The incredible true story of the Epcot Horizons superfans who ruled the ride

In 1995, after a year-long closure, Disney re-opened Horizons, the GE-sponsored original Epcot ride devoted to showcasing different ideas about the future, a kind of heir to the Futurama at the 1939 New York World's Fair; fearing the ride was likely to be shuttered soon, two Epcot superfans began covertly exploring and documenting the ride, figuring out its ways and means until they learned how to penetrate it and hide from Disney employees while sneaking in their friends and having little celebrations.

Lucky for them, they never got trapped in the ride's potentially lethal carousel mechanism, though they did acquire some scrapes and bruises. More importantly, they discovered and documented a hidden world of half-finished rooms, dirty graffiti, and super-cool animatronics and effects. They had the run of the ride for four years, and only got caught once (they escaped, thanks to their encyclopedic knowledge of the ride's rat-runs).

Over the course of the next several months Hoot and Chief had mastered their technique, meeting at EPCOT in the evening after a long day of work at the office. They got very good at knowing how much time they could spend in each scene simply by doing it over and over. But soon this became boring and repetitive; they wanted to explore the ride more, and make it to some of the areas they weren't able to get to. This began Phase II of their efforts, exiting their ride vehicles and staying inside Horizons while it was operational, sometimes for as long as 4-8 hours at a time!

Finally free to explore and hang out in the ride as long as they wanted, the duo went deep behind the scenes into the "guts" of the ride. They were surprised to find huge empty rooms, amazingly high catwalks, dirty Flintstone cartoons scrawled on the walls, empty beer cans from 1983, even a "Scent Cannon" used to create the smell of orange "citrus blossom." A weird abandoned maintenance room soon became their "base camp" where they could set down their equipment, go on little trips to take pictures, record audio, etc. and then come back without having to lug their backpacks and gear with them everywhere they went. This process became so routine that they quickly became totally familiar and comfortable with their environment as they ate dinner there and washed themselves in the Mesa Verde Kitchen scene's waterfall. They even began inviting some of their friends along on their adventures including "Sunnycide" (Hoot's girlfriend who years later became his wife and still is to this day), "Bionic Fonzi" (webmaster of the best Horizons tribute website at the time), and their pal Spike Tripper.

[Doug Jones/Dangerous Minds]