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Touring Penn State Campus Segway Style

by on July 24, 2013 6:45 AM

There were probably not many people who were excited by a simple “help wanted” posting a few months back for local Segway tour guides.

Though not in the job market myself, the ad was the first tip-off that those odd-looking people movers were coming to the area. I have a modest bucket list ... taking a hot air balloon ride, traveling abroad, and, among other things, mastering a Segway.

I remember when the Segway was introduced to the public in 2001. The manufacturer predicted that everyone would soon own (or at least want to own) one and that it would revolutionize transportation.

Environmental advocates touted the Segway’s zero-emissions. Enthusiasts bragged that they were easy enough for anyone to ride.

But they were also bulky and expensive and, even though they seemed pretty cool, the impracticality of actually using a Segway for daily living and traveling long distances hurt their reputation.

They were relegated to supporting roles in movies like Kevin James’ “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.” Watching a guy occasionally whip down my street on a Segway was the closest I’ve come to riding one myself.

But then, a few years ago, Rod Frazier and his wife Drueanne took a sightseeing tour in Chicago on Segways. After riding them elsewhere and realizing that a similar tour would fit perfectly into our pedestrian-friendly town, Rod opened Happy Valley Tours, currently operating out of a small office at Tussey Mountain.

Yesterday was my lucky day. After checking out the Segways at a State College Spikes game over the weekend, I booked a three-hour Blue/White tour, designed to take me through campus and skirt along downtown.

But first, I had to learn to ride it.

I’d like to say it was easy, and it honestly was once I got the hang of it. But it was also intimidating. I was worried that I might hit someone, fall off, or crash. I did none of these.

The tour starts with an orientation to the Segway and hands-on instructions. I erred on the side of caution when it came to changing direction and speed, which meant neither pedestrians nor equipment were hurt during the tour.

Happy Valley Tours says it has a 100 percent success rate at teaching new riders how to use a Segway, but I can only imagine how awkward I looked during that initial orientation in the Tussey parking lot.

As everyone told me, riding a Segway is intuitive. The balancing act is not unlike riding a bike, but the Segway responds better to subtle movements. Shifting your body weight and adjusting pressure on the handlebars moves the Segway where you want it to go.

We started our tour near Beaver Stadium and by the time we got to the Wagner Building, I felt like I knew what I was doing. I didn’t, of course, but I was confident anyway.

Going up the ramp to the IST Building was my favorite part because I felt like I was in control of the Segway and it naturally went a bit slower. Going downhill, though, was always scarier. The 12 miles-per-hour seems a lot faster on an incline and I was worried that the Segway would slip right out from under my feet.

My tour guide Tom Carroll, who is also a Lion Ambassador, is a Segway enthusiast who possesses a wealth of knowledge about the Penn State campus.

My excitement about the tour was more about using the Segway and less about the surroundings, but Tom had us zipping in and out of courtyards and pathways that I’ve never seen before. The speed of the tour allowed us to make one big loop around campus, with stops at the HUB, the Allen Street gates, and the Creamery.

Aside from two breaks, we were moving for the whole three hours and I learned that there is no standing still on a Segway. It’s a lot like swimming in deep water — even when you just tread water, you’re still in constant motion.

My tour also reinforced the fact that Penn Staters have seen it all. There was very little attention paid to our group, not even from the squirrels.

I was worried that I’d look stupid riding a Segway with the big-but-mandatory helmet and I probably did, but the tour itself was so much fun, I didn’t care.

Holly Swanson is a State College-based freelance writer. She is on Twitter @statecollegemom and can be reached via email at [email protected]
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