Top of the Tracks
Have you ever had one of those moments where you finish something and then a couple of days later you realize that what you just experienced was really amazing? So amazing that people would have loved to be in your shoes? And then you sit back and think, “Wow, I did that and I got paid. My job is really cool.”. Yea, that was me when I was given the opportunity to walk the entire length of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk’s Giant Dipper tracks for our summer special Memories Made Here: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
So why was I lucky enough to have this epic experience? Well, the Giant Dipper celebrated 90 years in 2014 and our Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Summer Special had a segment to commemorate this milestone. Our concept was to use this once-in-a-lifetime celebration to take viewers where they were unlikely ever going to go–it may not be where no man has gone before but even after 90 years, it’s probably a pretty exclusive club.
Additionally we could pepper the video with fun Dipper trivia, man on the street interviews with excited (and some times nervous) Dipper riders, and hear from people who know that Coaster as well as they know themselves.
Walking the Track
Now when you walk the track, you don’t start at the beginning, you actually start at the end, where the train returns to the station. And the “walk” was more than just a stroll along the Dipper tracks. I was also interviewing lead ride mechanic Brian Walters of the Coaster Crew about why they walk the track and how they care for this 90-year-old national treasure. We mounted a GoPro on Brian’s chest to get his point-of view while I was using our Nikon DSLR. Meanwhile, Tam shot Brian in action long-lens with a third camera, capturing the audio to that camera with a wireless microphone.
Brian, who has been walking it for 35 years, and his team walk the track every morning and also every two hours while the ride is open. He told us that in those 35 years, he only remembers one time when they closed the ride for a few hours to replace something. Testament to how well the Dipper is taken care of and why it is celebrating 90 years.
Throughout my walk, I felt safe and comfortable…well, most of the time. I do come from a circus family so it’s in my blood to balance and walk high up in the air. But there was a moment or two where I had to cross the tracks to get from one side of the catwalk to the other when we were really high. Stepping into the middle of the tracks on a less than one-foot plank and looking down to the ground 75 feet below, can be a bit dizzying. I wasn’t as concerned about falling, as much as I was about dropping the camera and having to explain to Tam why he would need to buy a new Nikon. But there were no falls or even close calls, just breathtaking views and an experience to remember.
I’d have to say, there were two favorite parts of my walk besides learning new and interesting facts about the Dipper. The first was standing at the very top of the first big hill. You figure every other time I’d been in that position, it was a split second before I’d be shooting down the tracks and climbing the second hill. Taking a moment to look over the Boardwalk, our beautiful beaches, and the City, was just glorious. It also felt really good to have made that big climb early in the morning, total leg burner!
My second favorite part was walking into the tunnel. Brian turned the lights on so we could see. I didn’t realize that the dipper tracks made a nearly hairpin turn while you’re in the tunnel. I learned that it’s the sharpest turn a wooden roller coaster can actually make and I realized at that moment that I was standing directly under the dipper station…it tripped me out. Another one of those experiences very few people will ever have. Our little secret, shh!, I love the smell of the grease in the tunnel. Now, don’t tell anyone. And thus, I just had another moment of, “Wow! I experienced that.”
As an aside, not only did I get to walk it on it’s 90th year but I also got to ride it with my son August for his first Dipper ride. I wrote about that experience in a recent blog post, A Rite of Passage. (link to blog post).
If you would like to come along with me on my walk on the Giant Dipper (kind of like walking on the wild side?), then check out the segment 90 Years of Walking the Track below.