Disneyland is like Alice stepping through the looking glass; to step through the portals of Disneyland will be like entering another world. -Walt Disney
On July 17th, 1955, Walt Disney achieved his dream, opening his park to great fanfare in Anaheim California. At the time of its founding there was no other amusement park like it in the world, and one could argue, ever since. Even though it has often been imitated, expanded and duplicated by both the Disney company itself and their competitors.
Disneyland stands out as a wholly unique experience, authored out of the unique vision of a complicated and at times controversial paragon of his time.
But, is this hiking?
To be honest, dear reader, the point could be argued either way. I spent a total of four days in the park, some days totaling 16 hours or more, with my Garmin Instinct clocking over 11 miles for each day. In that spirit alone it is definitely a hike, or, as we have jokingly called it here at the house, The Disney Death March. Arriving at 0800 full of energy, a hot day under the California sun slowly whittles you down as you move from ride to ride until you return to your hotel room well past midnight, only to flop into bed and do it all over again the next day.
Vacation! Fun! Rides!
See also, soreness, acetaminophen, and mysterious bruises…
For those that have never been, it’s truly hard to capture how effectively the park can manipulate your perception. Entering through the main gate, you face a giant wall of flowers, with two tunnel-like entrances that take you under the train station. Nothing else is visible going forward, save for those two entrances.
Above each is a plaque, informing you that you are about to enter another world…
Emerging out the other side, I found myself in what could have been any town square from early 20th century America, save that far down it, rests a beautiful castle that would be perfectly at home anywhere in Europe.
It’s subtly disorienting and breaks up your perception. I can remember my first time there, feeling almost uneasy, because the park has a feeling of curated reality that’s just slightly out of phase with the one I’m accustomed to, all the while also serving as a type of liminal space.
People are always, always, moving at Disneyland, often in great knots and throngs as they move from ride to ride. Some are in costumes, many were dressed like Jedi or Sith from the recent Star Wars movies.
Looking back, once on the other side of the tunnel, standing on Main Street, the main gates are not visible. The rest of the world is not visible, there is only Disneyland, but it doesn’t stop there.
Merging into the morass of human activity, descending down Main Street, the castle grows ever larger, until you see a statue of the man himself, Walt Disney, holding hands with his iconic creation, Mickey Mouse.
The statue represents a type of nexus, or hub, to the various worlds of Disneyland, from Adventureland, patterned after the jungle and tiki themed movies of the 1950s, to Tomorrowland, based off the pop sci-fi of the same era.
No matter which way you choose, you cross a bridge, go through the Castle portcullis, or enter under an archway, as the scenery and theming subtly shifts until you find yourself, yet again, in another world perfectly curated to represent what it’s supposed to be.
Stopping to think about it, it feels eerie, as if you have actually entered into a world of magic and wonder, a place where anything can happen and reality is fully mutable.
It is no wonder that rumors and ghost stories about the park abound. However, to most people, this seems to pass by without notice. Everyone seems distracted, hopped up on park food, and preoccupied with their own fun as they move quickly from ride to ride, or more often, line to line.
It’s all rhythms, the specially curated scenery shifting around you. Get off the ride, scurry to the next, wait, ride… repeat… over and over, as the day gets hotter, and the miles grow longer, until it can have a strange kind of hypnotic effect, as the day descends into a blur of experience.
These factors, to me, are what make Disneyland a hiking experience. As I said in the Urban Runner, it does not have to be a solely remote, rural activity to far flung locations.
Hiking is about adventure, and challenge, pushing your limits, and trading on your exertion for unique experiences, and in this respect, Disney certainly fits the bill. Everyone has their favorite ride, their reason for visiting, and ends up curating their own adventure. No two people experience the park in the same way, which is, I feel the secret to its success.
It makes the impossible, accessible, and real in a way no one else has ever been able to replicate. Which makes the park the stuff of both dreams… and nightmares.
Be certain to catch the Amazon release of Ghosts of the Nightmare Gods– out August 29th!