I want you to set a timer for four minutes and let it run down.
Four minutes, it turns out, is a good amount of time. For a roller coaster it's a nearly infinite stretch of time. Riding The Beast, at King's Island in Mason Ohio, what I consider to be the best roller coaster ever created, lasts over four minutes.
We live in a world where theme park attractions are increasingly based on technology and illusion; one of the most notable new attractions is the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride at Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which is an amazing experience. The line itself takes you through a beautiful version of Hogwarts before you're sent on an adventure through the films that, when broken down, more or less involves the rider being shaken in front of a giant screen.
The demand for technology in our attractions isn't the only reasons many rides feel so limited in scope. Land itself is at a premium in many theme or amusement parks, which means that many roller coasters fold in on themselves, snaking around the same small area of the park. Even longer rides often use turns and loops to keep the rider in a relatively small area. You may move around, but you don't cover much land.
Here's an image of the Beast, from the site Rollercoasterphilosophy.
It's a monster from another time, and the fact it exists at all is amazing. "Not only are the statistics of the ride awesome," Kings Island's William C. Price said when the coaster was announced back in the '70s, "but its use of the rugged natural terrain ensures that no other roller coaster tops these thrills, weaving along steep cliffs, down ravines, into four spectacular tunnels, through nine sharply banked turns, among a forest of trees and often at tree-top height."
Planning and construction would ultimately take over three years. "The first drop, angled at 45 degrees, would dive 135 feet right into an underground tunnel," Thrillride wrote. "The last major descent would stretch 141 feet, sloping at 18 degrees and pouring us right into a 540-degree, banked helix. Finally, the ride would be the longest rollercoaster ever conceived, covering a 35-acre plot of land with a track length of 7,400 feet. That's nearly a mile and a half long."
The fact that you can still visit Kings Island to ride it sometimes feels miraculous. It remains the world's largest wooden roller coaster, and the ride is rough; it's not afraid to beat you up. The experience of a wooden roller coaster, one that's obscured from view by the very forest around it, is very different from the relatively smooth, swooping metal rides of other parks.
Nearly everything about it is hidden from view, and riders get almost no hints about what to expect by walking around the park. It even smells distinct; you can taste the wood and the oil as you go up the first gigantic drop.
This is what it looks like when you're riding it. This could be considered a spoiler.
One of the best things about riding a rollercoaster is that it's hard to think of anything else while doing so. They will ask you to leave if you take out your phone to text or take a selfie. The Beast isn't just an amazing thrill ride, it's a tour of the countryside of Ohio. You cover an impressive amount of ground at high speeds on those straightaways, with the trees zooming past you and the wind blasting your face.
The ride is always worthwhile, but if you're willing to wait for the first car you'll have an experience that can't be replicated anywhere else; a blistering tour through the woods at 65 miles per hour.
In a world of virtual reality and electronic delights, rides like the Beast are a refreshingly analog experience. There is no trick to it, no optical illusion and no slight of hand. It is a huge wooden structure built on top of the countryside and it makes you travel very quickly across a very large stretch of land. It's likely it will never be equaled, and certainly not by another wooden structure.
If you're ever in Ohio, be sure to visit King's Island and ride the Beast. It likely won't be around forever, and there's not much they could build that would ever replace it. It's an aging, beautiful relic; a giant, sprawling altar to the gods of fun. If there is room on your bucket list, I strongly suggest this addition.