Geoffrey's Journal: Adventures In Aging

Geoffrey's Journal: Adventures In Aging

Chestnut Mountain in Galena, Illinois
Geoffrey stands atop a ski run at Chestnut Mountain in Galena, Illinois. Photo by Erica Gunderson

I'm young at heart. But this project has made me realize I'm not so young of body any more. As I looked forward to our summer of travels, I was excited about doing some of the things I've enjoyed in the past: roller coasters, waterslides, snow skiing, water skiing, snowmobiling. Thing is… it's been a good ten years since I did any of that, and in some cases more like 30 years. And our youthful producer Eddie Griffin seemed to delight in choosing the most extreme options.

Take the Wisconsin Dells, for example. I'm not a huge fan of the hokey kitsch the Dells is known for (New Yorker Magazine called it "Las Vegas for tweens"). But when I learned it's the "Waterpark Capital of the World" (seriously... it's registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office), I couldn't wait! Then I looked in the mirror. OK, I no longer have the physique to be photographed bare-chested. So I bought a swimming shirt. Our first stop in the Dells was Noah's Ark, which claims to be the largest outdoor water park in the nation. There were all kinds of swooping and twisting slides. But Eddie made a beeline for something called the Point of No Return. It's essentially a ten-story-tall playground slide with a nearly vertical drop for much of its length. On my very first ride, I got a big scrape down my back. And then we had to do take two, which involved climbing back up the 10 stories and trying to position my back to avoid turning the scrape into a gash.

Geoffrey rides down the Point of No Return at Noah's Ark in the Wisconsin Dells
Geoffrey rides down the Point of No Return at Noah's Ark in the Wisconsin Dells. Photo by Erica Gunderson

Other slides there and at the vast indoor/outdoor Kalahari Waterpark were much more fun for someone my age, especially when riding in giant inner tubes. Maybe the most fun was when our cameraman Tim Boyd took his maiden trip down a waterslide with me in a two-person tube. Tim (who, like me, is in his 60s) was a bit leery, especially because he would be going down backwards carrying a waterproof GoPro camera. But within moments, he was laughing his head off.

Alas, Eddie wasn't finished. At Kalahari, I was next sealed into a clear plastic cylinder at the top of the Screaming Hyena. There's a countdown, and then the floor drops out from under you. It was another near-vertical plunge, and no one warned me to plug my nose at the bottom. Well, at least my sinuses are now cleared for the foreseeable future.

Finally, Eddie strapped a GoPro to my chest and sent me down the Tanzanian Twister. You end up in a large bowl at the bottom with a hole in the middle. After a few revolutions, I fell through the hole like a sack of potatoes into the catch pool below, a grand finale Tim captured from the side of the pool in all its ungainly glory.

Geoffrey attempts to water ski in Sister Lakes, Michigan.
Geoffrey attempts to water ski in Sister Lakes, Michigan. Photo by Erica Gunderson

We scheduled a waterskiing scene at Michigan's Sister Lakes where Eddie's cousin Jeff has a summer house. The one and only time I had previously waterskied was in 1980 when I was in my 20s. And, if I do say so myself, I got the hang of it right away. So I was pretty confident. (For spoiler alert, see reference above to "young at heart/old of body"). First, I was somewhat surprised to see that Jeff would be towing me from the back of a pontoon boat. I had no idea a party barge could go fast enough to spill a drink, but apparently Jeff has towed many skiers (including Eddie). From the moment I lowered myself into the water I knew I was in trouble. As I struggled to put on my skis, I rolled over on my side and let go of the tow rope. With skis finally on, I wobbled like an overturned turtle while Jeff patiently circled around and threw the rope back to me. We gave it three tries. Each time I barely got my shoulders out of the water before losing my grip and doing a humiliating splashdown. The third time, I felt a pulled muscle (don't ask me which one) and wisely said we were done. We switched to Plan B: a shot of me being towed in a big inner tube with a beer cooler beside me, chugging a cold one. Mercifully, Eddie decided to leave the whole embarrassing affair on the editing room floor.

Geoffrey dries off after a failed waterskiing attempt in Sister Lakes, Michigan.
Geoffrey dries off after a failed waterskiing attempt in Sister Lakes, Michigan. Photo by Erica Gunderson

As for the roller coaster at Indiana Beach, suffice it to say my over-60 middle ear isn't what it used to be. No, I didn't lose my lunch (actually I made sure not to eat lunch before taping that scene). But I walked off the coaster feeling woozy and a little beaten up.

Geoffrey smiles gamely after a harrowing roller coaster ride with Producer Eddie Griffin at Indiana Beach in Monticello, Indiana
Geoffrey smiles gamely after a harrowing roller coaster ride with Producer Eddie Griffin at Indiana Beach in Monticello, Indiana. Photo by Geoffrey Baer

As I write this, we just finished taping me snow skiing at Chestnut Mountain in Galena, and I'm happy to say I didn't break any bones. Despite the fact that Eddie chose the steepest slope for the big final shot of me skiing off into the sunset. (Hey, it has the best view!) As it turned out, my old skiing skills came back like riding a bicycle and I had only one epic wipe-out. Naturally, Tim captured that one, too. We'll save it for the outtakes reel. Now we're headed for Wisconsin's Northwoods, the "Snowmobile Capital of the World" (another registered trademark). Wish me luck!