Best to begin with what Wild River Country is not. It is neither wild, nor river, nor country. Dear readers, despite your vote, it is not the "Best Place to Swim." Actual swimming, while possible, borders on downright rude. The pools are packed with teenagers screaming, flirting and doing the Dougie. Wild River Country is for them. It is not for people seeking summer relaxation. It is not for grumps, scolds, cynics or agoraphobes. WRC is not the place for caution or quiet. Grownups are welcome, but a grownup state of mind is not.
On a recent Saturday, my wife and I braved the hordes and spent an afternoon at the Country. It had been years since either of us had been to a water park. It will likely be years before we return. We splished and splashed, got proper sunburns, and stoked our endorphins. Despite the fact that we are well past 16 years old and were stone-cold sober, we had a pretty good time. Here is our report.
PEOPLE WATCHING: Will the woman with a "Love see's not with the eyes but with the heart" tattoo one day face the decision of whether to pay for apostrophe removal? Outside the confines of a water park, will the guy with the sunburn line perfectly forming the shape of a tank top go shirtless and fool people into thinking he's actually wearing a tank top?
WRC PRO-TIP ONE: Bring water shoes. Flip-flops are liable to fly off on the rides but good Lord, the concrete is unrelentingly hot if you go barefoot. We kept thinking we'd get used to it. Nope. On the plus side, the goal here is to get in touch with your inner child, and few things are as infantilizing as hopping from shadow to shadow, screaming "ouch" every time your feet hit the sunlit ground.
THE LINES: This is the core problem with water parks. It's hot, so you want to go on a ride and get wet! But so does everyone else! A pie chart depicting the amount of time we spent in line and the amount of time we spent on rides would probably be depressing. Especially when you spend the slow climb up the stairs behind grown men telling multiple strip-joint stories with the same "I'm not drunk enough for that" punch line. My suggestion is to keep in mind that the seconds of fun awaiting you are in fact more rewarding after the minutes of aggravated waiting. Think of Emily Dickinson: "To comprehend a nectar requires sorest need."
WRC PRO-TIP TWO: Sneak in booze. Let's grant that it would be a completely terrible idea for a water park to sell alcohol but let's also grant that grown folks are probably going to have a better time at a water park if they're a bit sauced.
THE WAVE POOL: Pass. The wave pool is not our scene. We were all ready to be nostalgic but they don't even play "Wipeout" when the waves come anymore. Two points on the wave pool: 1) The number of personal-injury attorneys with online advertisements specifically referencing wave-pool accidents would freak me out if I was one of the lifeguards. But to their credit, the lifeguards were some of the least freaked-out people you could ever care to see. 2) As you enter the pool, you have to step over the deeply bronzed people sunning on the "beach" — the painted slab of concrete by the water. Or if you're a child, you jump over them and splash them with pool water. If the Times had a "Worst Place to Sunbathe" category, the wave pool beach would beat out the I-40 median.
LORD OF THE FLIES: Water parks are not just for teens, but run by teens. Other than the very unhappy-looking dude cooking hamburgers (by the way, it seems really cruel that he had to wear a black uniform as he stood over a giant grill in 95-degree heat), every single employee was a teenager. There probably aren't that many large operations that would be well served by bored, adolescent managers making eyes at each other, but I have to say, WRC does all right.
WRC PRO-TIP THREE: Sneak in snacks. Sometimes people actually get a hankering for the "World Famous Chicken Tenders Combo" and pay the full $30 admission to WRC just to get their hands on that delicious chicken plate. Just kidding! The food is heinous.
THE RIDES: So yeah, it's hot and there's a lot of waiting and the whole place smells like coconut suntan lotion. But you know what's fun? Sliding down the water, by inner tube or by bottom, and landing in a pool. That's fun.
We may be creaky-kneed adults who are a little scared of heights, but we were undaunted. We tried every ride in the park. We rode the twists and turns of the Pipeline and the free fall of the Accelerator. We braved the darkness of the Vortex. We labored through the butt skidding and foot cramming of the Wild River Rapids. We wondered about the oddly humid section of the Cyclone. I experienced genuine fear on Black Lightning and White Lightning, which are not intended to be scary. But you slide down an open-air shoot, and as I swung up the sides, back and forth, I became convinced that the physics weren't designed for adults and I would fly out into the trees. I nearly crushed my elbow bracing myself to be tossed into the wilderness.
Our final turn was on Vertigo, the one ride I distinctly remember from previous trips to WRC. For some reason they chickened out and didn't call this "The Toilet" but the genius premise is that you slide straight down a thin, steep, enclosed tube and then are shot out at high speed into a giant bowl, where you spin round and round until you plop into the water. Vertigo is WRC's masterpiece. Glorious spin, inglorious plop.
I'll admit it, we still felt the rush of adrenaline on the ride home. Or it might have been the sting of chlorine. Either way, it was summer time in the U.S.A., and we were riding high.