The Road to Rollergirl How I Stopped Being a Roller Wannabe and Started Being a Rollergirl


Free, Wheelin’

For years, I had heard that a giant forest preserve park near my home has a lovely, paved, no-cars-allowed road running through it that would be a good place to skate. I usually skate elsewhere, but today was a blessed reprieve from the recent heatwave, so I thought I would hit the trail. Problem was, the park is over 500 acres of greenbelt, and I had no idea where the entrance to the trail was.

The road less traveled (by cars).

I approached the park at a point I had been to before, a wild bridle path, hoping the road's entrance would be nearby. The engraved wooden park map made no sense to me at all, so I strapped on my skates and set off on the sidewalk forming the perimeter of the park. About 20 feet away is a short, steep slope covered by loose gravel -- not a great start. Picking my way down the incline on my toe-stops, I hold onto a low stone wall for stability. Rollergirl indeed, I think to myself.

Once past the gravel, it isn't so bad; just gentle waves of mostly-clear sidewalk. I has been a long time since I skated outdoors on anything other than blacktop, so I am willing my shins to unclench themselves, my toes to release their death grip. I skate for what feels like forever, coming to the apparent end of the park. This can't be right, the start of the path is supposed to be on this road. My choices at this point: cross six lanes of traffic over gravelly, potholed road with uncontrolled highway entrance ramps, to a sidewalk that climbs a hill, or turn the corner and stay on the sidewalk that borders the park. The corner looks like the better option, but the person who told me about the road was certain, totally certain, that it was across the perilous intersection. I choose the six lanes.

At best, this is an ordeal. I am cursing under my breath as I trip and slide my way down curbcuts and through gravel. I am saying silent prayers as I toe-stop walk over mangled blacktop. I am loudly and openly blaspheming as cars move past close enough to tousle the hair on my un-helmeted head as I scramble to a spot on the sidewalk that isn't smashed to rocks. Cars honk and people stare as I push my way up the hill, avoiding the damaged parts of the sidewalk and weeds pushing up through the cracks.

It is at the top of the hill where I finally say fuck this and take off my skates. The sidewalk in front of me treacherous and the park entrance nowhere in sight, enough is enough. The sidewalk can have my dignity, I'm keeping my ankles. As I continue down the sidewalk, it is clear to me that there is no way I could have continued on my skates. I have no idea where I'm going, and I wander down other paths just hoping to find my way back to where I started. One path opens into a clearing and comes to a dead end. There it is: a beautiful, pristine forest road, not 50 yards around the corner from where I stood and decided to cross the highway. I'm here already, so I may as well skate some more.

Getting started is like dipping into a warm bath as my body relaxes into a stride and sits further down in my stance. I begin to understand the language of the road, its dips and curves. More comfortable, I lean into the curves and cut wide slaloms around pedestrians. I'm moving fast, impossibly fast, through a lush forest on a perfect summer afternoon. Beads of sweat form on my skin, collect, and run down my face and body. Right now, the sensual thrill of it is better than music, better than food, better than sex.  I can do anything, I will skate forever.

The trouble with hills is that the place where you are moving fastest on them is also the place where the rain washes silt and rocks. Trying to avoid an elderly pedestrian, I hit a patch of silt and -- a miracle -- I fall into a perfect single knee slide. I can see the astonishment on the faces of the onlookers, and someone shouts to me, but I'm gone, baby, gone, up and away in a split second. I am fucking invincible.

Even though I have to end the run in a hopefully-badass-looking two-knee slide to keep from skidding into traffic at the bottom of the hill where the road ends, I am sorry when it's over. As I unlace, and pack up, I think about the lessons I've learned -- from this run that was thisclose to not happening -- the same ones I'm always learning:

  • When the time is wrong, your skates are cement shoes, a liability dragging you to the bottom of the ocean. When the time is right, they are your ticket to freedom. Know the difference, know when enough is enough.
  • Listen to your instincts. Listen to the wisdom of others, but depart from their path if it doesn't feel right for you. You are accountable to others, but responsible for yourself.
  • Trust your training. Be smart, but try not to think too hard -- let the muscle memory kick in.
  • And, gurl, wear your damned helmet.
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  1. Excellent points!

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