Deep in the heart of China, amongst a forest of bamboo, lives the best wooden rollercoaster I have ever ridden. I knew nothing about the ride before I arrived other than it has a cool looking train, courtesy of this amazing picture:
Subsequently it blew my mind.
Python in Bamboo Forest is the longest ride GCI have ever made. No one seems to know for definite, but to achieve this you’d have to assume it’s the tallest as well. It depends how you measure height though, the lift hill doesn’t go up 160ft and then drop to the floor on a flat piece of land, all you’ve got to go on is the difference between the highest and lowest piece of track, but none of that is relative to the floor. This is a terrain coaster. And as we learnt from Helix, I love terrain coasters.
I’m going to struggle with pictures today because you just can’t see any of the ride from the park. The hill that it lives on slopes away from the entrance area, out towards the park boundary and one of China’s massive, empty roads. I’d love to go back one day and do a photoshoot from outside the park somehow.
The hill is what breathes life into the ride, defying the inherent physics of a rollercoaster that in theory should always start off fastest and then gradually run out of momentum, getting weaker and weaker until it ends. Python never runs out of momentum. It delivers with an equal experience from start to finish and I find that to be nothing short of masterful.
The ‘first drop’ is completely untraditional. A teasing, twisted triple down that builds like nothing else. The snake heads out to the far end of the layout in a seemingly unremarkable fashion.
A major advantage of making rollercoasters out of wood is the sensation with which they ride. This varies hugely from those which are glass smooth, indiscernable from steel and often criticised by enthusiasts for that fact (me included), to coasters so violently jarring and rough that they causes serious internal injury, making you question whether you can ever ride another coaster again – a story for another time. I do like violence in a ride, ideally ones that push you just to the edge of what’s physically tolerable, but it’s important that this line, which is different for everyone, can’t be crossed. This coaster sits perfectly in that sweet spot for me, in a zone that seems to be dominated by a handful of GCIs and most of the biggest offerings from the Gravity Group – all sharing a characteristic I can best describe as aggressive.
Any part of a wooden coaster that looks unremarkable can still be fun because the ride is doing something to your body at all times, just from the way it negotiates the track. Just physically existing on a ride like Python while it moves brings me joy. An equivalent steel with an unremarkable section of track should be completely forceless and would therefore have a dead spot, most likely taking me out of the moment.
At the end of this section is a magical turnaround that somehow looks higher than the rest of the ride, like you’re not going to make it. This provides the only real opportunity to catch your breath between the lift hill and the brakes – a brief moment of contemplation looking back at the rest of the ridiculous layout below you. And then you plunge into it.
The layout weaves back and forth across the side of the hill, gradually heading downwards and every time you think it might begin to ease off, it drops further and further, maintaining that blissful sensation of a ride that doesn’t want to end. It just keeps on giving, eventually diving into dips and trenches below the height of the station to make sure that not a single second is wasted.
While all this is going on, it’s just a top notch ride experience. GCI at their absolute best. The signature thing they do with corners where you enter or exit on a weird kink pops up in all kinds of places. Every spare moment is punctuated by little airtime moments that have you out of your seat more than you’re on it. It’s not the strongest ejector around, you can’t compete with the likes of El Toro and T Express for that, but those rides can only ever have 2 or 3 really significant moments and I personally find that the rest of their experience pales in comparison. Because I’m always overthinking, I would spend the remainder of those rides in distracted anticipation of a few specific hills and once they’re done, I’m done.
I’d much rather have 50 little moments and not count them, each one indistinguishable from the last to keep me guessing, keep me laughing with joy from start to finish. In some twisted way it all becomes just one single extended moment of abuse.
I was fortunate enough to have this elite rollercoaster completely to myself for an extended period of time. It was a freezing, murky day and I could count on one hand the number of other guests that appeared on park. The ride was running both cold and empty, a combination that generally means ‘slow’ and ‘not at it’s best’. But it was still the best woodie ever. It still tried to rip the shirt from my back every lap. It was still THAT good. How could it possibly get better?