Lakemont Park

Altoona, Pennsylvania – Saturday, June 7th, 2008Lakemont 013

After leaving DelGrosso’s that afternoon it was about a 20 minute drive south to the next park, Lakemont.  The entry gates were surprisingly nice, clearly part of the same renovation as the nearby baseball park.  The park itself is quite a ways beyond those gates, sitting downhill past several buildings, carnival style.  This was probably the least classy park of the entire trip, even more-so than Clementon. Besides the entry gate it appears as though few of the rides have been updated since the 1980’s, the Leap-the-Dips is surprisingly the most polished looking ride in the park despite being the world’s oldest roller coaster.  It is somewhat amazing that the structure could have survived for so many years given the park seemed to have no real established infrastructure the way many other older parks do, it was mostly just portable rides set up around the grass.  However, before I start to sound like I’m bashing Lakemont, please know that I liked it better than DelGrosso’s; the ride collection is more diverse and interesting (besides just the wooden coasters), the physical area is larger than it seems like it should be, and it does have real character.  Despite the slightly downtrodden appearances in places they run the park like a clean family park, and for the most part that’s the market they seem to be attracting, families from the Altoona suburbs (although that day they weren’t attracting much of any market).  Plus the prices were probably the cheapest I have ever seen at an amusement park, you could probably spend a full day here on a $10 bill.

The first ride was their Chance Skydiver.  I was expecting an experience similar to a Rock-o-Plane, except on a larger scale and with gondolas that rotate from side to side rather than front to back. Unfortunately I didn’t think to shift my wallet and cellphone out from my front pants pocket until after that extremely tight lapbar came down. Ow.  “Can you get in one more click?” the ride op asks as he jams in down one more notch.  I spend the entire ride spinning the control wheel desperately to not get caught upside down at the bottom of the loop, which the car apparently took great pleasure in doing against my will.  Despite this the pain had what I’d call a “Fight Club” effect; it was ultimately quite cathartic in that deviously madcap sort of way, perhaps because you control the experience rather than the other way around.

From here we went over to the Leap-the-Dips, and found out they had a required 3-person minimum to run the car around the circuit, otherwise it ran the risk of valleying in one of the dips.  Since we were only two we waited around for several minutes to see if anyone would take a ride, and when it became evident the park was quite desolate we decided to save that one for later and move on to the Toboggan.

Twice in a row, first-time experiences on a noted Chance torture device. My thoughts while on the ride went something like this:

On the way up: “My sense data is telling me that I am locked in a small cage, ascending straight up on my back in a tube located in the middle of a field in Pennsylvania. Logically, this makes very little sense that such a scenario could come to exist in any universe, either  created through natural processes or by an intelligent designer, and I think I have sufficient reason to doubt the existence of the percieved reality surrounding me. And yet if I am  to suppose that these seemingly external objects don’t really exist, as an extended object myself I must therefore conclude that I too don’t exist beyond my own mind.  But that is perhaps even more absurd and improbable a concept. It appears no matter what I do I am screwed, especially since my sense data is now telling me I’m about to crest the top.

On the way down: “Oh shit… oh shit… oh shit… oh shit…

It actually was not as bad as some people led me to think, only the jolt at the bottom of the spiral was anything I needed to worry about, and the bizarre build-up to that moment only serves to make the ride a memorable one.

Several of the other rides sampled in the park included a weird Spider-like ride, a Tilt-a-Whirl-like ride and the antique cars. At the far end of the park laying adjacent to the baseball field is the Skyliner.  There’s really nothing spectacular about this coaster, but it works very well for this park and anchors things down opposite the Leap-the-Dips. Don’t expect much airtime, considering that the dogleg design means that there isn’t one complete hill without a flat curve in the middle of it on the entire ride, although you will get a sudden pop if you’re in the very front or back seat on either the first drop or the first rise into the turn-around, and the very front and 1-3 offers some mild floater on some of the other hills, which can be enjoyed given the single-position lap bars to be found on this ride as well (this is a very common theme for Pennsylvania wooden coasters).

After several laps we went back to the Leap-the-Dips. After waiting several more minutes for someone to join us (a ride operator couldn’t be our third man since there was only one and he was responsible for both pushing the car out to the lift hill and for pulling all his weight on the brake lever to get the car to stop at the end), a family of four finally came up and after taking a couple laps together we got two of the group members who wanted one last ride to weight the car down with us.

There’s nothing quite like Leap-the-Dips. Even on the more rickety of wooden coasters the cars and track feel like a congruous entity. Not so on Leap-the-Dips. The car lurches around a completely independent path from what the wooden trough is doing. Shift your weight in the car a little bit for a brand new riding experience, just be careful you don’t do anything that might cause it to stall. The dips in particular, the track is rather misshapen due to the large intervals between ledgers, and on a couple of them the front end of the car would leave the track completely and then sort of ‘dive in’ to the immediate rise on the other side, which is not a particularly good thing if you want to maintain a high speed but a very good thing if you’re looking for an ‘edge of your seat’ kind of ride, figuratively and literally.

Later in the day the car got stuck on the Leap-the-Dip’s circuit. This happened minutes before getting on the train ride, where we watched as mechanics hurried to dislodge the stymied car. After the ten minute journey along the backside of the park, over a small creek, through the woods, and then back, we came back to discover that A): the car had safely returned to the station, and that B): they were able to “fix the track” and it should now run fine with only two passengers. GCI should take note, I think that has to be some kind of record for quickest wooden coaster rehab.

After getting our fill of Leap-the-Dips, we went back over to close the late afternoon/early evening with more Skyliner and watching the ball game, which here are not mutually exclusive activities.  There was no one there, so the ride ops let us go around about 20-25 times uninterrupted save for one person, I guess a “famous personalitycompeting trip report (and vastly inferior, I might add, since how many other trip reports can you think of that discuss not only the physics of the coasters but also their metaphysics). This is a good coaster to marathon, which shouldn’t be too hard for anyone since I doubt the park ever gets too crowded, this was a Saturday evening, after all. Grab a middle seat, it’s nice and gentle, and you can just zen for twenty minutes or so while watching the ball game.

By about 6:00 that evening we decided to get a move on. On the way out I stopped by the gift shop and picked up a memorial Leap-the-Dips gold coin for about $1.00, my first real souvenir of the trip (not counting the various soaps, shampoos and, uh, towels…)

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