Spradlin: On the road with the Rockets band

It was an assignment, but not the kind that requires a notebook, pen and the ever-present Canon Rebel T5i.

After spending Saturday at Carowinds amusement park in Charlotte with several members of the Rockingham Middle School band, I absolutely wish I’d had my camera. There were a bunch of great, photographical moments that would have been worth saving.

The camera stayed at home, though, and my 15-year-old son Noah and I drove along behind the Richmond County Schools activity bus from Rockingham Middle School to Carowinds on Saturday. We left Rockingham at 8 a.m., and didn’t return until shortly before midnight. In between was a lot of walking, a bit of heat and a whole lot of fun.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

My job doesn’t frequently allow me to be a parent at school events; often I try to wear that hat while also wearing the hat of a journalist (and lugging around the aforementioned camera). I was rather unsure, after being asked by band director Curtis Swallow to be a chaperone, how it’d go. And it wasn’t even supposed to be me — my wife, Stephanie, was slated to travel with the group up until a few days before the trip. Then, a life event at home occurred that made us rearrange our priorities (and our schedules).

So it was with more than a little trepidation that I headed into Rockingham Saturday morning to start the trip. After all, Stepehanie’s the fun one, not me. But when the time came, I loaded up Noah, MacKenzie (RMS seventh-grader and band member) and Kenzie’s classmate Tobi — who rode with us as there was limited room on the bus — and we followed along. I also had no idea our group would grow by four more upon arrival to the park’s north gate, but join us did Teniqua, Serenity, Taylor and Laila.

Turns out it was a match made in heaven, made all the better by each student’s unique personality, fun-loving spirit and willingness to put the greater good of the group ahead of individual desires. There were options to split for limited periods of time during the 11.5-hour adventure but the group remained intact for all but about 85 minutes — by choice. It was a testament to each person’s character to enjoy each other’s company rather than go it alone.

Noah Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Kevin and MacKenzie Spradlin flying on RipCord.

Noah Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Kevin and MacKenzie Spradlin flying on RipCord.

We first went inside the Carowinds theater to watch as Jamestown Middle School Orchestra performed in the Festival of Music. After three numbers, the middle schoolers left the stage and the Rockingham Middle School bunch left for lunch.

After lunch, each chaperone and his or her group were on their own. Laila and Teniqua suggested we start off with a couple of “lame” rides to warm up to the bigger, faster ones. The group members agreed, in large part because we’d just finished eating.

We started with Richochet, described on Carowinds.com as a “wild mouse” rollercoaster featuring 17 curves that will drop, twist, bank and curl riders throughout the 1200 ft-long track. There was more jerking left and right than I imagined, but it quickly woke me up to the fact that I was, in fact, in an amusement park. The only problem is that over the years, it’s become apparent I’m not much of an amusement park guy. Or so I thought.

Next up was the Scream Weaver, and on this ride my stomach and head felt more of the weave than the desire to scream. Here’s the ride description:

Noah Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Noah and Kevin Spradlin with new hairdos after riding The Intimidator.

Noah Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Noah and Kevin Spradlin with new hairdos after riding The Intimidator.

A large wheel with interconnected gondolas spins horizontally before tilting into a vertical position, sending riders into an upside-down orbit.

I wasn’t the only one affected by this ride; Tobi’s day was nearly done, and Noah also struggled to regain his composure.

Since I was hanging out with teenagers and since it’d been at least 90 minutes since feeding time, we all hit Chick-Fil-A, where Tobi and Noah ate their way back to a feeling of normalcy.

At about 2 p.m., Tobi sat down on a brick wall to watch our stuff as the rest of us took our spots in line for The Intimidator. Apparently the “lame” rides were over because this roller coaster is second only to the new Fury 325 in the park’s “aggressive thrill” rating scale.

The description: “Inspired by racing legend Dale Earnhardt, The Intimidator features an intimidating 211-foot first drop at a 74-degree angle and top racing speeds of 75 mph. It is one of the tallest, fastest and longest coasters in the Southeast.”

If you survive the first drop, you’re good. And if you don’t, well then, you’re probably still good because you no longer are aware of the rest of the experience. This ordeal was, though short in duration, worth it in that we’d waited nearly two and one-half hours for the ride. Twice, park employees shut down the ride due to apparent mechanical issues. Why the members of our group, yours truly included, didn’t see this as an opportunity to get out of line and not be in that evening’s news headlines as the group that got stuck, I still don’t know. But wait we did. I’m telling you, I know that first drop didn’t just go down, but actually curved back “in.” I’ve never been on a ride that’s done that.

Noah and I both recovered well enough for the camera several twists and turns later. He made such a goofy face I couldn’t help but purchase a keychain to commemorate the occasion. Afterwards, we took a photo of the new hairdos caused by the wind on the ride.

The Intimidator opened the door to an afternoon filled with an escalating series of thrills. Kenzie and I felt the SlingShot — you sit down, strap in and are catapulted some 300 feet into the air, with a great view of the park — was a bit of a letdown. When  Noah won play a game and won a two-for-one coupon for Rip Cord, we just had to try it.

Ride-wise, this was the most fun for me and judging by Kenzie’s constant screaming, she seemed to enjoy it, too. We put on what seemed to be a mix between a heavy chef’s apron and a gown you put on before getting a full-body x-ray. Then you stand on a slightly elevated platform, hooked up to a steel cable and “get hoisted 153 feet in the air.”

The attendant says 3, 2, 1 … fly!

And upon pulling the ripcord, you do. The ride boasts a 50-feet free fall at 60 mph and then gliding through the air for your friends to laugh — with you or at you, depending on your reaction to the adventure. Check out the video Noah took; you’ll hear a loud “oh my God,” followed by an off-camera explanation that he felt the cable had snapped.

We ate some more food, rode some more rides and had a bunch of laughs in part to stave off our sore, tired feet. My last risk of the day came at 8:06 p.m. Then, five kids wanted to right Nighhawk and three others — we gained classmate Lauren late in the evening, there with her family, for a short bit — wanted to walk around. So I said alright, but let’s meet up at north gate at 9:30 p.m. no matter what. Everyone was there with a minute to spare.

Am I an amusement park guy? I’m still not sure. Maybe I need to go back to be certain.

Kevin Spradlin is managing editor of The Pee Dee Post. He can be reached at 910-331-4130 or peedeepost@gmail.com. A giant “thank you” to Curtis Swallow, RMS band director, for letting the Spradin family tag along for the day.



Filed in: Latest Headlines, Outdoors

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