Ride Review – OCT Thrust SSC1000

What a mouthful of a name. OCT Thrust SSC1000 is derived from both the jet car (ThrustSSC) that holds the world land speed record and the operating company of the park in which it resides (who knows about the 1000). OCT run a number of theme and amusement properties throughout China, the most well known of which are the Happy Valley parks and this particular S&S compressed air launch coaster lives within Wuhan’s contribution to the chain. This is the most recent installation of the ride type at any OCT property, with the opening of the next at Window of the World Changsha still TBA, and the layout is a mirrored clone of Bullet Coaster from their Shenzhen park – we’ll come to the reasoning later as to why the original won’t be receiving as much of the spotlight here today.

Do-dodonpa – Fuji-Q Highland

The ride is also one of only 7 rollercoasters operating throughout the world with such a launch system. Compressed air launches found fame (notoriety) back in 2001 with the opening of both Hypersonic XLC at Kings Dominion and Dodonpa at Fuji-Q Highland. The former was plagued with reliability issues and had a rather short lifespan for a rollercoaster, sadly I never had the chance to try this one with only 6 years in operation, though the latter has managed to successfully retain the world record for fastest acceleration on a coaster and will celebrate its 20th birthday later this year.
It took a whole ten years before the concept was revived and purchased again by Happy Valley themselves but, more importantly, it was also vastly improved upon.

These originals relied on the unprecedented intensity of their launch systems to provide the main thrill, the selling point of the ride and the layouts were much simpler in design. You may well know by now that I’m not a huge fan of this idea, the sensations of a launch alone have never been enough for a coaster to enter my personal big leagues.
I believe these specific S&S creations are solely to blame for my current mentality as the Chinese installations introduced a more varied and interesting sequence of elements into the mix. Not only is the launch sequence the most terrifying and violent on the planet, we now have an amazing coaster to complement it, to make good use of all that potential energy.
When I first experienced acceleration like this it was unlike anything else that had come before and by the end of the ride I was physically exhausted. I had to sit down on a bench and recover for a while, as opposed the usual run straight back round for a reride. This rarely happens to me at all now, if ever, especially for those exceptional rides which I deem ‘worth’ any physical duress these days. Subsequent launches have invariably felt inferior too (including the king). In other words, I’m broken.

On to the actual ride then. OCT Thrust begins with the train, which now by the way also has 3x the seating capacity, making the power of the launch seem even more ridiculous with all that extra weight, pulling forward onto an unassuming launch track underneath a TV screen you might well find anywhere else in the park that usually shows off some generic Happy Valley promo shots of the ride (poorly edited amongst others from the chain).
The train negotiates back and forth a couple of times as the catch car comes into place while unnerving mechanical noises are made. After a tense pause, riders are then mercilessly blasted into the first top hat at an incomprehensible pace. The stats are yet to be officially verified to my knowledge but due to the technology we can assume they most likely sit somewhere between Dodonpa’s world record and the equivalent fastest accelerating hydraulic or LSM launches of the theme park world, so ~80Mph in significantly under 2 seconds.

The launch may as well be instantaneous, as it certainly feels that way, but now the fun begins. Thanks to some open seating design and lap bar restraints, the powerful airtime on the first element can be fully enjoyed as the ride plunges over 220ft into a tunnel below some pathway – a great moment for riders and spectators alike.

Keen eyed readers may have spotted the trim brakes on that first drop but do bear in mind that I would be the first to report on and complain about any negative impact they had on the ride experience – there was none. The exit of the tunnel leads into a banked upwards turn culminating in a second strong airtime moment as the train dives towards ground level again.

As though taking inspiration from more conventional hyper coasters, this track is designed for airtime moment after airtime moment, the third of which comes with a twist at the top providing some satisfying lateral forces in addition to the now expected out of the seat sensation.

The fourth and final hill breaks the mould yet again by being banked completely to the right at 90° to the ground. This gives the unusual feeling of the body being kicked sideways against the will of gravity in an attempt to leave the train and is a feature that has later been included in and popularised by several RMC creations, amongst other coasters.

The last element in the sequence is a tight and twisted double turnaround, this time intense in the positive G department and culminating in a rather brutal snap (possibly unintentional, but I call it character) into the brake run. It feels a little soon but I believe the whole point in this style of ride is to leave you a little dazed and breathless, which it achieves all too well with that ridiculous launch and subsequently ending almost as quickly as it began. The important thing is that all the moments in between are of the highest quality.
Why has the ride (and the sky) changed colour? Well I didn’t have a picture of this final section of track for OCT Thrust and so I’ll cheat and say that this is a good point to segue into the key differences with the original installation of this layout – Bullet Coaster.

Strangely enough I want to like the original more. After all it came first, I rode this one first and I’m not exactly an advocate of cloned layouts around here. The Shenzhen installation looks far more attractive too, being set in a Shangri-La themed area with that much prettier colour scheme. Unfortunately this version of the ride fell victim to something which makes this whole ranking clones business a bit more of a nonsense than it already is – a revisit. A reassessment.
Let’s just say this second visit wasn’t a good day in the grand scheme of theme park trips and the ride itself felt like it was vastly underperforming. I wasn’t getting the same kick, the same buzz I had since become used to getting from the ride type in general and I was upset by this revelation. The only reasonable way in which I can display this emotion is by no longer giving it the specific credit it undoubtedly deserves in a numbered list.

So it may be less easy on the eye but OCT Thrust hasn’t yet been given the opportunity to let me down (almost, but covid). It currently remains my favourite S&S air launch coaster and takes the honour of being the key representative for the layout, with Bullet Coaster sadly relegated to sitting outside my top 25.
Every single moment of the ride delivered with spectacular efficiency during my time spent with it. I love the sequence of elements and the way they all hit the mark, never faltering for one second. The hallmark of coaster design at its finest.

Just to confuse things further, this same logic doesn’t apply to my score cards. The opportunity for an objectively better card (in both theming and opening year) trumps any personal feelings. Have to be sensible about these highly important matters.

Score Card

Ride Review – Hakugei

Sometimes the overall experience of a park is far greater than the sum of its attractions, but at other times the opposite can be true. Nagashima Spa Land falls under the latter category for me and before this monster RMC was built I didn’t really get on with the place at all. I had visited twice before, once to find Hakugei’s predecessor White Cyclone closed, along with 10 other coasters in the park for the sake of a patch of drizzle and a second time as a near successful attempt at redemption, while the RMC conversion was still taking place.

I returned, almost begrudgingly, on a third visit in order to experience Asia’s first rollercoaster from industry legends Rocky Mountain Construction, who have topped polls for a number of years now and become celebrated favourites by many. I had jumped on that bandwagon myself within the 6 months prior to this particular trip after boosting my RMC count from 1 to 8 and pretty much loving every single one of them, which is why I found myself queueing to be let into Nagashima once again in June 2019.

As the other creds here had already been obtained, there was of course only one item on the agenda for the day – ride the new one as much as physically possible. This began with me surging forward with the initial crowds, getting a bit of a jog on and hoping to be amongst the first in the queue. It didn’t work particularly well as for some reason, I assume as the park is part of a larger resort and it’s possible to stay on-site, a significant number of other guests had beaten me there by other means.

No worries, I’m no stranger to a queue in this hobby. However I was soon hit with a strong reminder of just how slowly attractions are run at this park, watching the single train they had on track bounce around the pre-lift section, half empty, about once every 5 minutes. Let it not be said that I don’t suffer for my art sometimes, as this waiting game was particularly painful. Even without speaking Japanese I can to this day still loop the two minute safety announcement in my head along with the accompanying 20 second clip of the song ‘Thrill Life’ by Doberman Infinity. Just play all of it or none of it.

Upon nearing the batch point for the station lockers, staff members begin handing out wristbands to queuing guests, the purpose of which is somewhat overly complicated. Underneath the station are a bank of free lockers into which you deposit your loose belongings before getting scanned with metal detectors and proceeding up the stairs towards the platform. At the top of the stairs, you are relieved of the wristband so that, upon leaving the ride and joining other guests in the locker area you can’t just sneak back up for another lap. While this is a significant improvement over similar systems found elsewhere in the park that involve lockers on the platform, it is still a rather laborious procedure.

The final irksome policy before I can finally sit down and relax is the regimented batching into rows which does not allow guests any choice of seat. Usually I’m fine with such ideas, provided it has been put in place in order to maximise efficiency and throughput. That clearly isn’t the case here, given the time that everything else takes and particularly when coupled with the slightly more unusual local custom of not grouping strangers together, often leaving the train with several empty seats, as I alluded to earlier.

Why all the negativity here, in what is supposed to be a review of a top ten rollercoaster?
It’s a point that rather fascinates me because I have absolutely no quarrels of this nature with any other ride amongst my list of the elite. In an ideal world, the happiness begins upon entering the queue, perhaps even the park itself and never falters for such trivialities. But sometimes these things just stick out in my (admittedly stubborn) mind like a sore thumb and it’s very hard to look past them. It becomes part of the character building of the ride. Does this attraction, or the way it’s being presented, want me to enjoy it as much as I want to? Weird though that may sound, I believe it’s important.
Mostly though, this is a true testament to just how amazing this piece of hardware is. It may be cold, calculated and clinical, but Hakugei is just so damn good and highly deserving of a place among my all time favourites. Forget everything else, we’re onboard now, let’s begin that journey.

A signature pre-lift section begins with the slightest momentum out of the station giving way to several oddly shaped humps and bumps that miraculously manage to provide more airtime than most other coasters would care to admit. A huge 180ft ascent leads to a very open summit, with cracking views all round, and a flat unbanked 90° turn that’s taken at a rather swift pace before kicking you up, over and down into that massive first drop.

The seriously powerful airtime that this machine can produce sparks into life here, that little piece of extra emphasis as seen before on a couple of other creations such as Wildfire really does add to the sensation of riders being pinned out of their seats and dragged towards the ground below. It’s a sustained moment. It hits hard. I’d argue that it feels far more significant than the 300ft first drop of a certain giga coaster in the same park.

At full speed the train heads into what must be one of the worlds biggest ‘double ups’, an element which provides two further sharp bursts of airtime in satisfying succession. An unusual turnaround follows with the track banking counterintuitively towards the outside of the corner in a wonderfully whippy transition, similar to that of the green high five moment on Twisted Colossus, but with only the sky to greet you.

This, again similarly, is succeeded by a particularly out of control ‘double down’ section which for me is one of the standout moments of the ride. It’s hard to anticipate, hard to brace for and can be rather brutal on the leg department with how hard it tries to remove you from your seat – all things I love to see on a coaster.

Continuing to draw on the strengths of previous builds, another signature RMC moment hits in the form of a zero-G stall. With the sheer speed at which this ride moves, it isn’t their finest for that other-worldly upside down floaty sensation. This worked better towards the middle of the train but the front and back both provided a different, powerful and unusual mix of forces.

One of the many things I love about Hakugei is that it just doesn’t want to do corners. Corners are boring. To point us in the opposite direction this time we get a strange overbanked turn with multiple elevation changes that deliver some weird sideways kicks, never letting up.

A glorious but standard zero-G inversion comes next, something else the manufacturer can often take pride in. Watching the dense layer of track supports manouevre itself around you is always a sight to behold.

Intensity follows grace with a powerful airtime hill, the first traditional one of these in the entire layout. As it winds out of this through another banked turn and drop we get another of those violent and unpredictable moments that sets this one above others of its type. The third and final turnaround is a low overbank with unnerving lateral forces, far more than I had come to expect from these rides and a highly welcome feature.

Now, buried deep within the intimidating stucture, the final stretch delivers yet more vicious airtime of both standard and then sideways variety, one last inversion and another of my absolute favourite moments – a tiny little twisted hill that never failed to induce shouts of terror and/or pain from all riders. The whale goes out with a bang and I’m left trying to process the insanity.

Often with coasters of this scale there’s a memorable part, a signature sequence of elements that define the ride and then some ‘other bits’ to go with it. Hakugei is a masterclass in layout design from the moment it leaves the station until the moment it hits the brakes and I have a massive respect for anyone that can pull that off. I’ve got my favourite elements of course that I already alluded to, but the flow, the pace, the sequencing of this thing – everything comes together perfectly and feels so… right. Two minutes of coaster heaven.
Put this ride in another park and it may well have been Japan’s best for me. Just goes to show it’s so tight at the top that even emotion can swing it.

Score Card

Top 25

After riding over 1100 coasters in 23 different countries, this is how I currently rank some of the greatest coasters in the World. Unlike Heartline, I’m choosing to stick to a strict Top 25 for the sake of simplicity. In time I plan to do an in depth review of most of these incredible coasters, so stay tuned and please click on the coaster names to read more.

#1 Helix

#2 Ride to Happiness
Plopsaland de Panne

#3 El Toro
Six Flags Great Adventure

#4 Skyrush

#5 Eejanaika
Fuji-Q Highland

#6 T-Express

#7 Iron Gwazi
Busch Gardens Tampa

#8 Steel Vengeance
Cedar Point

#9 Twisted Timbers
Kings Dominion

#10 Zadra

#11 Taiga

#12 Untamed
Walibi Holland

#13 Storm Chaser
Kentucky Kingdom

#14 Kondaa
Walibi Belgium

#15 Wicked Cyclone
Six Flags New England

#16 Lightning Rod

#17 VelociCoaster
Universal’s Islands of Adventure

#18 Schwur des Kärnan
Hansa Park

#19 Twisted Cyclone
Six Flags Over Georgia

#20 Wildfire

#21 Outlaw Run
Silver Dollar City

#22 Hyperion

#23 Taron

#24 Maverick
Cedar Point

#25 Intimidator 305
Kings Dominion

Ride Review – Wood Coaster

As the most difficult to obtain rollercoaster under my belt so far (potentially ever), the pay off for finally riding this monster from GCI was huge. Something to consider about most Chinese parks is that they’ll seemingly find any excuse not to open and run certain major attractions. The reasoning for this remains a mystery, it could be anything from financial pressure to overbearing regulations but it can be very frustrating to experience first hand, particularly when you’ve also seen elsewhere in the world how it simply doesn’t have to be this way.

I had visited the city of Shenzhen twice before with the intention of riding Wood Coaster and on both occasions it just wasn’t meant to be. On the very first, which also happened to be my inaugural visit to China, we made it all the way to the park to be told by the ticket office that their one and only rollercoaster was ‘closed for maintenance’. It was a painful experience.
A couple of years later, the second time around, I had learnt a lot more about when not to waste time by happening on such disappointments in person and we phoned ahead to be told yet again their one and only rollercoaster was ‘closed for maintenance’.

A further 18 months later I was out in Asia again and increasingly desperate to finally ride this thing. Research had finally become easier and the park actually had a relatively informative website by this point. On it they actually listed these ‘maintenance’ schedules (I keep putting that word in quotation marks because it is usually just a word they use to cover any other reason for closure) and I now knew to avoid Mondays, every third Thursday of the month and April (plus unofficially January, the month of my previous two spites). None of that mattered of course if there was going to be any rain and as the trip approached the weather forecast looked bad, very bad.

Thankfully the stars aligned and it was third time lucky. After the most stressful build up to a ride ever, I was finally able to experience it for myself. So beyond all that exclusivity, what makes this coaster so special?

Location, location, location. Just look at that ridiculousness. But it comes at a price. The lift hill terrified me, as the train slowly drags you up, just above the tree line of the forest. With the subtropical climate, this particular area is home to a variety of giant, flapping creepy crawlies and they were swarming this section of the ride, landing on the cars and guests in front of me. I’m so far out of my comfort zone now and this really isn’t selling it, is it?

Mercifully as we reached the summit, the threat seemed to die down, we’re clearly too far up now. At the crest of the lift hill, the train takes a flat 270° turn, a manoeuvre that allows riders to fully appreciate the jaw-droppingly stunning and incomprehensible views this coaster has to offer. This feature endears the ride to me for a secondary reason, in some sort of hipster fashion that I simply cannot avoid. Wood Coaster did this trick before it was cool, before rides like Wildfire made it popular. I like that.

After that moment of serenity, things take a sudden turn. The momentum starts to build throughout something GCI pull off very well on their terrain coasters – a surging, multi-stage drop that just keeps on giving, more than a single straight top to bottom first drop ever could. Desperately trying to keep my mouth shut in case of stray bugs, while simultaneously squealing with excitement as the ride attempts to throw me out of my seat multiple times, we hit the unprecedented large airtime hill over the lift. Something GCI never do. I have no idea why that is, but it’s amazing.

Full momentum still hasn’t been reached by this point and we now dive into an area completely hidden from regular view, a valley with a great headchopper moment from some future track crossing over. This part of the ride is where I noticed that this thing is rough. Not a bad rough though. Highly aggressive, very impactful and all the better for it as far as my own personal tastes go. Right on the limit of making a wooden coaster that extra bit special without detracting from the experience.

That sensation is important for another reason, because it stops what could otherwise be seen as uneventful elements, such as the following extended banked curve from being uninteresting. If I’m getting my ass kicked by the ride then I’m not going to pause and have time to complain about that. Just how it works for me.

Not that I would dream of doing that anyway, because even these corners are packed with GCI’s signature weird transitions, lumps and bumps that give surprise airtime in all the wrong places. Other rides they’ve made don’t have these at all. Why? With some further diving, turning and a wicked little twisted moment, the train heads back towards the station, with far too much momentum to stop of course.

Another GCI signature in the form of a station flythrough. Sadly due to questionable Chinese operations, this one never gets appreciated by guests waiting to board, as unlike the rest of the world (and contradicting the very reason they created this element in the first place) they choose keep the station area entirely vacant while the ride is in motion. It’s fantastic on-ride though, with a wonderfully unnatural lurch upon entry and exit to this flat piece of sheltered track.

The twists and turns just keep on coming and this ride doesn’t know how to slow down at all. After another banked curve that points us back towards the station we enter my favourite part of the entire layout. There’s another legendary element out there that was popularised by RMC on Lightning Rod – the quad down. Well once again, Wood Coaster did it first. I hadn’t dreamed that it was going to be this wild and I just can’t describe how much joy I take from both innovative and out of control moments like this. The train hurtles down airtime moment after airtime moment, both straight and banked, and passes directly through the station yet again, right in between the platform and the brake run in one of the most triumphant pieces of layout design I can think of.

This weird forest tunnel is next as we finally turn towards that piece of track that created our headchopper so long ago – I was wondering when that was coming back. There’s still room for an airtime hill perpendicular to the station this time before a final dive and turn into the brakes. Wow. Head in hands, what just happened, top ten ride? Yes. Twister layouts simply don’t get better than this. I still can’t believe how much this ride throws at you, or how they managed to make it all work in such a seemingly unforgiving landscape.

And that’s the core of what makes this attraction so spectacular to me. Putting a huge wooden rollercoaster on the side of a mountain is the stuff of enthusiast dreams and just not something we would expect to actually exist in real life. The fact that GCI pulled this one off and also held absolutely nothing back in terms of layout and sheer thrill is nothing short of masterful. When it comes to pushing the limits of coaster engineering, there’s almost always something that has to work against the riders’ experience and yet the only thing holding this ride back is the way the park choose to run it, i.e. not well.

Everything about Wood Coaster exhausts me, from the journey to get to it, through being thrown around like a rag doll while on it and then even to sitting down and writing about it, and yet after all my misgivings in the introduction, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a fairytale experience for a fairytale attraction.

Score Card

Top 10% – Dark Rides

I may well be in the minority when I say that the experience of a dark ride can easily rival that of a good rollercoaster. Travelling the world to ride all the latter will inevitably lead you to finding a lot of the former, so I’m surprised that no one (to my knowledge) has yet attempted to collect, count and categorise these other types of attractions in the same way that has taken off so strongly for the coaster counters out there.
Update – turns out the DRdb beat me to it and I’ve since joined forces with their team, combining our efforts in an attempt to keep track of the wonderful world of dark rides. Make sure to check it out for detailed listings, the latest news, in-depth articles or even to use as a handy trip-planning tool.

I undertook the challenge of creating a dark ride count for myself in the past and as a category without all the tools that we take for granted these days like RCDB and coast2coaster, it’s rather difficult to remain assured that you’ve remembered them all. I visited every website of every park I had ever been to in order to trawl through their attraction listings and jog the memories beyond what was already in my head, but what about those that had since closed? Those that didn’t have websites? Those that weren’t part of a park with a rollercoaster? That’s where the minefield begins.

The other expected difficulty, as with coasters, is what do we classify as a dark ride? There’s a huge amount of variety out there and some obviously fit the criteria a lot more than others. With water rides, thrill rides and coasters themselves utilising what we’d call dark ride features there’s a lot of overlap into what could technically count. I eventually settled on:

– It is a piece of ride hardware (other than a coaster).
– It has at least 1 roof (dark or enclosed portion).
– It has a significant enough quantity of ‘things to look at’ that enhanced my enjoyment of the ride.

This isn’t perfect of course and open to interpretation, but neither is coaster counting. It also slightly differs from the rather more detailed workings of the DRdb. According to my own current listing, I’ve ridden 368 dark rides across the world in 154 different locations.

Of course maintaining this exercise led me to want to rank and rate these attractions for fun, just as I would with coasters. It’s difficult. Very difficult. There’s variety in rollercoasters for sure, but the hardware is always at least comparable in the loosest sense. I can sit back in my chair for a couple of hours, play the Hymn of Reflection and come out with a numbered list that I feel is reasonably solid. I’ve tried this with dark rides on a number of occasions and it just doesn’t fall into place in the same way.

So what have we got here today? Well I think I’ve scraped a top 10 together and, as with the coaster rankings, I don’t think this is enough to represent the wide range of amazing attractions out there. I then pushed on for 27 more to make it into a rough Top 10%, but I can’t yet claim that these are in any particular order.
As the site develops I aim to elaborate on the reasoning behind as many as possible, so stay tuned.

#1 Magic Gallery
Oriental Heritage Changsha

#2 Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
Disney’s Hollywood Studios

#5 Pirates of the Caribbean Battle for the Sunken Treasure
Shanghai Disneyland

#6 Mystic Manor
Hong Kong Disneyland

#7 The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Disney Resorts

#8 Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull
Tokyo DisneySea

#9 Radiator Springs Racers
Disney California Adventure

#10 Hero of Malacca
Fantawild Asian Legend

Blackpool Pleasure Beach

Wallace and Gromit’s Thrill-O-Matic
Blackpool Pleasure Beach

Transformers The Ride
Universal Resorts

Alton Towers

Fata Morgana

KnightsRide Tower

Qin Dynasty Adventure
Fantawild Resorts

Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway
Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Mission: SPACE

Maus au Chocolat


Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
Universal’s Islands of Adventure

Men in Black: Alien Attack
Universal Studios Florida

Avatar Flight of Passage
Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Meeting in Ha Long Bay
Fantawild Asian Legend

Legend of Nuwa
Fantawild Resorts

Challenge of Tutankhamon
Walibi Belgium

Shrek’s Merry Fairy Tale Journey

Journey to the Centre of the Earth
Tokyo DisneySea

Pirates of the Caribbean
Disney Resorts

Calico Mine Ride
Knott’s Berry Farm

Revenge of the Mummy
Universal Studios Singapore


Game Ride
Happy Valley Chongqing

Hotel Transylvania

Ride Review – Eejanaika

4th Dimension coasters. Ridiculous contraptions – huge, complicated and expensive, there’s a reason why only 3 have been built across the world. The prototype, X at Six Flags Magic Mountain may well have contributed to the demise of Arrow Dynamics, the company responsible for creating the concept as in the same year of its opening they were bought out by S&S, who manufactured the remaining two over in Japan and China.

Eejanaika was the first time S&S put the design back into action and in doing so they decided to go even taller and faster, while simultaneously setting a world record for the most ‘inversions’ on a rollercoaster. I use quotation marks here because these are not counted in the traditional sense, although they added an extra physical inversion to the layout in the form of a Zero-G Roll (bringing it up to 3), the remaining number of times riders are inverted is due to the rotation of the vehicles rather than the track design.

Having since tried both designs myself, this makes a massive difference to the experience, though I didn’t know it at the time of riding Eejanaika. In fact it wasn’t just this coaster that was an overwhelming typhoon of sensations, the entire day at the park did that to us. Before we talk any more about the ride, it’s probably best to mention our day at Fuji-Q as whole – we are in top ten territory here and it’s often the little extraneous details that tip these coasters over the edge for me.

Fuji-Q Highland is an absolute legend of a park to the industry, perhaps for all the wrong reasons. Over the space of 15 years they built 4 consecutive monster coasters, all big named, record breaking, headline attractions that permeated the minds of every enthusiast, something I’d argue no other park in the world has achieved with such focus.

The challenge comes however in managing to ride them all in a single visit. Countless reports come in over the years about how terrible the place is, the pain of missing out on at least one of these coasters clouding judgment on the experience as a whole, I know the feeling. The fact the big 4 are all so intriguing makes the loss even harder to bear, particularly if it comes through experiencing the way the Japanese parks handle rainy days, of which they have a huge amount. We actually won out though, I still can’t believe it to this day, but the success story is here.

Even if everything is open, the queues are monumental, though they may not look it. Capacity is not on your side. That focus on high intensity thrill rides and little else comes at a price in that there’s very few other attractions to keep guests occupied and spread the load. It’s a popular park obviously, a massive name in Japan, so when they all come for the same thing, you can expect to wait in excess of 2 hours for each and every headline coaster. If one closes? That’s another 40 minutes of people to add to the other 3. If 2 close? You get the picture.

We experienced all of this, and more. Standing in the longest queue of my career (Fujiyama), the only 1 of 4 open at that precise moment, looking out at Eejanaika which hadn’t yet moved for the day. I can’t think of a single other park that does this, and it perfectly summarises all that I’ve said above about Fuji-Q, they play parkwide announcements to say “attention guests, Eejanaika is now open.” People know what they want, they know what they came for, they want to spread the queues around and actually get on something today!

Have you ever run for a rollercoaster? I have, many times, but never in this way. Usually it’s only that initial surge at the start of the day, if you’re present when they open the gates, otherwise there’s no point right? Yet here we are, several hours in to our visit, having not ridden a single thing, sprinting like madmen towards the biggest and scariest of the lot.
It didn’t work, they had already opened the queue well before the ride itself and we were faced with exactly what we had just abandoned – a multiple hour line of people in front of us. Desperation kicked in and there was a fastrack machine directly outside the entrance. We’ve come this far, we’ll have to pay our way through the day.

Why am I recounting this magnificent tale again? The fastrack ticket took us straight into the station without pause for breath and when I say these rides are legends, that’s not a guarantee that they’re good. They get mixed reviews – lots of love, just as much hate. They push engineering limits to the extreme, they could easily murder you (not literally) and for those reasons they’re downright terrifying. There was no time to mentally prepare for what was about to unfold, being batched directly into one of the holding pens to remove our shoes (also not reassuring) and then climbing into a contraption straight out of a nightmare.

The trains for this ride do nothing to instil you with any confidence. The restraints are completely unintuitive, requiring a staff member to come and strap you down in some complicated manner, fold in what can only be described as a waistcoat around your arms, across your chest and that’s it. Legs wildly dangling out the front, total freedom of movement in the lower half of your body, lap included. This does not feel right. Can you recheck this for me please? Oh, the’re playing the dispatch music and the staff are shouting “Eejanaika!” Too late, I’m going to die.

As soon as the train leaves the station it teases riders by tilting them right up onto their backs as it traverses the turn before the lift hill. Immediately I’m out of my comfort zone and that’s saying something because I’m not exactly new to this game, I’d ridden one before and had somehow suppressed almost every memory of the experience. The lift hill itself is, of course, backwards, with 240ft of steady ascent, desperately trying to work out what part of this restraint to hold onto (almost impossible), looking out at the mountains, trying and failing to calm down, not knowing when the ride will actually begin.

It begins by tilting you on your back again, as you feel the train behind you begin to accelerate and drag you toward your doom. This acceleration is paused briefly, as the seats now rotate you in the opposite direction, in perhaps the most calculated stroke of evil genius about the whole ride, you turn to face the floor just as it plummets towards the ground. This seat rotation is not refined or smooth, it bumps and jerks around with the most unusual and unnerving sensation. I’d like to say there was time to think ‘should it be doing that?’, but there’s no time to process thought at all throughout this ride and that’s what makes it so special to me.

I can’t really describe any of the rest of the layout with any form of conviction, because it’s all a wonderful blur of disorientation and pure, instinctive survival. I found myself holding on to whatever I could, as tight as I could as the train mercilessly threw me around like a rag doll. Not only are you travelling at ridiculous speeds and soaring through the air, like on any other major coaster, you’re also rotating this way and that with the accompanying bounce and wobble that comes as part of the package. True to the product name, there are 4 dimensions of sensation going on at the same time and that’s very hard for the mind to quantify.

Though you may think I’m mad for saying it, all of that which I just described is one of the best things ever. I love it. The more rollercoasters I experience over time, the more I get the feel for what each of them are going to do to me. In the most basic cases, having that visual cue in front of you of ‘oh, there’s an airtime hill coming next’ diminishes that very moment because your body expects it before it happens. I like to not see what’s coming, I like an unpredictable experience and I like a ride that feels out of control.

Eejanaika does ALL of that and then leaves me questioning what sensations I even like about it. It’s not an airtime machine – you can’t say I love those thigh bruising hills. It’s not intense in the traditional sense – you can’t say I love that head crushing helix. It’s not a visual masterpiece or heavily themed – you can’t say I love looking at the surroundings (once it begins). It has no moments. It is a moment. From start to finish.
There are very few other rides in the world that are in any way like that (2 to be precise, maybe the Freespins to a much lesser extent) and I can personally confirm that this version takes it to the greatest intensity of any of them. That killer combination of unique and extreme is why this coaster holds a top ten spot in my heart. It’s almost impossible to compare to everything else around it, but I just know that it has to be there, somewhere.

And then we rode it at night.

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Ride Review – Twisted Colossus

My favourite RMC of the moment seems to be a rather divisive one. Due to the original wooden coaster that it ended up replacing (regular Colossus), it’s so far the only one that exists to use the duelling concept and contain two lift hills within the layout. The second lift is sometimes regarded as a pacing issue and of course if you don’t actually experience the duelling aspect in action then you’re likely going to feel a bit short changed. I know that feeling all too well. But how did I get on with it?

Well it was a very strong start. Due to the ridiculous size of Six Flags Magic Mountain, the fact that they currently own more rollercoasters than anywhere else in the world and reasonably high crowd levels (on new year’s eve no less), I didn’t actually get around to riding Twisted Colossus at all until the evening, in the dark.

Personally I think there’s a lot to be said for avoiding spoilers before you experience anything (across many other mediums as well) and this became particularly apparent for me in this instance. I had no idea what this ride did, what it’s layout contained and the resultant first lap was one of the greatest I’ve had on any coaster in recent memory. Lack of being able to see, lack of knowing what comes next and lack of anticipating each element as it comes often enhances how the sensations hit you and this was a dizzying blur of powerful airtime and delightful inversions. I still didn’t know what this ride did, but I left the park that night absolutely buzzing from it. What a way to end 2018.

As was always the plan for a park of this magnitude, I returned several days later in the trip to get further acquainted with the better attractions and dust off a couple of the more elusive ones. The bulk of the day was spent specifically back on this ride because I simply couldn’t get enough of it. Of course now seeing it in the light I can tell you what it’s really about.

The ride begins with one of RMC’s signature features, a quirky little pre-lift section of tiny lumps and bumps in the track which happen to provide far more force than you would believe possible from the size. This section alone would make many other coasters blush. (Apologies for lack/quality of photos here, I was far too overwhelmed by this park at the time)

Following the lift hill, the first drop is unnervingly sharp, steep and contains the subtlest of twists to the right. This combination provides what I’d describe as standing airtime, with most of the body being pinned up out of the seat and all the weight being supported by your feet against the floor of the train. In other words, amazing.

Without time to recover, you run into the tinest of speed hills and this is where I begin to notice that the ride is trying to cut my thighs in half. Again, almost immediately, the train is thrust up into a much larger hill, the crest of which creates such an insane and sustained lurch out of the seat that it felt like my head couldn’t keep up with the rest of my body. This actually hurt my neck as the two were seemingly pulled away from one another. In other words, amazing.

To enhance it further, that moment also has to begin turning into one of the ride’s signature elements, the high five – two opposingly banked hills, one on each side of the track that would seemingly allow the riders of two duelling trains to touch hands with each other. Things continue to move at a very fast pace and there’s another huge drop through the structure, complete with head chopping supports, another tiny speed hill, a mega airtime hill, a glorious zero G roll, a crazy double up and one final twisted pop of airtime before you hit some brakes.

If I read through that list of elements I’d think that sounds like a fantastic ride and on most other attractions it would probably now be finished. Not in this case though, we’ve hit the second lift hill and it’s only going to start all over again.

Déjà vu. The green side of the track begins in exactly the same manner, except perhaps with an even steeper first drop. The larger hill at the end of the first straight begins to turn even quicker and hits even harder before you bank the opposite way – to complete the high five and then sharply twist back to the other direction again. This is even more intense than the first half and the directional changes here are one of the standout moments across all RMCs for me, with that really out of control feeling that I just love to find on coasters.

As if that wasn’t enough, the sensation continues into a twisted double down, you just can’t keep up with the rate at which the forces are thrown at you in this portion of the ride and I couldn’t ask for more than that. As if to break this with a moment of serenity, the train negotiates the world’s only ‘top gun stall’, a wonderful RMC inversion that keeps riders upside down for much longer than feels natural, a moment that often gives a little pause for thought – wow.

Twisted ejection, crazy double up and one final burst of airtime before you hit some brakes. Now it’s over and more often than not I’d have my head in my hands by this point. I could barely process how amazing this coaster was and moments like that are almost always a powerful indication of a top ten ride.

You may have noticed that I haven’t even mentioned any duelling whilst describing the layout and that’s with good reason. It’s because I believe even without that aspect this is the greatest RMC I have ridden to date. The raw power of each element, the perfect blend of variation between each one and that particularly out of control section of the ride that I did mention all make this their best hardware package in my eyes.
So now we’ve established that, let’s talk about how you go about making a coaster of that magnitude even better!

The holy grail moment. It begins in the station. During my visit, the ride operators and attendants here were leagues ahead of any others in the park, always fighting to get the most out of the passenger throughput and with good reason. The design of the layout requires 3 trains to run optimally and with this you’ll always have one in the station and one on each of the two lift hills. They can see this coming and would often playfully announce “today you’re going to be racing… orange!” during station despatch.

As you surge through the wacky prelift section you see, up ahead on the green lift hill, an orange train working its way to the top, every rider turned round in their seat to look back at you and shout “COME ON!” The green chain lift slows to a crawl and your own blue chain lift pushes on to bring the two trains level with each other. Everyone cheers and cries “YES!!!” and subsequently begin to physically try and thrust their own train forwards using their bodies. The race is on. And it’s all planned that way, it’s simply glorious.

The roles are reversed once your own train hits the green lift hill. There’s nothing there? What’s going on? You turn round and see another collection of riders being delightfully bounced across the prelift section. They’ll have to hurry up. Your chain lift slows. “HURRY UP!”
I probably sound like a 6 year old at this point but it’s that level of basal joy that makes it so special for me.

Déjà vu again. To me there are very few things better than moments of interaction with other attractions riding rollercoasters. Focusing on other moving objects is a distraction from your own experience, in this case from one of the most intense coasters on the planet, and just like with riding it in the dark or not knowing what’s coming next on that extra special first lap, it enhances what you feel during the ride.

The side by side racing at the start is only the beginning as of course there’s the high five still to come. The greatest moment for me however is the ‘mega airtime hill’ I described on the blue side interacting with the top gun stall on the green side. On one hand you’re being violently ejected out of your seat up towards another train of riders gleefully dangling above your head. On the other you’re bizarrely floating upside down over another train of riders getting violently ejected, screaming and shouting as they go. It simply doesn’t get much better than that.

I’ve officially run out of photos now but I haven’t run out of things about this ride that make me happy.
One final point I feel needs mentioning again relates to an earlier comment about the restraints trying to cut my legs in half. This was again far more noticeable on Twisted Colossus over any other RMC and a true indicator of its overall intensity to me. There’s a very exclusive selection of coasters that are physically exhausting (even damaging) to ride but also earn it – the reward of having a marathon and not worrying about the consequences of bruised thighs until later is fully justified. This ride falls firmly into that category and that has since become a staple feature of any good US coaster road trip for us. I rode it ’til it hurt and then I just kept on going. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Ride Review – Taiga

This bird crept up on me real fast, seemingly out of nowhere. I don’t recall paying much attention to the fact that Finland were getting an Intamin multi-launch on the side of a hill, either through spoiler avoision or lack of interest. And then suddenly we were booked to go!

The more I learned, the more I discovered how excited I perhaps should have been. This ain’t no Taron layout, it has much more of an ‘Intamin trying to make Helix’ kinda vibe. For me, that’s huge. But did it work?

I admired the styling of the ride, from entrance to station. Very subtle theming, nothing outlandish, following the tracks of the big bird along the pathway. It stares at you intensely from several screens throughout the indoor switchbacks, judging you. As you approach the station there’s a very average ride theme playing and statements like ‘ride the wings of Taiga’ coming over the audio, teaching us that we’d been pronouncing it wrong (still do). A large mural decorates the far wall in an otherwise unassuming loading area.

Intamin’s best rolling stock greets the riders with a stern look. I just love the seriousness of this beast. Like it’s on a mission, got a point to prove.
Open seating, dangling feet, a cushy lap bar from above, this is how most coasters should be experienced. As we pulled forward onto the first launch track (not pictured), I had no idea what to expect.

A brief punchy launch carries the train into this first element, which provided a wonderful surprise in the form of many unusual forces. It twists seemingly in the wrong direction, hanging you out to the right side before tugging away and under to the left, like a zero-G that decides to turn a corner halfway through. Fantastic start, I’m a sucker for inventive inversions.

This moment leads you down into the lowest section of all, with a satisfyingly strong burst of positive force, before twisting and turning into the second launch. This leads to my biggest (slight) criticism of the ride. Very little has been traversed so far and so the pace is slightly off as we hit the next burst of LSM acceleration. Even the way it enters this launch felt slighly clunky somehow, it doesn’t dive into it with the grace of Taron, just awkwardly adjusts some banking and you’re off, rattling away with a slightly muted sense of power.

Into this huge, oddly-shaped top hat. And now things kick up a gear. When located in the back of the train, the drop out of this hill provides some excellent sideways ejection, reminiscent of distant cousins like the Intamin wing coasters and this makes me very happy.

Before there’s time to recover from that particularly special moment, my biggest surprise of the whole experience hits. It turns out Intamin are making stall inversions like RMC now. The execution of this floaty feeling, with the visuals of neighbouring ride Tulireki directly underneath and what we affectionately dubbed ‘Karnan’s tower’ just off to the left (right?) is simply glorious.

Before there’s time to recover from that second special moment, a violent speed hill is squeezed in before the next big inversion, the one that wraps itself around the starter element. This one provides yet another satisfying mix of forces and ensures all the upside-downy moments are wonderfully varied, just how I like it.

With that already world class sequence of elements behind us, the bulk of the twists and turns of the layout begin and importantly these are punctuated by several very strong bursts of airtime. This slither over the station has a particularly forceful exit, lurching down the side of a warehouse with a surprisingly out of control feeling.

This section alone puts Taiga in a league of it’s own when it comes to this ride type for me, with so much more contrast in the forces, even if there’s less theming to dodge. It goes on for an age and then ends with a final standout inversion, slowly rolling guests over one last time just to mess with their heads.

There’s some nice little extra touches on the way out of the ride like the ceiling height observation window in the exit shop from which I could just watch the train zipping about all day. The bird footprints follow you back out again here too. Straight back round for another lap.
Overall I absolutely adored Taiga, so much so that we came back for a second morning marathon. It was clearly a top ten ride for me, but where would it sit in the almighty list, amongst all that fierce competition?

The two important questions for a multi launch obsessive like myself, particularly out here in Europe where we seem to hold the monopoly right now: ‘is it better than Taron?’ Yes, by miles. It does so many more interesting things and there’s barely a comparison in it for me. I’m not in it for just the launches, I’m in it for everything else on offer, namely airtime and cool inversions.
‘Is it better than Helix?’ No, of course not. The pacing between the two launches alone stopped that from happening for me. It also doesn’t have the airtime moments and aside from that it’s just not as sprawling or ambitious as a true terrain layout. The location and interactions are great, but not in the same league.

What it did do is remind me how truly special these multi launch coasters can be. I still can’t get enough of that sensation of regaining momentum, with a ride having so much more to give halfway (or perhaps a little early) through the layout, rather than being all downhill (ha) from the first drop.
Keep at it Intamin, you’re definitely onto something here.

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Ride Review – Jungle Trailblazer (Zhengzhou & Nanning)

Ugh, that title. This is why I hate clones. Can we just, stop it here?

No, let’s press on. It is my third favourite ride in the world ride right now so it obviously needs a bit of love. If the topic ever arises people are often perplexed as to why I think this unassuming wooden coaster in China is better than so many well known greats. Put simply, I’d call it the most intense woodie I’ve done and it holds a really strong memory in my hobby, sitting in the back row for the first time. Let me take you back to that day.

I was recovering from a bad mood. The admissions staff to the resort were frustratingly useless and unhelpful and I had been lugging around luggage all day. We had just visited the Fantawild Adventure park next door, done some terrible rides and, for cred anxiety reasons skipped a few more terrible rides.

Not being able to stand the wait any longer (for let’s be honest, the one reason why I was out here) I powered straight to the back seat of Jungle Trailblazer where I sat for ages. There were some old Chinese people in the middle of the train who didn’t understand what the ride even was and had just wandered on (cos they’re silly folks like that). The staff were chatting with them and basically recommending not to ride it cos it was ‘that intense’.

They got off after much faff, leaving me completely alone on the ride, looking out at this perfectly framed and rather intimidating first drop from the station.
A really timid staff girl comes up to me, bowing and blushing, and mimes that I specifically have to hold on to the restraint at all times. It’s a common Chinese thing to enforce weird rules like this but I smile back and oblige, somewhat bemused, thinking in my head ‘don’t be silly, I know what I’m doing.’
There isn’t really much to hold onto on a Timberliner train, it’s just sort of resting your hands on top of the hooped restraint, but I maintained the charade up until the drop thinking I can put them up now, show them how it’s done.

The drop came up on me much faster than expected and tried to eject me both upwards and sideways in equal measure – in a way that I hadn’t really experienced before (no Intamin wings to my name). There’s not many rides in the world that instinctively force me to hold on (to whatever I could), but this was one of those moments.

With nothing else to do, the staff are all watching me from the station at this point, smiling and waving at me as it flies past them at full speed over what is essentially a 5ft hill. My mind says I want to wave back, but my body says no, I will die. The whole ride is super aggressive and exactly how I like these to be.

From there it’s just the best paced and most vicious ride from the Gravity Group that I’ve done, and they are my favourite manufacturer. The anti-social high five elements as I call them are taken at ridiculous speed and feel rather dangerous, whipping you like you’re gonna hit your head off the wood to the side of the track. There’s the signature bouncing you around through the structure, completely out of control section that you can never anticipate and it hits the brakes hot. I feel like I want to say it should go on a little longer, but it would come at the cost of any subsequent moment being less intense than the rest of the ride, so I guess it must be perfect.

Of course they’ve built another one the same now, but hey, yellow trains! I was so nervous about the potential impact of me riding this version, even slightly tempted to skip past one of the best parks in the world because of it. Clones always leave doubt in my mind and expectations are set far too high. It has to immediately ride as well as the previous installation or both are ruined forever, you were wrong – that one wasn’t as good as you remember.

Mercifully the experience was soooo close, so close, that I could let sleeping dogs lie. It didn’t have the personal setup that I’ll always prefer the Zhengzhou version for, but I can still comfortably say that this hardware gives me a consistently better experience than anything below it in my top ten.

I was then left with the conundrum I spoke about in my trip report for this day. How do I rank the second one in a list? I think it’s a fascinating subject but so far it looks like I’m entirely alone in the experience and haven’t spoken to anyone with a similar outlook.
I eventually settled on B. It’s exactly the same and option 2. Pick one that has the slightest circumstantial edge to represent and relegate the other one to just outside the numbered list – so even though I love it to pieces, you won’t see the Nanning version come up anywhere else in lists. Feels harsh, but it’s the cleaner option and it’s the industry’s fault. Bah.

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Ride Review – Skyrush

I had just finished writing up the Flying Aces review when it truly struck me how similar my whole fairytale experiences with Intamin Wing Coasters were. By the time I made it to Hersheypark I already knew it could happen this way and yet, for whatever reason, I didn’t expect everything to repeat itself in quite the same manner.

We spent so much time on this ride rather than underneath it and it was surrounded by Candymonium construction during the visit so apologies for the lack of quality pictures. All you need to know is it’s big, yellow and deceiving.

The morning laps began as soon as the ride opened and the first was more memorable to me due to the other guests in our row than from the onboard experience itself. Clearly local enthusiasts, they had managed to fit both Dorney Park and Knoebels into the first sentence uttered and as the train raced up the ridiculous fast lifthill, leaving me totally unprepared, there were loud hoots, hollers and screams of “Phoenix 1958!”

For whatever reason this had me in fits of laughter over the drop, which punished me for not paying attention by violently throwing me forward in my seat. I had forgotten the most commonly criticised aspect of this ride in that the sheer lack of substance on the lap bars is far less forgiving than what I was used to on the subsequent creation, perhaps even any ride ever.

The traditional hills were manageable, with the famliar dig into the thigh that can leave you bruised after a good coaster marathon, but when the train hit a couple of sharp transitions and the winged seat I had chosen flew up or down in response, I was taking all the weight directly to one leg and it was rather uncomfortable to say the least. There’s absolutely nothing to hold onto with this train design, no way to brace as you’re going along and that made it both exhilarating and excruciating.

I can see why this becomes a dealbreaker to some, and it’s very unfortunate if you do fall victim to this because, quite simply, you’ll be missing out on something spectacular. Personally, I attempted to rectify the situation on our second lap by sliding forward and taking the bar into the hip joint as opposed to bare leg bone. This fixed everything about it 100%. I was able to fully immerse myself in the remainder of the experience following this minor revelation.

And once again, for whatever reason, I liked Skyrush in the morning but thought it wasn’t all that. I came off thinking there’s some good airtime in there but nothing special. Over lunch I said it’s probably no better than something like Piraten’s airtime pound for pound and by 14:30 that day we were sat on a ferris wheel having completed the park, coming up with some stupid plans to leave and go elsewhere.
Yet again I could have left too soon and never really got to know the ride properly. I didn’t believe lightning could strike twice and that we’d be having the Flying Aces situation again but thankfully, THANKFULLY, the late opening of Storm Runner shot down our other plans.

So we returned to the lair of the beast with an hour left on the clock. Darkness shrouded the layout and there may well have been a full moon in effect causing this sudden change. How is it that different, why is it now creating all of these sensations that simply were not there earlier?
Alright, the first drop was probably the same. I always loved that bit, the wild momentum of the super fast cable lift just chucking you over the edge without a second thought and then the totally unique shaping of the track – with the tiniest of almost vertical kinks halfway down deciding to almost have you out of the train head over hills.

It really is a struggle to keep your hands (and legs) up throughout the whole layout, to not instinctively just reach out and try and grab hold of something, anything to stop you either feeling like you’re falling out or to reduce the numbing pain being inflicted on your body by a thin metal bar and nothing else.

But it wasn’t just the airtime hills, which are truly outstanding in their own right. It’s the unsuspecting moments that really make Skyrush stand out for me. The entrance to a corner, that should be boring right? Nope. The train decides it’s just going to try and lose a couple of riders out the side there with a vicious lateral snap. A slight change of direction? Nah, that won’t do mu-BAM, I’ve just been ragdolled vertically down 10ft before I can think. These moments don’t happen on any other ride type and for that reason alone it’s so gorgeously refreshing to experience these extremes.

It’s no exaggeration to say that we were struggling to walk as the night went on. The lure of another ride was so compelling that even though the body might be saying no, the mind just kept on plodding down the stairs, round the station, back up the other stairs, straight into the back row, no questions asked. Again, and again, and again.
If anything, that short walk provided some momentary relief and so, as if to top it all off, as the last train of the day pulled back into the station the staff decided to offer everyone a second consecutive lap just for the hell of it. The bars had just been lifted as this announcement was made and I had already instantly stood up, as we instinctively had to in order to stop our legs falling off. “No… I just can’t go round again… please, no…” The words came out, but there was no attempt to leave and the ride host was already there, we had fallen back in our seats, the bar was down. What have we done?

There’s a very exclusive club of rides that provide me with a truly magical moment, where the stars align and all you feel inside is pure joy at what you’re doing right here, right now. It happened again on Skyrush as we were sent round to our deaths one more time, against our will. A brief moment of contemplation looking out at the lights of the Pennsylvania night – this is perfection and there’s no place I’d rather be.
And then it kills you.

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