“America’s a big country,” I mutter as I swing the RV round. “How was I to know there were two Sanduskys? It was the satnav’s fault.”
It was the best I could do in the circumstances. We’d just driven 200 miles south, towards Sandusky, Indiana, when in fact our destination was Sandusky, Ohio. Once a simple fishing village, it’s now home to Cedar Point, the ‘world’s greatest roller coaster park’, and one of the final stopovers on our road trip between the Big Apple and the Windy City.
The youngest in the back pipes up: “As a forfeit, you’ve got to go on one of the big rides. You’ll enjoy that.” I grunt agreement to stymie any mutiny, confident that by the time we finally roll up at the amusement park on the shores of Lake Erie, all will be forgiven.
Cedar Point’s hedonist reputation stretches back to 1870 when a bathhouse and a beer garden first opened on the peninsula. Twenty years later and the first roller coaster, Switchback Railway, arrived, the reaching heady speed of 10mph, as passengers raced 25ft above the ground. Today, things are a little less sedate.
I never used to fear the fairground, but over the years I’ve grown convinced every beam on every ride is about to take my head off. So it was with some alarm I discovered the park features a world-record 72 rides, including some 16 stomach-churning roller coasters, four of which tower over 200ft.
Things begin well enough on the Sky Ride, a genteel gondola trip that gives you grand views over the park, and the horrors to come. Graded a ‘Moderate Thrill’ ride, I disembark feeling moderately thrilled. That’ll do me.
But I’m soon railroaded onto the Matterhorn, which looks like the waltzer fairground I remember from childhood. As it moves through the gears, I’m soon crushing my youngest into the side of the car as we fly up and down, and putting in the odd 360-degree turn for good measure.
We stop to watch the Top Thrill Dragster, which fires a car along a track at a ridiculous 130mph before shooting up a vertical, 130m loop and hurtling back down the other side, all in around 20 seconds. Other jaw-droppers include Magnum XL-200, the steel roller coaster that sparked the so-called Roller Coaster Wars when it opened in 1989, as rival parks — envious of its 203ft-high main hill — competed to build the next tallest, fastest ride.
At the back of Cedar Point loom two huge wooden rollercoasters. That’s what we’ve come to ride. I can delay the inevitable no longer — I’ve run out of ‘Moderate Thrill’ rides and find myself in line for Gemini, with its unnerving black ‘Aggressive Thrill Ride’ stickers. The long queue snakes around the base of the ride, its beams and joists producing an impossibly intricate latticework of wood. Built in 1978, it’s made of around 500,000 board feet (a US measurement for the volume of lumber) of Douglas fir, although this is nothing compared to its big brother, Mean Streak, boasting a massive 1.7 million board feet.
Gemini hurts and I spend most of the ride with my eyes screwed shut gripping onto the handrail. I can hear whoops of delight as the carriages cascade round the track. “Mean Streak next,” says my eldest, with an evil grin, but it’s starting to drizzle — the rain has proved my salvation.
“What a bummer,” I beam. “But look, there’s a yellow ride over there we haven’t been on. Looks like that’s still open,” I say, heading quickly towards a carousel featuring a dog with a big black nose.