Roller coaster related things, I said. Related.
Richard likes surprising me. Surprise adventures, surprise geeky coaster souvenirs, surprise lunges from outside the bathroom door if I unintentionally wake him up when I get up to pee in the middle of the night. This is someone who didn’t tell me we were going to Alton Towers until the alarm went off one morning at 3:45 and he said if I wanted to fulfill my lifelong dream to ride Nemesis, I’d better hurry up because we had a plane to catch. I’ve since wised up to some of his tricks, but he still manages to throw me a curve ball now and again, and TreeTop Adventure Park was one of those…actually, no, that’s not entirely accurate. It was more like a foul ball, where you hit the mark but it bounces off in a direction you weren’t expecting. I had a very strong inkling we were going to TreeTop Adventure Park because about a week or so before leaving for Australia, Richard came out to the living room where I was nursing a stubborn case of writer’s block with YouTube puppy videos and questioned how badly I wanted to do the Sydney Opera House tour we’d previously agreed upon.
“What did you find?” I asked in that slow and patronizing tone adults use when they suspect a child is up to no good (or that Megans use when they know full right well why their Richards are being deliberately evasive).
“I’m not telling you.”
“Well, that’s a lot of help.”
“Do you trust my judgment?”
“You chose me to be your girlfriend. Therefore, no.”
“I’ll go ahead with this new plan, then.”
I paused the puppy videos and had a quick rummage through TripAdvisor’s Sydney area activities and determined TreeTop Adventure Park the most likely candidate for this surprise activity. Skimming the reviews, I inferred the place was all ropes courses and zip lines. This pleased me, and—
You know what, I was just talking about puppies, and it is a scientifically proven fact that trip reports and indeed just about anything are made infinitely better with puppies, so here is a puppy.
Anyway, as I was saying, I really enjoy those sorts of things, particularly ropes courses, but Richard and I had never done one together.
Perhaps if I’d actually taken the time to look at the park’s website instead of just browsing TripAdvisor, I would have realized a) there are actually three TreeTop Adventure Parks and b) one of them happened to have another type of adventure on offer. But I didn’t.
(You can hardly blame me: Puppies > the grammatical trainwreck that’s your typical TripAdvisor review.)
And that’s why, when I first saw this single silver rail braided through the trees as we parked at the TreeTop Central Coast location (the other TreeTop parks are in western Sydney and Newcastle), I could give Richard the satisfaction of having surprised me after all.
“What is that?” I asked.
“That is what we are doing,” he replied.
“But what is it?”
“It’s called the TreeTop Crazy Rider. It’s like a hybrid of a Caripro Batflyer and a zip line.”
“So no ropes course or anything like that?” I asked.
“Nope. Just this.”
I perked up. Besides the part when we drove through the Sydney suburbs and I observed with great amusement how all the schoolchildren were wearing straw hats as part of their uniforms, or the bit when Australian Karen started getting on my nerves when she kept pronouncing Pacific Motorway as “Pacific MWY” because her tiny computer brain apparently didn’t understand abbreviations, I’d spent most of the ride in a groggy haze, my fatigue turning me almost cynical about the prospect of undertaking a ropes course. I felt bad because I knew Richard wanted to surprise me, and I knew he’d scheduled it this abominably early so as to maximize our extremely limited time in Sydney, but I just could not get myself excited. Now, though, curiosity began to supersede sleepiness.
Apart from the few bits that fringed the parking lot, the silver rail was immersed in the dense woodland that gave the park its name, weaving and arcing and rippling amongst the trees. It was suspended from a truss of cables reaching high into the foliage. I couldn’t tell where it began or ended, let alone discern the total length of the track. It almost looked like an inverted Brandauer alpine coaster.
“So did I surprise you?” asked Richard, extracting a sheet of paper from the plastic pocket folder he’d stored in the trunk out of my sight.
“Yeah, you did,” I said. “Well, to be honest, I did guess that we were coming here, but I assumed we’d be doing a ropes course or something. I had no idea this thing existed.”
“How did you figure the TreeTop part but not the one thing here that resembles a coaster?” he asked.
“Well that’s a very cromulent question,” I replied.
“You just failed your enthusiast test.” He grinned.
No doubt very pleased with himself, Richard went on to explain that these types of rides are relatively new and still pretty rare; he’d only learned of them the past November when TreeTop’s installations opened. There were two tracks here and the sheet of paper was a reservation confirmation for one ride on each. Their last minute addition to the itinerary resulted from the park recently extending its hours. Previously, it had been marked as closed today.
The place still looked very closed, however. Ours was one of two cars in the lot. Richard shrugged and said the website had strongly urged making a reservation, so we ambled over to the small wooden shed that had the appearance of a main office. We were met there by two energetic girls in their early twenties who would be our ride operators. They welcomed us warmly, asked how our trip was going, and reassured us that no, even though there was no one else here, we had not made them get up early just to accommodate us.
Reservation confirmed and we-are-not-responsible-if-you-happen-to-be-a-moron waivers signed, we proceeded to get dressed in the armor of buckles and straps and carabiners these kinds of activities require. The girls handed us each an unwieldy metal triangle whose purpose would be to connect our harnesses to the overhead rail and then we were escorted to the first track.
Actually, “escorted” is too elegant a term. The guide made the walk looking like normally functioning ambulatory human. We, on the other hand, waddled behind her, the groin straps of our harnesses—already awkward enough when they’re attached by someone else’s hands—inhibiting our movement to something slightly resembling one of those poor dogs forced to wear dignity destroying booties in the name of YouTube views and a spot on America’s Funniest Home Videos.
A short bowlegged walk later, we stepped onto the wooden platform of the first track. Named Pioneer, this was the shorter of the two courses—a sort of practice course, if you will, before taking on the monster Xtreme up the hill. I was definitely wide awake by this point. My thoughts were that uneasy cocktail of excitement, uncertainty and anticipation that’s served to the nerves before undertaking a high adrenaline activity for the first time. I volunteered to ride first because if there’s anything I’ve learned in life, it’s to announce last call on that cocktail as soon as possible before it overcomes you.
The operator set me up, attaching me to the track via the triangle. She told me to “sit,” which basically meant mimicking one of trust exercises they make you do in office team building activities where you’re supposed to focus on bonding with your coworkers as you catch someone falling backward off a chair but instead you’re cringing at touching Ted from accounting’s sweaty back rolls. In this case, the previously floppy backside of my harness had been pulled taut once I was connected to the rail. I stuck my legs out and for one unnerving second it felt like I might thud onto the platform. Of course, I didn’t, for the harness caught me in the little seat that had been created when it was pulled upward and clipped to the triangle.
The operator radioed down to her partner to confirm the track was clear, told me to cross my ankles and tuck in my elbows to avoid brushes with errant foliage, and then off I went.
And let me tell you, this was one trailblazing pioneer.
It was immediately clear that this was, for lack of a better term, something else.
For all the thrill of zip lines, their trajectory is predictable: you know you are in for a straight, descending sprint.
This, on the other hand, flung itself around corners, yanked itself just as rabidly in the opposite direction, and felt about as controlled as the fiscal handling practices within FIFA. This isn’t to say it was hurtling along at eye watering speed, because it wasn’t. The proximity of the trees, however, gave an illusion of speed that was only amplified when it seemed like I’d be lobbed right into their branches at every turn.
As for roller coasters, we all know that their track is supposed to slightly waver and oscillate, but it never moves so much that you feel unsafe (unless it happens to be the Dragon at Beech Bend). The rail on Pioneer, however, was liberally undulating and swaying, its flexibility giving the impression of a ride far more rickety than I would have expected from the sleek silver rails I’d viewed from the ground. It was both fascinating and disconcerting, but the best was yet to come.
Toward the end of the course, I rounded a bend and, instead of the frenetic curves that had been the chief feature of the track so far, a sharp and rather steep looking dip was ahead. Given the aggressive lateral forces on the turns, I quickly realized that a drop like that was going to initiate some serious back and forth swinging, just like a swing at a playground. The only difference was that playground swings typically don’t have obstacles in their path like the solid steel bar of track that would be blasting my knees as soon as the momentum from the fall swung me back up (or at least that’s what my limited knowledge of physics was telling me).
Of course, that didn’t happen (if it had, you would have noticed how the atmosphere around you suddenly seemed lighter as a result of the boundless mirth of someone paying off their student loans). It didn’t stop me, though, from cowering as gravity snatched my harness-seat and wrenched it down like a window shade. I was bewildered at what seemed a defiance of physics when I exited the element unscathed, but I didn’t have much time to commend myself for choosing biology instead of word problems about pendulums and rolling balls and two trains traveling toward each other that are run by people who apparently have never heard of this concept called a timetable.
I reached the end of the line where the other attendant was waiting. She unhooked me, radioed to her partner that the track was now clear, and asked how I liked it as we waited for Richard.
How did I like it? Forgive the cliché, but it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. The whole feel of it—those violent flinging turns, the sight of the track wriggling before me, the unpredictability of the layout—was just so different. It was not quite zip line, not quite coaster, but a curious blend of the two that was as wild as it was delightful.
And that was just the little guy.
Up next was Xtreme, the kilometer long monstrosity that overtakes Pioneer in both size and publicity. The girls switched places in monitoring the start and finish (we later learned it was because one of them had recently seen a snake on the path up to Xtreme‘s starting point and, as any reasonable person would be in the matter of Australian wildlife, she was deathly afraid of encountering another one) and we began a climb that was embarrassingly strenuous. This became especially noticeable when you compared our dragging asses to our ride operator, who took to the hill like it was a game of Q*Bert. Carrying the heavy triangles on what had become a humid morning did us no favors, and we reached the top in a stew of sweat and panting in lamentation for our younger, fitter selves.
This time Richard went first. The ride operator told me it was about a four to five minute ride to the end. While I waited, we chatted about other “extreme” activities. She’d been skydiving four times, which made my story about doing the Stratosphere SkyJump seem measly by comparison. Then she relayed how her rather elderly Nana had fearlessly conquered the Crazy Riders a few days before. Well, then. Neither one of us was going to top that.
The radio call came, there was a flurry of buckling and clipping, and I was off.
For all its intimidating size, though, Xtreme wasn’t as…well, extreme as its little brother. This isn’t to say it was a “bad” ride. Any ride that whisks you through the trees with nothing but a piece of nylon protecting you from a bone breaking fall (and a bone breaking fall into the lethal jaws of Australian fauna at that) is in no way going to lose points in the thrills department. Xtreme was, in fact, very exciting, starting with the fact that it was so high off the ground. Its stature only became appreciable once we were slogging up that hill. When I wasn’t lying to myself about my deplorable fitness level, I was eyeing how this silver bar rippling through the leaves seemed at least a couple hundred feet above the ground. It’s okay, Megan, I was thinking. You were never one for being in shape. Remember how you were always one of the last ones to finish the mile run in gym class? So this hill is definitely not proof that you are getting older, nope, definitely not oh hey that’s really high off the ground and also you are an idiot for wearing a fleece in this humidity.
The impression of height only strengthened once I was on the track. You know how women’s magazines condemn overweight girls wearing horizontal stripes because they claim it makes them look wider? (Wait, you might not know because this readership is like 90% male, isn’t it? Okay, well, guys, just so you know, women’s magazines are written by women who reinforce, via pages and pages of fashion, makeup and dieting “tips,” the idea that a woman’s primary concern should be her appearance, thereby upholding the very patriarchy they wish to destroy.) Anyway, in this case, the dozens and dozens of vertical tree trunks created an illusion of tallness, making the ground seem farther away than it really was. I read that Xtreme‘s track is only sixty feet above ground, but then again, that comes from a Daily Mail article, a publication whose sidebar headlines are invariably about female celebrities’ sex appeal (“Abbey Clancy smoulders in sensational selfie as she pouts up a storm in scanty underwear set during photoshoot”; “Selfie queen Karen Danczuk flaunts her infamous figure as she parties in cleavage-enhancing dress” I mean for fuck’s sake) so I’ll take it about as seriously as I do those women’s magazines. At any rate, the real number doesn’t matter. When all you’ve got are a few carabiners holding you, the ground is going to seem far away.
As a consequence of the height, the constantly quivering rail became that little bit more disconcerting. So, too, were the turns. Pioneer‘s turns were vicious, but Xtreme took those lateral forces to an entirely different level both literally and figuratively.
Height wasn’t the only thing Xtreme had going for it, though. It is a mark of superb engineering that this ride introduces an element I am going to call the George of the Jungle Optical Illusion. There were a few parts in the course where the track appeared to cut some very fine clearances with the trees; at one point it seemed mere inches from touching a trunk. Just as that hill on Pioneer had my brain scrambling to calculate the physics of imminent doom, here it was a matter of how much arm skin I’d be parting with. I mean, there’s no way I’m getting past that tree without brushing against it, I thought. Except I’m moving too fast to just brush it, so it’ll be more like scraping and slashing and shredding crapcrapcrapWATCHOUTFORTHATTREEEEEEEEE—
And then at the last second, my harness-seat swerved, miraculously sparing my arm from becoming a Parmesan block on a grater. I wasn’t sure how it had happened because the curvature of the track didn’t give it away. Maybe I just hadn’t been paying attention. Or maybe I should have resisted the Siren song of the Krebs cycle and taken physics after all.
Yet despite all this, Xtreme had a lot of downtime. Apart from the highlights I’ve mentioned, my harness-seat spent most of the course just swaying side to side without ever picking up the kind of speed I’d expect on a ride named Xtreme. There were a few downward helices, but they were nowhere near as nimble or startling as that one hill on Pioneer. On the whole, it lacked the former’s unbridled vigor and pep. Actually, if I’m being honest, four minutes of swaying broken by a few lateral-heavy turns here and there rendered the layout a bit repetitive.
I think the only thing at fault here is the name. The ride itself is enjoyable and fun, but it’s really more scenic than it is extreme. It does have its thrilling parts, certainly. I would be remiss to not acknowledge some nervousness as I found myself perched on a band of fabric that was sliding and swinging down a wobbly, skinny rail some considerable distance from the ground. Once I got used to the movement, though, I kept expecting more—more wildness, more intensity. The reason the course layout seemed so repetitive was that I was so focused on the track ahead, waiting for it to morph into the “outrageous and unexpected fun” advertised on the website. I think if I had approached it with an eye for the surrounding woodland scenery instead of scanning every bend in the track waiting for something that never came, I’d feel less inclined to judge it by the criteria that made Pioneer so exhilarating and…well, extreme.
I really do want to make it clear that Xtreme is not a bad ride, lest I sound like some arrogant, stuck up, “nothing impresses me anymore” coaster enthusiast (oh my goodness, wouldn’t it be dreadful if this hobby had some people like that?!?). It just needs a better fitting name.
And speaking of how to label things, it’s time to address the elephant in the room: are the TreeTop Crazy Riders credits or not? Well, yes…but no. And no…but yes.
They are gravity driven. They roll. They coast. They are more roller coaster than a powered anything. They are certainly more roller coaster than some of the flumes listed on rcdb. They are even more roller coaster than an alpine coaster because they ride truly at the whim of gravity—there are no handbrakes to speak of. It is possible to valley on them (when this happens, an operator will ride down the track to give the stalled person a push from behind). The track may not be a full circuit, but neither is a Vekoma Boomerang. Rather than disengaging a chain or rocketing off some LSMs, a set of hands provides the initial nudge before gravity takes over—but haven’t we all seen a few Big Apples that require manual effort to get off the platform?
Objectively speaking, it’s hard to refute these things are credits.
Personal coaster counts, however, are subjective: to me, they are not credits. There comes a point where you have to draw the limit. If I counted everything that was gravity driven at some point in its layout, I’d have on my list dark rides and flumes and slides and Deno’s Wonder Wheel and that time during a snowstorm when I realized I’d made a terrible mistake in trying to drive up the hill to my house.
So yes, they are technically credits but no, they’re not credits for me.
And no, they may not be credits for me, but yes, they may be credits for you.
It’s a decision you’ll have to make sooner or later. According to our ride operators, the folks at TreeTop Adventure Park actually did the research and development for the Crazy Riders in house and have begun licensing them out to others. Sure enough, Screamscape recently reported that a proposed new attraction in Branson, Missouri has a zip coaster on the docket. I would love to see these take off the way alpine coasters have.
At the end of the day, when the metal triangle has been unlocked from the track and the carabiners unhooked, it won’t matter whether you mark them as credits or not (unless you’re a pedantic, pettifogging bawbag. Oh my goodness, wouldn’t it be dreadful if this hobby had some people like that?!?)
They’re fun. That’s all there is to it, really.
And with that, let’s have Australian Karen lead us back to the mwy so we may head to our next destination.
(But one more doggy for the road. Just ’cause.)
Who’s ready for a coaster whose creditworthiness is clear-cut and uncomplicated?