Local News

Saturday, Aug 09 2014 04:00 PM

JAMES BURGER: From the first ride to the last, Colossus was always memorable

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Californian reporter James Burger bravely chose the front car for his final ride on the famed Colossus roller coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    James Burger, a reporter for The Bakersfield Californian, hangs on as he plummets down the tracks on the Colossus roller coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Reporter James Burger is ready to embark on his final ride on the Colossus roller coaster at Magic Mountain. The famous coaster is set to close Aug. 16.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

In my memories as an 8 year old, I can still see the model.

The white coaster's tiny copy sat in a glass viewing box in the main entrance of Magic Mountain on my first visit.

Even in miniature, Colossus was huge.

For me, back in the late 70s, the first visit to Magic Mountain marked a milestone.

I was moving from storybook rides to thrillers.

But I wasn't ready for Colossus the first visit. Or the second.

Back then it was the biggest, scariest coaster in the park -- the looming giant that guarded the front gate of the kingdom of fun.

It was the landmark my sisters and I looked for as we rolled down off the Grapevine from the San Joaquin Valley to Valencia.

I started out slow with the Buccaneer, Jet Stream and Roaring Rapids.

Then I tried the Revolution, scared to death as I waited in line while nearby teenagers practiced their smooching and guys in Iron Maiden T-shirts lounged against the rails.

"That wasn't too bad," I remember thinking as I came off Revolution's upside-down loop.

But I still wasn't ready for the big one.

RIDE

I can't remember whether it was my father's gentle prompting or the power of church youth group peer pressure that eventually got me on Colossus.

But I can remember the tension building as we wove our way through the packed aisles, creeping slowly toward the coaster's side-by-side launch areas.

The sun was low in the sky, angling down under the country-fair roof of the ride's entry chute.

Everything was golden.

My heart was pounding.

I got on.

I remember the rising fear as we clattered and clanked up that first long climb, not knowing what the heck I'd gotten myself into.

We hit the first drop.

And then my frontal lobe turned off and I just....rode.

After that day, I could ride anything.

DESTINATION

Magic Mountain wove in and out of my life through the 80s.

There were family trips where we packed hoagie sandwiches and chips and slipped out of the park around noon to have a cheap meal.

There were the church outings. Then school trips.

There were arcade games, some teenaged handholding and a memorable couple of hours spent running from the exit of Revolution to the entrance over and over again.

Then, in 1988, I went to college at the other end of the state.

RIDE

It took more than 25 years for me to ride Colossus again.

When news broke that the ride was being closed, I took one of my bosses up on the idea of documenting one last go of it.

I made the necessary arrangements, got a kind reception from the park and drove down to Valencia.

They put me on the ride.

And before I could really think about it, I was clattering down Colossus' launch ramp again, up the first hill and easing over the edge into the first drop.

I noticed the ride's peeling paint, the stains from weather and wear and the aged look of the ride.

I heard my fellow riders complain about the bumps and thumps, only to listen as they exclaimed their appreciation after the cars clattered into the station.

I realized that there were moments in the ride -- as the top of the first hill approached and on the flat turns at the ride's either end -- when I could look out over the surrounding hills, the cars on the freeway and the wide sweep of the amusement park around me and breathe.

You don't expect quiet moments on a thrill ride.

But that is what made the next inevitable plunge that much more exciting.

RETURN

I'm looking forward to the day I take my children to Magic Mountain and watch them discover thrill rides as I did more than three decades ago.

I'm not rushing there.

They still love the storybook rides.

But they will eventually chase the coasters.

And I'll bring them to Magic Mountain.

It will be a bit sad, however, to return to a park without Colossus.

It is no longer the pinnacle of thrills at the park. There are bigger, faster and taller coasters now.

But Colossus and Revolution -- and later Freefall -- stand out in my memory as the definition of the wild-ride roller coaster.

They always will.

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