Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: June 1, 2000
Last November I ran a little test, skating from Geneva to Lausanne (60km) in a day with a pack on, and walking, skating and thumbing back the next day. I was curious to see if roller-skates (and I'll break with all elitist tradition here, and call my in-line skates, roller-skates) were a worthwhile addition to one's luggage when travelling.
The whole idea is simple, that skates are portable, much more portable than a bicycle. Which means, for longer stretches you can still hitch rides, and skate the shorter and/or more enjoyable stretched, and also gain wonderful urban mobility when you arrive somewhere. Now I have known people to do all of this with a bicycle. I've even hitched with a bicycle, when I lost 5 spokes at once on a tour up the eastern seaboard of Australia and really had no other way of getting into the next town ... but on the whole, a bicycle really cuts down the number and kind of rides you might hope for. Well, it's all a matter of pros and cons really.
Anyhow, I decided back in November that, well, it's possible, but not as wild as I might have hoped. The whole problem being that luggage really hampers your skating style, turning and braking become much less interesting affairs with a 15kg bag on your back. Not only that, the quality of the road was a most discouraging factor. Many roads are simple so rough as to make your whole body vibrate when skated upon, and/or so narrow as to provide a more intimate relationship with the passing traffic than desired.
But as it happens, leaving Geneva, and the working life behind me, I packed some boxes and sent them home to Australia, and my bag for the hitch to Berlin, where I'd catch up with my long lost girlfriend. I saw little reason in sending my rather old and worn skates back to Australia, where I might see them again in a year or two, so I was looking around for someone with a size 45 shoe and an interest in taking up skating ...
Then I discussed the coming trip with my girl in Berlin, and the order came; down from above; that I was to bring those skates! She had every intention of skating with me in Berlin. Among other things in Berlin they have a fortnightly summer event, called Bladenight, in which as many as 50,000 skaters cruise about 15km in a circuit through central Berlin, along roads closed by the police, to demonstrate for equal rights for skaters! That was an event to catch. Yes, equal rights for skaters! In Germany, skates are considered toys and not permitted on roads legally (as if that stopped anyone) and Bladenight is a kind of march, well roll, in a campaign to gain the same traffic rights for skaters that cyclists enjoy today.
So I hit the road yet again on skates, this time for a 1500km trip. I had a heady agenda. Off to Lausanne, Chateau d'Oex, Fribourg, Bern, Olten, Basel and so on catching up with many folk I'd not seen in two years on account of much work and abroad.
I tried skating down an Alp, with little success. Waaay to fast. When you have control your speed all the time, you're either snaking down hill in very wide loops, across the whole road (which isn't very compatible with traffic) or riding the whole time on one foot, while the other drags a brake along the ground. That gets very tiring very fast. Not only that the road wasn't very clean (in the winter pebbles are spread on the ice for traction, and in the spring the lie on the road till cleaned off), and a pebble jammed in my brakes almost ate away a whole wheel. Now I was rolling on seven ...
Still I skated long stretches on more level country, probably a good 200km of the 1500km to Berlin in the end - mainly in Switzerland and southern Germany. On gentle grades, where the road was good, had a cycleway or a footpath, from one village to the next. It was beautiful weather much of the time, and I scored some beautiful gentle slopes. The kind of road where you can go 10 or 20 km downhill just standing on skates no need to brake, no need to skate, just kind watching the world roll by with a pack on your back a wicked grin on your face and everyone you pass looking or commenting in one way ...
I got a ride into Bern with a guy who also did cross-country skate touring! What a wild coincidence? Life always seems to do this to you when you take it by the horns. I mean how many people do you know, stupid enough to set out across a country on roller-skates with a backpack on? This guy was planning on doing Route 66 across the United States on his K2s! Well, you can imagine we got rapping so hard (something of a challenge for my French) that although he was only going about 2km down the road from where he found me, he took me the 20 odd into Bern, and even drove me to a great road he knew, from where I could do just one of those wicked-grin cruises into town ...Now you'd have to call that fate, wouldn't you?
Well, I made it to Berlin in one piece. Earlier than expected, on account of Easter, and an unexpected long ride most of the way through Germany in one hit. I protested at Bladenight, and my skates, with seven intact wheels, and bit of a bearing service, are still rolling ... I don't think I've revised my view of roller-hitching much, but I've certainly experienced more of the beauty of it, and reckon that with a 10kg bag, and a pair of Hypnos it could be a real dream.
It is after all is said and done an inter-urban style of hitch. The skates are most useful in and around towns, and least useful in rugged country. So if you're doing the city hop thing, love to skate, and to hitch, go for it ... you won't regret it.