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14 Hours, 2 Flights, 1 Monster Coaster

By Carol Sottili
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, July 26, 2000; Page C02

The new Millennium Force roller coaster, the tallest and fastest in the world, recently opened at Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio. My goal: Fly from Washington to Cleveland, drive the hour to Cedar Point, ride the thing and fly back to Washington in one day. I can do this.

7:30 a.m., Wednesday, June 28. Arrive BWI. Board Southwest flight ($133 round trip!).

9:20 a.m. Arrive Cleveland after a one-hour flight. Car rental goes smoothly and I'm soon tooling west on Sen. John Glenn Highway, thinking that if the senator could take a ride in a space shuttle at age 77, I can certainly, at age 45, survive a 310-foot-high roller coaster that will send me hurtling around a track at 92 mph. I switch the car radio from oldies to alternative rock and crank it up. Did I mention that the Millennium Force is the tallest and fastest roller coaster in the world?

10:30 a.m. I wish all these billboards weren't of hospitals and blue-eyed Jesuses telling me, "I am the way." Not that I believe in foreshadowing.

10:45 a.m. I can see it from the highway--the Force. Just its tip, crowned with a flashing airplane warning light, poking between the Best Budget Inn sign and the Erie County water tower. I must be getting real close.

Another seven miles pass before I get to the park. This sucker is huge.

11 a.m. I'm in the park. I'm trying not to look at it, but my eyes keep sneaking back, like when you pass a bad car crash and can't bear to look, but do. Huge cumulonimbus clouds are building in the south. Maybe the park will have to shut the coaster down because of thunderstorms. Then I wouldn't be able to ride it, and it wouldn't be my fault. That would be awful. Just awful.

11:20 a.m. I get to the coaster just in time to hear a perky park employee explain that the coaster is "down" for at least an hour due to mechanical difficulties. This is like telling your boss you were late to work because your dog got hit by a car, and then your dog does get hit by a car.

11:45 a.m. I get a "ticket to ride" for the coaster. To manage the incredible lines, park management has come up with a system. From 9 to 11 a.m., riders are first-come, first-served. To ride between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., you need a boarding pass. The passes are all handed out by early afternoon. From 4 p.m. on, it's first-come, first-served again, and if you're in line by closing time, you will ride, regardless of how late they have to keep it going.

My pass says I can ride from 4 to 5 (when I was there, passes were required until 8). I'm nervous, because my flight home is at 7.

12:40 p.m. I decide to warm up by taking a ride or two on a few of Cedar Point's 13 other roller coasters, more than any other park on the planet. I'm a wooden roller coaster person, so I ride Gemini first, a 22-year-old racing coaster that goes 60 mph and drops 125 feet. My stomach feels as if it's being lifted from my body.

Next up: the much larger and newer Mean Streak, also a woodie. Waiting in line, I chat with Terry and Ann Woginrich of Palmerton, Pa., traveling with their adult daughters, Tanya and Tina. The family has gone on coaster quests to amusement parks throughout the eastern United States since the girls were in elementary school. Have they ridden Millennium Force? Yes, twice, and they plan on riding it three more times today.

Asked how the Force compares with other coasters, Ann says solemnly, "There is no comparison."

"I'd like to be able to see your face when you come off that ride," Terry says.

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