Kevin Courtney

Napa Valley Register City Editor Kevin Courtney.

J.L. Sousa, Register

In planning a visit last Saturday to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, I knew I wanted to ride the big roller coasters, but was Cheryl game?

Our shared ride history was limited. A nostalgic spin on the wooden Giant Dipper at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. The modest coasters at Disneyland, with California Screamin’, which goes from zero to 55 mph in four seconds, the exception.

But neither Santa Cruz nor Disneyland is Six Flags. The rides at Six Flags are in another league. Boiled down to their essence: They threaten to kill you.

As soon as we entered Six Flags, I suggested we head for Medusa, the park’s signature coaster whose twisty, towering, tubular rails define the park’s skyline from Interstate 80.

As we stood at its base, a chorus of humans screaming for their very lives rained down from above.

Cheryl shivered, then made her decision. Yes, she was game.

If there is a demographic for Medusa, we weren’t it. The line was mostly teenagers and adults under 30.

I wondered if we’d missed one of the warnings: No pregnant women, no cardiac patients, no mature Napa adults.

I had the vaguest memory of riding Medusa 17 years ago when the coaster debuted at Six Flags at a cost of $15 million.

What sets Medusa apart from old-school coasters are its velocity (top speed, 65 mph), height (150 feet), rider flips (seven) and length (3,937 feet).

They strap you in tight, the floor drops away and your feet dangle as you rise to the height of a 15-story building.

What a view!

Only that’s not what I was thinking. I was thinking, good Lord, please let me survive this.

Everything after that was a blur. I felt as if I’d been dumped into a blender and someone had pushed the liquefy button.

Cheryl was right beside me. I didn’t know if she was writhing in terror or had long since lost consciousness. I was too busy screaming out to the deities to spare my life.

Back on earth, we staggered off feeling a little queasy, but quite proud of ourselves. As I read the situation, this was it for coaster rides. We’d spend the rest of the day in the park’s wildlife kingdom.

When my kids were young, we came to Marine World/Africa USA once a year on Media Day when everything was free. We came for the critters, not the rides.

Later, Marine World morphed into Six Flags and the big rides went up, but we had stopped coming.

Cheryl had also been a Marine World regular with her young family. We had overlapping memories of Butterfly World, Shark Experience, Tiger Island, the bird and seal shows and, of course, the killer whales.

Last weekend we discovered that while Six Flags heavily promotes the thrill rides, the heart of the old Marine World is still there. At the back of the park, away from the scream zone, lurk the big cats, the sloths and giraffes, and those butterflies that charm you with their fluttery antics.

The day was a hot one. After three hours of mingling with animals, I wanted to call it day, but not Cheryl. She suggested we return to the rides and try Kong, a looping coaster.

Kong has quite the history. It was first erected at Opryland USA where it was known as The Hangman, then brought to Six Flags in 1998 after Opryland folded.

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Had I ridden Kong before? Probably, but so long ago, under such brain-scrambling conditions, I couldn’t remember for sure.

Ominously, there was no line. We climbed aboard.

Ominously, there was a malfunction before launch. We were ordered off. Technicians fiddled for 10 minutes. The coaster was sent empty on a test run. Then a second one.

Tension built. Were we going to be guinea pigs?

Kong was super violent. Our heads got slammed against the shoulder restraints as we whipped along a track more twisty than Medusa’s. Afterward, Cheryl compared it to having her ears boxed by a kangaroo.

We emerged in one piece but feeling a bit cranky. We hadn’t knowingly signed up for a battering. My stomach didn’t settle down for 10 minutes.

After Kong, we made a halfhearted effort to ride Roar, the wooden coaster of yore, but we got lost and could never quite find the entrance.

Apparently we weren’t trying very hard. And apparently Roar doesn’t exist anymore.

I learned that Roar got decommissioned in 2015, its wooden track melded with a steel track, and a new coaster ride was born: The Joker.

In this case, the joke was on us.

Kevin can be reached at 707-256-2217 or Napa Valley Register, 1615 Soscol Ave., Napa, 94559, or kcourtney@napanews.com.

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