Life’s Funny

Mazed and Confused

Corny but true

By Maria Johnson

Thereís something about this time of year — maybe it’s the golden light of evening, or the first kiss of frost — that makes me want to wander around in a corn maze for a couple of hours until the sweat trickles down my dusty, bug-plastered face and I start to cry.

OK, I’m exaggerating.

I didn’t cry.

But I did go through the Maize Adventure at Kersey Valley in Archdale, thanks to owner Tony Wohlgemuth, who allowed me to bring a friend and try out his 10-acre corn maze before this year’s official opening.

My meandering companion was someone who, as it turned out, has a sense of direction that rivals my own: my friend and colleague Cindy Adams.

Perhaps we should have taken the clue when we got lost while driving to the maze.

“Wherever we are, it’s pretty,” said Cindy as we toured southeastern Guilford County.

We pressed on. Finally, we arrived at Kersey Valley, an adventure park that Tony has built on the 60-acre farm where he and his parents, immigrants from Switzerland, landed in 1979. Tony was 9 years old.

He planted the seeds of his business at age 15, when he and some buddies made a haunted house out of a former caretaker’s quarters.

Today, Kersey Valley has grown to include year-round attractions including nature education for school kids; a ropes course; a zip line; a laser tag venue; and escape rooms (locked rooms that challenge groups to find the clues to escape).

Spooky Woods — including the original haunted house — runs full steam this time of year. So do the low-scare attractions: a pumpkin patch; giant inflated jumping pillows; and trampolines with bungee harnesses.

Then there’s the corn maze, which Tony added 16 years ago.

In case you’ve been living inside a crop circle and don’t know, corn mazes are labyrinths carved into cornfields by tractors using computer programs linked to satellites. The mazes can be intricate and artistic.

From the air, Kersey Valley’s design this year looks like butterflies and flowers.

From the ground, it looks like . . . corn.

Tony briefed us at the maze entrance.

The challenge, he said, was to win a game inside the maze.

He handed each of us a scratch-off card. When we found six checkpoints inside the maze, we were to insert the cards into a template and scratch off to reveal points. The person who finishes with the most points wins.

Tony showed us a map of the maze and encouraged us to memorize the 3.4 miles of trails. Cindy and I stared at the whorls.

Cindy whipped out her phone to take a picture of the map.

“That’s kind of cheating,” Tony said.

“No,” Cindy corrected him. “It IS cheating.”

Tony told us other ways that scofflaws have tried to beat maze — by taking shortcuts through the inner walls and by breaching the outer walls.

Cindy and I nodded gravely. Cheating bad.

Tony pointed out two bridgelike observation decks high inside the maze. If we needed to get oriented, we could climb up on the bridges and look around.

How long would it take us to get through the maze?

“If you’re fast, maybe an hour,” Tony said. “But we’ve had people in there as long as three hours. We really don’t know this year. You’re the first ones to go through.”

As the sun dropped toward the tree line, Tony recounted how they used to open the maze at night, but they stopped having evening hours for the general public because it would be time for the employees to go home, and there would still be customers’ cars in the parking lot.

“Well,” said Tony. “Have fun. Watch out for snakes.”

“What kind of snakes?” I asked.

“Corn snakes and green snakes, usually,” he said.

“Usually?” I asked.

“Call me when you get out!” he said.

I want you to know that Cindy and I tried to do the maze honestly. We really did. We trudged around full of virtue for, oh, two or three minutes.

Then we began parting stalks and taking short cuts.

We used the map on Cindy’s phone.

We used the compasses on both our phones.

We climbed the bridges to reckon where the checkpoints were relative to the bridges.

After an hour-and-a-half, we stopped. It was getting dark, and Cindy had told enough snake stories to scare the bejesus out of both of us.

We’d found five of the six checkpoints, and I’d amassed 870 points.

We don’t know how many points Cindy collected. She “lost” her card before we got back to the car. This much we do know: She kept scratching off negative points, denoted by a boot symbol.

“Shucks!” Cindy said every time she got the boot.

She didn’t really say that. But the word she used was similar.

In the end, we agreed that going through a corn maze was a little like shopping with a friend: You walk down lots of aisles. Some are fruitful, some are not. The point is to go with someone you enjoy, and get the hell out before the place closes.

Back home, we told our astonished husbands that we’d set the record for best time and most points scored at the maze so far this year.

A kernel of truth goes a long way.  OH

Maria Johnson is the corniest contributing editor O.Henry has ever had. Find out more about Tony Wohlgemuth’s adventure empire at kerseyvalley.com

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