Is everybody in?
It’s that question I find myself asking each year – where can I get some creds in January? I’ve managed 660 odd without disturbing the shores of America but now, the time is right.
Day 0 – Travel stuff
So here we are at LAX. Faffiest airport in the world? The border was nothing like the stories I always hear. No guns or being shouted at. But they’ve got those dumb DIY photo and fingerprint machines with no Japanese women to guide you. And then they don’t work. Then they want you to fill in the customs form. And then they don’t want to take it off you. “Wassup my man?” Now I’m in.
The phrase 9 terminals was thrown around on signs. I thought wow, that’s huge. But it isn’t. They aren’t separate entities like other airports, just a big U shape of smaller sections with a road running round it all. A gridlocked road.
There’s no car hire on site, they’re all shuttled. The shuttle bus cant get to you because of the road. The shuttle bus cant get you out because of the road. It took a good couple of hours to leave.
Got to the car hire place and told to use the machines to avoid the queue. The machines don’t work. Queue it is.
They’re a sleazy bunch here. I’d paid everything up front so was dead set on the bill being a swift 0.
“This car you’ve booked, it’s a bit small.”
I’m shown a picture of this.
“You won’t get any luggage in there.”
“I’m sure I’ll manage.”
“How far are you going?”
“I can upgrade you to a ‘medium sized car’ for 25 dollars a day.”
“Sounds like a lot for 2 weeks, I’m good.”
“It’s higher up.”
“It’s lower to the ground.”
“The luggage won’t have to go on the seats.”
“I’m sure I’ll manage.”
Tshh-something about winter insurance and the ‘rainy season.’
“Right. I’m good.”
“Tshh-here’s your papers. Follow the signs.”
Well this is new to me. I’m used to being given a key up front, but instead you get to stumble outside into the car park and find the section of ‘eligible cars’ for what you’ve booked. The keys are all in the cars, take your pick. My section was filled with 7 of what I’d call medium sized cars.
6 the same (4 white, 2 black), 1 different. Damn, the different one already has someone in it. The decision has been made for me then. Luggage in the boot. Away we go.
Luckily I hadn’t planned anything for the day.
Day 1 – California’s Great America
I had to hit the San Francisco area first as the parks there aren’t truly open year round, they just do Christmassy events until the end of December. CGA’s was an evening only job, from 5pm to 10pm, so that suited the 5 hour journey it took to get there.
It wasn’t a particularly pleasant journey up ‘the 5’, once you end up on dual carriageway and sat nav says 240 miles of go straight. The traffic was just heavy enough to never settle down and use cruise control with either endless slow lorry overtakes or too many people frothing in the outside lane resulting in constant undertakes by others.
And then the tumbleweed. First time it was cute – aww, tumbleweed. It’s actually just plain dangerous. It may look soft from a distance but it’s half a car sized ball of nasty wood that you’d better not hit.
Now it’s hours of constant traffic swerving and e-stopping every couple of minutes, twigs flying everywhere. Ugh.
Checked into the hotel that was conveniently 2 minutes from the park and headed in. Getting there for rope drop turned out to be rather essential. It ended up being way busier at a lot of places than I was expecting and the website I had used to plan around crowds for this trip was just completely wrong.
Chose to power walk straight to my first RMC Raptor and start the trip on a different high to the usual. I had often forgotten this thing was a thing and first impressions on seeing it in person is ‘what the hell is this thing?.’
I then said this to myself at least ten times watching it test, walking through the queue, getting on the ride, during the ride, getting off the ride and walking away from the ride.
From off-ride it looks like it’s running at a million miles an hour and it’s ridiculous to the point of laughter. Just doesn’t seem real.
I absolutely loved it. It’s rare that experiences are totally unique to me now and this was just so unlike anything else I had done. Why am I straddling the track? Why is it shuffling out of the station on wooden decking with the quality of a Hebei Zhongye Metallurgical Equipment Manufacturing Co., Ltd lift hill? Why am I shaking in anticipation?
I somehow only ever rode it in back row and the airtime when it hits is rather insane. You’ve got the first drop obviously, the crazy twisted hill which throws you in several directions at once, but in particular the sudden drop after it just starts doing unbanked turns in the middle (which I also love). Proper ‘I’m gonna fall out of this this ride’ ejector.
Picky points: It’s too short to compete with the best of the best. The cutback corner did absolutely nothing for me and the final couple of moments after that aren’t amazing.
Shoulder straps didn’t bother me in the slightest. It had good operations with that big TV screen in the station showing countdown timers and restraint lock status, perhaps desperately trying to make up for the poor capacity of the ride. Great stuff.
Headed backwards through the park now, which may not have been the smartest idea. Patriot was almost walk on, but then it broke down one train in front of me. Spite. Come back later.
The GCI now had a queue spilling outside the entrance. Well I’ve gotta get something done. Took about an hour from there.
This thing looks good from the outside. It feels well thought out as a layout with the big drop giving a thunderous roar that scares everyone in the early stages of the queueline, the not quite station fly through that goes past the bottom of the stairs with a thunderous roar that scares everyone in the late stages of the queueline and the big sexy curves of wood from the outside.
The ride itself? Eh.
My first lap had a slightly off rattle that gave me a minor headache, but aside from that, GCI what’s going on?
They just don’t seem to do much of anything after Python changed the game. They’re all very forgettable in the middle of the pack and that’s the problem. I can’t think of a single standout moment on half of them, including this one. All I can remember thinking for this one is it’s all corners, where’s the unexpected sensations that give a ride of this type its character?
The invert struck me as another case of good placement. The zero-g slithering over the entrance isn’t exactly unique, but with little else in view it’s not just massive B&M in a field that happens to have that feature (sorry Pyrenees) and the meandering section working its way directly above the queueline.
The queue sadly ends in weirdly out of place theming that was probably better off not being there – a couple of yellow barrels, the stars and stripes and what I assume is a scene from an aircraft carrier but could just as easily be a submarine, followed by an ugly undecorated, uncovered station. Another massive B&M in a field comes back to mind (sorry Monster).
Anyway, it’s good. The layout is refreshingly non standard after the standard drop and loop. The following upwards turn gives you the classic everyone shouting ‘ahhhh’ from positive Gs moment. The aforementioned weird but amusing mincing section over the queue. Then ‘what the hell is it doing?’ lurching down into a ridiculously snappy corkscrew with a brilliantly off transition and another decently sharp turn over the water, oh it’s over.
Character and individuality is its strength.
More good placement. I like the way these bits of the other B&M stick out from the trees and then they frame it with plants and stuff below.
Patriot was back, but now a painfully slow queue with 1 train operations.
It was a thing. Probably would have preferred to try the old stand-up version of the ride because the new floorless trains just make the overly simple layout feel a bit safe and uneventful.
Now things get ugly. Everything was getting stupidly busy. Queued 90 minutes for the stupid #5 Psycho Mouse which was just being run so awfully and was the beginning of my ongoing experience of this country not caring about filling empty seats on low capacity rides that felt like it wasted so much of my life.
But hey, my first Arrow Mouse.
This had driven me to the point where I couldn’t be arsed to queue with a million families for the final cred that was open (Woodstock Express) and went back to RailBlazer instead to finish the day on another 90 minute queue.
Hmm. California’s Great America started good but I got rather fed up with it by the end of the night. Not completely the parks fault though. Christmas obviously draws the crowds and that wasn’t helped by the limited lineup they had on offer for the event. Can’t really complain as it allowed me to ride this magnificent specimen at this often barren time of year.
Up next – some flags.