had my choice of seat. Some coaster enthusiasts are knowledgeable sad enough to know the approximate track layout of a ride before they get there and can therefore pre-guess whether the left or right side of the train is likely to be "better". While I have been in this position once or twice, today was not such an occasion. With no reference point, I chose the rightmost seat of the front row for my first circuit. With the notable exception of the over-banked turn (a first on an Inverted Coaster) the whole ride was, to me at least, uninteresting. I took three more circuits in different parts of the train just to be sure, and while the back was definitely better, the whole ride seemed a bit lacklustre. I made a mental note to return later in the day after it had had a chance to warm up.
The main thing a seasoned enthusiast will notice about Silver Bullet is the noise it makes. Or rather, that should be the noise it doesn't make. B&M rides normally have a very distinctive roar produced by the train as it traverses the track circuit. Not so Silver Bullet; other than screams of the riders and the clicks of the anti-rollbacks on the lift hill, the ride is silent. It is a very challenging ride to photograph simply because one cannot hear the train coming!
A five minute walk took me across to Xcelerator (#380). There was nobody in the station other than ride operators, so once again I chose a front seat position, and immediately ran into the first ridiculous operating policy of the day. I wear glasses, which in amusement parks are secured with a very sturdy strap. I have a number of different straps that I use, but the one I was wearing today had been sold to me at Cedar Point (Knott's sister park) for use on Top Thrill Dragster (Xcelerator's big brother). I was informed that absolutely no glasses were allowed on Xcelerator. I politely pointed out the above, but the ride operator stood his ground, and as I badly wanted to ride I decided to let it go. From reading other trip reports about Knott's, and from my own previous trip, I understand that such neurotic policies are not unusual, but I still reserve the right to complain about them!
The ride cannot launch without a minimum weight in the train, so it was necessary to wait a few minutes for four additional passengers. When they eventually arrived, restraints were rechecked and we prepared for launch. It should be noted at this point that I had not seen a train launch, so I wasn't sure how fast the acceleration would be. The answer, as it turned out, was impressively fast. Not quite Hypersonic XLC, but certainly very close behind in terms of raw acceleration power. Unlike Hypersonic, however, Xcelerator is smooth, has airtime at the top of its spike, and has a decent ride length of thirty seconds. Here was a coaster I could spent the whole morning on. In the end I settled for five back to back rides in various different parts of the train. On disembarking, for the first time in a while, I had to reshuffle my top ten coasters.
It should be noted at this point that I had gotten through a total of nine coaster rides in less than an hour thanks to the park being largely empty. I decided to take a break on something a little milder; the Timber Mountain Log Flume. Though I had done this before, I had forgotten the theming, and as such enjoyed it as if it were a totally new experience. However, I would have enjoyed it more had it not been for the effects of the final splash. It is a total mystery to me how this happened, but both my feet were soaked! Other than spray, the rest of me was totally unaffected. I walked past the Screaming Swing, but it had a sign beside it saying that it would not be opening until 12:00pm. If the park opens at 10:00am, is it so much to ask that the rides be open too?
Timberline Twister (#381) has a 69" height limit. On my previous visit to Knott's, I was measured by the ride operator and politely advised that this coaster was for kids. The ride operator today didn't pay any attention to me stepping onto the platform, and I had already shoehorned myself into a car before he could make any comment. The ride was surprisingly rough given its target audience, but the children seemed to love it, demanding an additional go from the ride operator each time (and succeeding twice, so I got three circuits for my trouble). I wasn't sorry to disembark though; it had not been a comfortable experience.
With my three new credits out of the way, I decided to work my way around the other coasters in the park. The first one I got to was Montezooma's Revenge. Schwarzkopf shuttle loops have aged very well; all of them are more than twenty years old, with the newest having opened at Walibi Belgium in 1982. I noticed the propulsion system for the first time; a giant (and heavy looking) flywheel that sits beside the loop spinning at a fair speed. I don't profess to know exactly how the energy is transferred to the train, but whatever it is, it works very well. It is a pity that more of these rides don't exist.
There is very little that can be said about Jaguar! that I didn't mention in my previous trip. However, the circuit did reveal something very odd. Fields with old ride parts are seen at theme parks from time to time, but this marks the first time I have seen a collection of toilets. There were more than a dozen toilets lined up against the wall; some with seats, some without. One cannot help but wonder if they were for a future installation, or perhaps a new ride? Who knows?
The natural state of a Vekoma Boomerang is to be broken in some form or other. The usual situation is for a train to be valleyed somewhere on course, most often between the loop and the second spike. Occasionally you see the train stuck half way up the spike, which is where it was today. Fortunately I had previously ridden this model, so I wasn't too upset. This left Ghostrider as the seventh and final coaster in the park. Some of the web sites I read had reported that Ghostrider was closed recently for maintenance. Whatever was done to it seems to have worked, as the ride was running very well. It was still a bumpy ride, but not painfully so, and reminded me very much of Tonnerre de Zeus (though not as good). CCI did know how to build coasters.
I have taken to making notes in my mobile phone during park visits, which I then expand into detailed trip reports. As you may have noticed, this report is a great deal more verbose than what I normally write, which is one of the offshoots of taking good notes. With a bit of luck I will endeavour to keep this level of detail in my writing where possible. At any rate, the reason I mention this here is that my phone suggested the alternative of "ghost sheep" for Ghostrider. This is not the first time the phone has provided an amusing suggestion.
There are a number of things parks like to do that are, in my opinion at least, unethical. One of these is to charge extra for certain rides, or worse yet, provide a legitimate method of queue jumping for those willing to pay more. Fortunately, the only chain that has sprung for the latter is Six Flags, but Knott's has chosen the former with its new Screaming Swing. To be fair, it is made quite clear on the park tickets, but I was nevertheless a little resentful as I handed over my extra $5 to try out the latest S&S creation. The Screaming Swing is simply a gondola attached to a 70 ft tall arm that can swing back and forth up to the horizontal point. To help it do this, it is powered by a compressed air system. Honestly, while I'm glad I've ridden it once, the ride simply didn't do that much for me. S&S had a major hit with their tower rides, but this isn't of the same calibre. I didn't see many other people riding it either, though to be fair that's as likely to be the additional charge as anything else.
I decided to ride Joe Cool's Gr8 Sk8, an Interactive Rides "Sky Skater", simply because I'm expecting to encounter one on the top of a very tall building next week and I wanted to know what the ride experience was like beforehand. The ride consists of a short piece of track with brakes on either end, with a pivot point in the middle. The car, seating eight people, is free to roll in either direction as the track pivots back and forth. The concept is an interesting one if not very comfortable (the car hits the brakes hard, which results in the riders being punched in the stomach by the restraint system).
I used a second circuit on Montezooma's Revenge to scout out potential locations for photographing the Toilet Graveyard (see above). The closest I could get was the side of Montezooma's station, but it was good enough. At this point I was getting hungry, but decided to take a quick go on Supreme Scream before eating. This is another ride with a stupid policy on glasses, and it really is stupid in this case; the ride goes up and down, and with no lateral forces whatsoever even badly secured glasses are not at risk.
The sky had been getting progressively darker all morning, and the weather finally let go completely just as I went inside for some lunch. Remembering what country I was in, I decided to order a medium pepsi instead of a large, and sure enough I was given more than I could finish. The main meal was actually a reasonably sized portion, much to my surprise.
The rain was still coming down in sheets when I had finished eating. It had also gotten noticeably cooler outside. Rather than freeze, I collected my jacket from my hotel room and began exploring the park some more. It is always interesting to see how different parks handle adverse weather conditions. Some parks shut down all their rides at the mere hint of rain. Others will continue to run their rides in torrential conditions. When you see a mixed situation, with some rides running and others closed, it is almost always due to manufacturer's instructions. Xcelerator, for example, closed immediately, and much to my consternation, did not reopen all day.
At any rate, Silver Bullet was still running, so I got in a circuit on that. It was running significantly faster than it had been earlier in the day, and with the faster speed came a more interesting ride. The projectile rain only served to heighten the impression of speed. My glasses were useless for vision, but they were very effective at shielding my eyes. Ghostrider was also up and running, so I took a (wet) circuit. There were almost no passengers in the station so riders were invited to stay on, but I decided I was wet enough and disembarked. As I was walking down the stairs, I overheard a young boy whining about how awful the experience had been; "My stomach came up to my throat!". His sister pointed out, in a matter of fact tone, that "You did just eat that hot dog, man!". Fortunately, I don't believe a sanitation engineer was required this time.
I completed a full circuit of the park, and noted that there were just three operational rides; Ghostrider, the Log Flume, and Silver Bullet. Even Ghostrider shut down later in the day as the weather got worse. I had just taken two circuits on Silver Bullet when I heard an announcement over the park PA system promoting the Mystery Lodge show, which was about to begin. Anything to get out of the rain seemed like a good idea, so I made my way over there. I won't spoil the show by giving the details, but I will say that it uses some unique light effects I have not seen before.
Fatigue was beginning to catch up with me, so I decided to call it a day. Before doing so, I walked back over to Xcelerator, but the operator told me that it was most likely closed for the evening. I settled for a final go on Silver Bullet before leaving the park about half an hour before closing time.