A Solo Adventure

January 31, 2010

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In 2001, I set off on a long, solo vacation.  This was the longest vacation of my life at that point, in terms of both distance and elapsed time.

I was really excited about the trip and got very little sleep the night before I was scheduled to leave.  Eventually, I just packed the car, ate a quick breakfast at Denny’s, and hit the road.  I wasn’t much of a morning person by then, but I was on the road by about 5 AM.  470 miles later, I pulled up to my hotel in Canton, Ohio.  I had made really good time on the trip.  In spite of it being an hour later in Ohio (different time zone), I managed to arrive at the hotel before my room was ready.  I was pretty tired from the road and didn’t do too much that night.

The next day, I went to the football Hall of Fame in Canton.  Honestly, I was not overly impressed.  If you’re a hard core NFL fan, it might be worth the effort to go.  If you’re a casual fan, I’m not sure.  I did pick up some nice Vikings socks in the gift shop.

That I drove to Akron to catch an Aeros (class AA) baseball game.  I had purchased tickets months in advance, which was good. It was bobblehead night (Sean Casey), and the place was absolutely packed. I had a seat right behind home plate (4-5 rows back, I think). The ticket cost maybe $15?  Nice stadium.

Early the next morning, I hit the road again.  That afternoon, I arrived in the hamlet of Cooperstown, New York – home of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.  Earlier in the year, I had become a supporter of the Hall of Fame.  Once nice benefit was that the membership card gave me unlimited free entry to the Hall of Fame.  I made a cursory review that Sunday afternoon.  I spent two more days digesting the museum in greater detail.  I saw the contract that sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees, a priceless T-206 Honus Wagner card, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski’s masters thesis (not a great writer, in my opinion –  at least not at that stage of his life), and countless artifacts of the game.  Unlike many halls of fame, the baseball hall of fame encompasses all aspects of the sport – not just Major League Baseball.

One of the things I really liked was the exhibit of awards.  There were quite a few MVP and Cy Young awards on display.  I could feel a connection to the award winning athlete, imagining how they felt when they won the award.  Two of  Tom Seaver’s Cy Youngs were on display.  Something that struck me as odd was that one was perfectly shiny while the silver on the other had become tarnished over time.  Was this the result of a different quality of metal being used in those two years?

On Wednesday, I checked out of the Hickory Grove Motor Inn (leaving behind an audio book for the friendly women behind the front desk).  Be forewarned – it is advisable to make hotel reservations far in advance of your trip.  Cooperstown is quite small (around 2000 people) and there aren’t too many large cities in the area.  Why this location?  Because of the since-descredited story that civil war general Abner Doubleday invented the game in a nearby cow pasture.

On the way back west, I saw a sign for Niagara Falls.  It was only about 15 miles out of the way, so I decided to go there.  I wasn’t really expecting very much.  After all, it’s just a bunch of water going over a hill, right?  Wow, I was very impressed.  If you go to Niagara Falls, make sure to go to the Canadian side.  You get a much better view from the Canadian side – you’re looking at the Falls from in front of them instead of a more awkward angle on the US side.  I could have spent more time there (and a few years later, did spend more time there with my wife), but I had a long drive to complete.

At the end of the day, I found myself back in Ohio – this time in Sandusky.  Sandusky is home to Cedar Point amusement park.  This was my first exposure to Cedar Point, and I was completely blown away (full review here).  Regardless of what type of roller coaster you like, they probably have it.  I was there on a Thursday and Friday, when crowds were pretty reasonable.

All good things eventually come to an end, and I hit the road on Friday afternoon and arrived back home in Illinois very late that night – just in time to attend my niece’s college graduation the next day.

I got to see a decent chunk of the country, and had a great time at every spot along the way.   I also gained a lot of appreciation for audio books during the trip.  Nelson DeMille’s The Lion’s Game (review here) was with me on this trip.  The unabridged edition is a hefty 25 hours!  The book has a great plot (I’ve listened to it about a half dozen time since) and made the time pass very quickly.

What about you?  Which solo trip did you enjoy the most?

Cedar Point review

May 16, 2009

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People are often surprised when they find out that I am a roller coaster addict.  The image of an thrill seeking adrenaline junkie seems to be at odds with the mild mannered bookworm they see in front of them.  In fact, I grew up in fear of coasters.  Then, one time I was at an amusement park with my cousin, who is two years younger than me.  He was going to ride a roller coaster.  I didn’t want to show fear, so I mustered up the courage to ride.  The ride up the hill was incredibly harrowing … but a few seconds later I was hooked on coasters.

If you are a roller coaster addict, you must visit Cedar Point.  Cedar Point is located on a peninsula in Lake Erie, in Sandusky, Ohio. The Lake provides an absolutely incredible backdrop for many of the rides. Cedar Point features 17 roller coasters (more than any other park in the world) and a variety of other thrill rides. They have a wide variety of coasters. Whether you like wood, steel, standing, suspended, inverted, or even kiddie coasters, there is something you’ll like. I made my initial pilgrammage to Cedar Point in 2002, and returned there with my wife in 2005. I’m anxiously awaiting the day when my daughter is 48 inches tall. She’s halfway there, so it should just be a couple more years, right? Let’s jump right in and I’ll take you on a tour of some of my favorite rides at Cedar Point.
There are two Cedar Point coasters that I have not yet been able to ride.

  • Top Thrill Dragster is tops on my “most wanted” list.  It opened in 2003.  In theory, we should have been able to ride it when we were at Cedar Point in 2005.  Unfortunately, it was closed both days, which really sucked.  The ride launches you 450 feet in the air and you reach a speed of 120 mph.  It looks absolutely awesome.
  • Maverick opened in 2007.  It is “only” 105 feet tall, but it does have a 95 degree drop angle, the sharpest drop of any coaster in the park.  I don’t really have a good feel for how Maverick would ride.

Now I’ll take you on a tour of some of my favorite rides at Cedar Point.  These are in order of preference.

  • Mean Streak – This is a mile long wooden coaster.  I am personally a big fan of wooden coasters, although my wife is not.  As the wood in the coaster has aged over the years, Mean Streak has gotten even more mean.  It’s definitely a bone jarring ride.  I happen to love a rough ride on the rails, so it’s definitely my cup of tea.  Also, the ride is 3 minutes long, and the lines are often short, because many people fear the Mean Streak!
  • Wicked Twister – The best way to describe Wicked Twister is that it is shaped like a U.  You start at the bottom of the U.  You are launched 200 feet in the air – with a couple of nice twists toward the top.  Then you back down and get launched 200 feet up the other side.  Half the time, you’re going to be backward.
  • Millenium Force –  The key element is the raw height, as the ride takes you 310 feet in the air and immediately drops you 300 feet.  You are carried up the hill – not launched – so it is a nice slow ride up the hill, and you have a great view from the top.  When you get to the top, you’re a football field (end zone to end zone) from the ground.  Pretty cool.
  • Gemini – Gemini is 30 years old, tops out at 60 mph, is only 125 feet tall, has a meek 55% drop angle.  Why is it on my list of favorite, beating out rides such as Mantis and Raptor?  Because you race.  There are two tracks.  One track has the blue train and the other has the red train.  You race side by side, and you can never be sure which train is going to win the race back to the station.

I’ve only scratched the surface.  Check out Cedar Point’s web site for more details.  There’s also a water park (Soak City), but I have never set foot inside Soak City – simply because it would mean taking time away from coasters.

Are you looking for a place to stay while you’re at Cedar Point?  There are some nice on site options, but if you’re looking for a nice, quiet place, I would suggest  McKenna’s Inn, a bed and breakfast on nearby Catawba Island.  It appears that their web site needs a bit of work, but don’t let this fool you – this place is first class.  Not only are the facilities nice, but the location is great.  It is located on a private lane that ends at Lake Erie.  You are with very easy walking distance from the lake.