KANSAS CITY, Kan. — “I think I see something menacing out there,” said Ken, one of the travel writers on our Extreme Kansas City press trip, as our van turned into the drive at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, Kan. A 79-year-old writer from Tennessee, Ken had been fairly quiet on the first two days of the trip so his quip surprised us and the understated delivery of his words made us laugh.
For those of us preparing to ride Verrückt, ours was a nervous laugh. “Something menacing” looked downright threatening as I walked toward the wooden tower jutting into the otherwise flat landscape. The ride is twice as high as Kansas City code officials normally allow structures. This whole area had been farmland before it was developed a decade ago into Village West, a shopping, dining and entertainment district that is now Kansas’ No. 1 tourism destination.
We were there at 9:45 to go down the slide before the gates opened to the public at 10 a.m. Our guide, Layne, walked us past the line of hundreds waiting to get into the park. They weren’t there to get the first tube for the lazy river; they were there early to ensure they got to go down the world’s tallest water slide that opened in mid-July. As Layne took us through the gate that would be opening in just a few minutes he said, “Excuse me, coming through with some reporters.” A man shouted from the crowd: “Those look like your friends.”
Schlitterbahn is a family-owned and operated company started in New Braunfels, Texas, which has a German heritage, thus the name that translates to “slippery road.” Verrückt means “insane” in German.
Surprisingly, there were no waivers to sign. Instead, a ride staffer read aloud a warning about all that could happen to us on the ride, including “mental damage,” and we had to verbally acknowledge that we understood the risks. We then stood on a scale to determine if our group of three riders fell within the 400 and 550 pound range. We did, so we were given wrist bands and a handwritten No. 1 to represent the first raft of the day.
We were then sent up the tower’s 264 spiral stairway built from recycled railroad tankers. When you reach the top you are higher than Niagara Falls or the Statue of Liberty, and there’s a great view of Kansas Speedway and the Village West development to the west and the Kansas City skyline to the east. It’s hard to appreciate the view, though, when you’re thinking about your options for getting down.
The staff calls a Code 528 (264 steps up + 264 steps down) if a rider chickens out and chooses to walk. Our group decided to follow-through and were asked to step once more on a scale. Both scales we stepped on do not show a weight, just a red or green light.
Even though we’d just met, the three of us had wanted to ride together because neither me or Kathleen wanted to be in front and Tina actually wanted to be in front. We knew that we would be placed in the raft lightest in front to heaviest in back. Just by looking at each other we were certain Tina would get the seat she wanted. I ate a muffin AND a scone for breakfast just in case I needed a couple pounds to make my way to at least the middle seat ;-)
Since we didn’t actually know each others’ weight and the ride staff was insistent we ride in the correct order, I blurted out my weight and we were all able to take our spots in the raft. I ended up in the middle seat, which turned out to be the driest spot!
Once seated in the rubber raft that is on a conveyor belt, I was instructed to pull two velcro straps across myself. Just to be safe, I asked one of the ride staff to make sure I was strapped in correctly. I wanted to be strapped in as tight as possible! At this point, my breathing was getting pretty quick. I was trying to think of ways to stall us from going…asking questions. I don’t recall all that was said to us but what I do remember is: hold onto the rope or handles that line the inside of the raft and do not put your arms up or outside the raft at any time. Seriously, someone is going to do that?!? I was white-knuckling the “oh-shit” handles as soon as I saw them in the raft.
Kathleen, seated behind me, said exactly what I was thinking: “Shit. Shit. Shit. Why do I do this?”
As I was sitting in the raft 168 feet and 7 inches above the ground, all I could see in front of us was sky. No ride structure, no water … just sky and netting. That meant this ride was going straight down. This was the mental damage portion of the ride.
“Shit. Shit. Shit. Why do I do this?”
A gate swung open and our raft moved forward, slowly at first and then there was a push and suddenly our entire raft tilted down. It felt like being at the edge of a building and being pushed over the side. The screaming started immediately and I was determined to keep my eyes open even though the instinct was to shut them. At some point, water was spraying in my face but I tried to keep at least one eye open.The front and back passengers got wet but not completely soaked. My hair got a little wet on one side and my feet and legs got wet when stepping into the pool of water at the end of the ride to get out.
What did I see? Nothing that I can remember! The entire ride is over in 18 seconds and travels the distance of two football fields. That’s a lot of blur.
Here’s what Schlitterbahn officials tell me I did:
- that very first terrifying part was a free-fall of 17 stories in 4 seconds. We were traveling at a 60-degree angle and at about 50 miles per hour.
- the raft hit a 22-degree dip and slowed down before blaster jets propelled us up a 55-foot hill that is considered the world’s largest uphill water slide. What goes up must come down, so there was then a 5-story plummet to end the ride.
Before I traveled from Wichita to Kansas City to ride Verrückt, I had several people shake their heads when I told them what I was doing. Someone swore there was no netting on the ride. Several told me about video they’d watched of rafts launching in one direction and riders being tossed in another direction on the hill portion of the ride. Many told me they would pee themselves if they went on the ride. All of this was fueled by the fact that the ride opening had been postponed from Memorial Day to mid-July.
(1) There is netting.
(2) That video was during development of the ride and before $1 million in design revisions were incorporated. Schlitterbahn likes to say the ride is “safe dangerous.”
(3) I did not pee myself.
After I had stopped screaming and the ride had stopped, my first reaction was: I would totally ride Verrückt again!
So are you ready to do it??? If so, you have only this weekend to get your scream on. The park closes after Labor Day and reopens in May 2015.
<photo> Our group on the initial drop. This is about where your brain and vocal cords sync up and the screaming starts.
<photo> Our group nearing the base of the drop; the raft plummets 17 stories in 4 seconds on this part of the ride.
<photo> Our group blasting down the 5-story hill, which is considered the tallest uphill water slide.
<photo> This photo is courtesy of Schlitterbahn because we were not allowed to take our cameras with us on the ride. I wanted you to see what it was like on the most terrifying part of the ride…right before you free-fall.
Disclosure: I was invited to ride Verrückt as part of a press trip; however, all opinions are my own. Schlitterbahn did not tell me to tell you I didn’t pee my pants. I really didn’t pee my pants.