SCREAMERS! Riding the region's best roller coasters

UP FRONT

June 20, 1996|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Free-falling for 100 feet or so. Whipping around corners with enough G-force to rattle the fillings inside your teeth. Hanging upside-down from a track 20 feet off the ground. Two minutes of terror that leave you feeling lucky to be alive.

If this isn't your idea of fun, turn the page. Check out the symphony. Feed the ducks.

But if you're ready to live life on the edge, read on. We're talking roller coasters here, serpentine steel and wood beasts that whip around a track at speeds that would earn you a ticket on the Beltway, shake up your insides like a Waring Blender and bring you back to terra firma with legs that suddenly feel like silly putty.

Ain't it wonderful?

You bet it is. And did you know the American Coaster Enthusiasts and the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions have named 1996 the International Year of the Roller Coaster? Even the U.S. Senate got into the act, declaring June 16-22 National Roller Coaster Week.

Sure, it's only a marketing ploy. But so what? Get out there and start celebrating already. More than 30 coasters roll within a 175-mile radius of Baltimore. Here's a look at some of the best.

Adventure World

* The Wild One: This 4,000-foot classic wooden coaster, with a lift hill 98 feet high, was built in 1917 and operated for years as the Giant at Boston's Paragon Park. It was moved to Adventure (( World in 1986.

Selling points: A steep drop is followed by a series of hills that not-gently-at-all bring riders back to the starting gate. Nice to know this is pretty much the same kind of coaster your granddad and great-granddad rode.

Added bonus: OK, you got closed out of the big Jackie Kennedy auction in New York. Big deal. You've just ridden the same coaster the Kennedys rode, and all it cost you was the park admission fee.

Overheard quote: "I hope I can handle this."

* The Mind Eraser: Shaped like a blue-and-red intestine, this metal coaster rocks you over-under-sideways-down, through a series of quick spins and upside-down loops, your legs dangling beneath you, then offers riders photographs (for $4) of themselves looking petrified.

Added bonus: The difference between wooden and metal coasters is readily apparent: the ride here is smoother than on the Wild One, you spend time upside down, the curves are sharper, and the more timid riders (like the big bruiser I was with) absolutely refuse to go anywhere near it.

Overheard quote: "They should also call this the Common Sense Eraser."

Kings Dominion

* The Rebel Yell: These twin wooden coasters, one of which travels backward, climb 87 feet before speeding over a series of 12 hills -- including a 90-degree turn midway through that sends you back to your starting point wondering how the heck you avoided being thrown off the track.

Selling points: Riding the Rebel Yell doesn't come easy: You have to choose whether you want to ride forward or back. Face front, and you get a nice view of the park as you climb the hill, then watch wide-eyed (unless you're one of those cowards who keep their eyes closed) as the Earth rushes forward to meet you. Ride backward, and experience the added thrill of having no idea where you're heading.

Free advice: .drawkcab ediR (There's nothing like watching the world run away from you.)

Overheard quote: "Well, don't look down, then."

* The Shock Wave: You ride upside down, you ride parallel to the ground, you rush down a steep incline.

Selling points: You do it all standing up. People will look at you weird for even suggesting a ride on this thing.

Free advice: Take the warning about carrying stuff seriously. They had to shut the ride down for about 20 minutes when I was there because something flew out of a guy's pocket.

Overheard quote: "Man, that thing looked dangerous enough before the rain." (A guy who waited in line about 20 minutes, then chickened out when the heavens opened up and no one said anything about waiting out the storm.)

* The Grizzly: A 14-year-old wooden coaster with an 87-foot drop, the Grizzly is perennially listed among the favorites of the American Coaster Enthusiasts . . .

Selling points: . . . and it's easy to see why. Not only do you careen all over the place during the two-plus minutes it takes to make the 3,150-foot circuit, with sharp turns that constantly threaten to toss you out of your seat, but the journey takes you through a densely wooded forest and ends in a long tunnel where the rush of air causes a deafening roar that gives the ride its name. Very, very cool.

Bonus: While standing in line, you can actually see the Grizzly's wooden supports shake when the cars pass overhead.

Overheard quote: "Owwwww." (As the car lurches to a stop at

ride's end.)

Hersheypark

* The Wildcat: New this year, the Wildcat makes for one pretty wild ride. The unfinished wood makes it seem as if you're careening through someone's backyard patio, the sharp turns are banked pretty steeply for a wooden coaster, and the cars keep swooshing past and overhead as you stand in line.

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