My husband and I awoke this past Saturday morning around 5:30-6 a.m. We whispered quietly about which rides we were going to hit first, giggling and planning in hushed tones so not to wake the still sleeping little ones.
The hour-and-a-half drive to Shakopee seemed only slightly less longer than I remembered. With my brother and his family tailing us in the caravan, we were going to make it before the doors even opened. As we crossed the bridge leading through the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge (the landmark that always notified us we were getting close), the gleeful exclamations weren’t just emanating from the backseat.
It was the first time my nephew had ever entered the glorious gates of Valleyfair, the upper-Midwest’s very own Mecca of summertime fun. His review: “Totally awesome.” And as the four of us adults hoofed it across the paved wonderland of rides, games and cotton candy, we were transported back in time by those cherished memories of our first time gazing with wonder, awe and excitement at the perilous drops, stomach-turning twists and high-speed cars hurling dozens of screaming riders.
As I raced my 28-year-old “little” brother (who hasn’t been smaller than me since he was a preschooler) to the hundred-person line leading up to our favorite roller coaster, our excited smiles mirrored those on the faces of our own children who were holding up the rear of our party with their little legs.
With our teeth stained blue by the universally recognized signs of raspberry slushies, we high-fived and fist-bumped each other after each epic ride.
Few things have changed during the decades. My sister-in-law made the same mistake we did on our first journey back since our days as children in thinking the colorfully painted “Corkscrew” was a new ride (It used to be all blue, now it sports orange, red and yellow hues). All-things-Snoopy have replaced the once-beloved Berenstain Bears installment. But the number of toddlers and preschoolers able to join the fun has increased significantly with the change. New roller coasters and thrill rides have replaced some, while the creaking, rusty, once revered “Excalibur” still stands, although in the shadow of its successor “Wild Thing.”
The “Flume” has been dismantled, and replaced by the expanded water park “Soak City.” But the tradition of staving off the heat by hitching a ride on “The Wave” is still going strong. For our party, racing up to the bridge for a second soaking (caused by the wave of the following car) was effective at least four times. Even when the kids became stuck on their second time through the ride, the 15 minute delay didn’t keep them from going back for fifths.
As the sun slowly slunk behind the treeline, the lines became non-existent and our footsteps grew sloppy and forced. We loaded up with one last sugary treat, hit one last roller coaster and made the long walk back to the vehicles as the lights blinked off behind us. Only when the animated recounting of each attraction gave way to the soft breathing of sleep in the backseat did I leave the time-warp of the day’s festivities.
Days later, my dogs are still barking, my ankles are still screaming, and my voice is still scratchy from the shrieks of pure enjoyment and thrill that were ripped from my lungs. I’m feeling a little old for my age today. But the pains, aches and soreness are a small price to pay for feeling like a little kid for 10 long, sweet hours.