Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: November 1, 1999
Ever since I took up roller-skating again at the start of last summer I began to wonder if I might take them along on long trip. The idea had come up on a bulletin board or two before, and I have to admit, the idea of portable transport to get me out of urban areas and/or casually cruising beautiful country roads between hitches, is one that holds its appeal.
But just how practical is the idea? Is it possible to roller-skate with a pack on, with a tent and all, for that touch of freedom and flexibility? How do skates fare in the long haul? How many kilometres are too many? How about carrying the skates when you're not riding them?
All this and more I set out to answer on September weekend. I'd sold my motorbike, and was feeling mighty confined without any transport one sunny weekend, when the wanderlust just got the better of me ... So I packed my bag, tent and gear and hit the road on skates just see how far I could get in a day or two before hitching back.
I could barely stand up on skates at the start of summer, let alone execute advanced manoeuvres like turning and stopping. But it was a long summer and I'd come a long way, I was even skating backwards, and pulling the odd trick or two. Most impressive skill I'd acquired was how to fall over though. I was doing less and less of it (falling over that is) but more importantly was less and less afraid of it, having rolled a few times, stood up and kept going almost on the same momentum. The body is an amazing thing like that, it picks up sense of balance and reflex that it's own brain can only marvel at. Let's just say that controlled falling is something the brain can describe well before the body can execute it. But this isn't to be an essay on roller-skating.
No, I packed a 50 litre backpack (no waist-belt) with a sleeping bag, a change of clothes, some food and water, tied an inflatable mattress and my pup-tent to the top, donned my skates and headed out along the Route-de-Lac, a fairly flat road following the coast of lake Geneva (with mountains all around me I thought I'd start with the easy road).
First thing I noticed was no more fancy stuff. O.K. I wasn't a star performer yet anyway, but even a turning stop with a bag on you back isn't an option really. Your hard won sense of balance is thrown right out. Even braking hard any way you can leaves you with a pack thrust against the back of your head. You're really confined to powering straight ahead, the luggage really depriving you of much of the joy that was skating.
Having overcome that initial disappointment though, I have to admit it proved fairly easy. I took the tent for two reasons really - to test the comfort of luggage over distance on skates, and because I had no idea how far I'd get, or if I'd not expire somewhere on the way desirous of nothing more than to crash in some field in my tent and sleep.
As it turns out I made the 60 odd kilometres to Lausanne without much complaint from the body. Sure I stopped at every village, took a drink, nibbled some, read a chapter in the book I'd brought and so on, but then I wasn't racing, I was touring. Even so, within 8 hours I'd covered the road to Lausanne, clocking up some 3 hours of idle time and 5 of skating - putting my average at 12 km/hr (7.5 mph). I had one sore spot on my left foot, and was a little puffed but otherwise, surprised myself.
I caught up with some friends in Lausanne, all incredulous of the feat, then went to a castle (La Sarraz) where a friend was guiding tours, to spend the morning, before heading home. My sore spot had turned into a blister over night, so I figured I'd hitch back. Instead, on seeing an inviting sign I spent 2 hours walking through the woods (I'd packed a pair of sandles) to Cossonay, where I hitched a few short rides onwards. My third (and last) ride of the day, a rather attractive and outgoing middle-aged woman took me to a privately owned local castle I'd not heard of nor seen in my two years here, upon which Disney apparently based the Disneyland castle (it's in Vufflens by Morges for the curious). She took me home for a while to drink some, nibble some and then drive me as far as she could on her way to visit someone.
That left me in a village uphill some, so I donned my skates again and skated the 6 km to Gingins to visit a friend I knew wouldn't be home. She wasn't, but I spent a while chatting with her hosts (she's an au pair) who told me all about the quiet, slightly downhill roads to Geneva, which I subsequently skated (some 30 km). Here's the map I sketched on my Psion:
I powered home with more energy than I thought I had, arrived home, threw off my sweat drenched shirt and cracked a cold beer. Thank the Lord for cold beer!
Verdict: Roller-hitching is feasible, but not so wild really.
I did notice a strong improvement in my balance on the second day, and suspect the most of the initial imbalance (on account of luggage) will wear off, as that amazing sense of balance the human body has kicks into gear. But ultimately the skates prove heavy to carry when you're not on them, the luggage proves a burden when you are, and unless you plan to skate a lot of quiet country roads (which is beautiful) it's probably not worth the trouble. Skating with my luggage did prove easier in the end than walking with it, but then I'm no famous walker!
Skating of trafficked roads is not such fun really, footpaths and cycleways are good, but skates are ultimately limited to the smoother of all three. As soon as the road gets rough skating is a little like sitting on a mile high vibrator I guess - makes for good visual effects but not much comfort. Either that or it's a game of dodge the trip-me-up pothole ...
I think if you had a good pair of skates that went over ordinary shoes and could put them on and take them off easily (mine are lace ups) then the whole deal would be a little more attractive. You'd save considerable weight (the skates not having a shoe of their own) as well. I've seen inline skates like that of late but have no experience to share.
Oh, and I'm not sure most skates are built for such trekking. The 90 km I put on mine left a very noticeable effect on the wheels, indeed I all but demolished one when a stone got jammed between the wheel and brake and shredded it ... If you love your skates, don't go on any cross country hikes with them!