The Joy and Anguish of Rollerskiing
I hit the ground before I even recognized the loss of balance.
With a flyswatter impact, I lay there like the crumpled remains of an insect: legs, arms, poles in every direction.
In my youth, I would have sprung to my feet, simultaneously dusting myself off and glancing around in fear of a witnesses to my awkward collapse. That was the reaction of my twenties, when avoiding embarrassment was paramount. Now in my forties, I lay motionless in a crumpled wad waiting for the throes of agony to begin.
Blinking eyes revealed only the blackness of the pavement. A few more minutes ticked by. With no onset of lightning pain, I moved and gingerly returned to my feet. Another body check, a few rips and tears, but everything more or less okay.
All rollerskis are equipped with a clever design that allows the wheels to scoop up road gravel and bring the operator to an instant halt. In my faster days, I learned there is a critical speed which, once attained, seems to send the gravel hurtling into the woods with a projectile hum. However, if you’re a fraction of a second off the magic velocity, the flyswatter impact can render you unconscious.
Approximately five minutes after the crash, the adrenaline had evaporated and it was time to continue.
“Hopefully that’s my last crash of the season!”
Famous last words.
Every year, that darn Birkie lingers on the horizon, and more and more it’s becoming impossible to find enough snow to ski yourself into shape. I know from experience that hitting the winter months and hoping to achieve form on snow is a recipe for agony. No matter how much time you spend in the gym or on the bike or running, there’s nothing quite like cross-country skiing. For Birkie survival, rollerskiing is critical. However to get the fullest benefit out of the great sport of road-rash and mild concussions, there are a few laws to remember and obey.
Rollerski Law #1: Get Fit, While Avoiding Injury
No other fitness activity has as high a potential for ridiculous crashes as roller skiing. The skis are unstable, they don’t have brakes, they’re tiny and the wheels are prone to jamming. It seems like the second you relax and think, “I can do this,” you accidentally pole between your legs and go flipping like a pancake. I realize skiers are workout warriors, but if there ever was a time to exercise caution, it’s during rollerski season. Do yourself a favor and dial it back a little bit. The objective is to arrive at snow ready, not disabled.
Rollerski Law #2: Wear a Helmet
Rollerskiing is such a fringe activity that folks who come across you while driving will often stop their cars and throw you perplexed looks. Many people haven’t even heard of rollerskiing, so there’s very little legislation that applies to the sport. Sure, you won’t get a ticket if you strap on the boards without a helmet, but you might get a subdural hematoma. Please wear a helmet; I know you own one.
Rollerski Law #3: Get Completely Off the Road When Cars Approach
If this seems impractical, it’s because you’re rollerskiing on a road with too much traffic. You should be out on county highways so remote that you see only cows and tractors on faraway farms. In a world where motorists are becoming increasingly more hostile to any silent sport practitioners, the rollerski platform is not a good foundation for advocacy. Rollerski speeds are slow, and the activity takes up almost a whole lane. Even switching to a double pole to allow vehicles to pass is risky since road gravel can pick you up and send you flying into an oncoming grill at any moment. Just come to a complete stop and jump off the road when you see or hear a vehicle. Wave at the motorists as they pass; they’ll probably think you’re an alien and offer a nervous smile while filming you.
Rollerski Law #4: Always Sharpen Your Ferrules
I get it, you’ve gathered all your gear into a bag, managed to escape the daily chaos of never-ending tasks that hound you like a swarm of bees, and made it out to the trail only to find that… you forgot your diamond sharpener. Deep down you know if you try to return home to begin a desperate search you’ll get sucked back into the maelstrom and end up working, doing laundry or making dinner for your kids all evening. I understand the temptation, but folks, the solution is not attempting to ski with dull ferrules. You’ll slip and you’ll slide and the already high probability of a crash escalates even further. My advice is to make a quick trip to your local hardware store and buy another sharpener. If you do this enough times, you’ll fill up your glove box with them and the problem will be solved forever.
Rollerski Law #5: Don’t Go Down Hills You Haven’t Scouted
My friend Allan related a story of rollerskiing with the great Dave Landgraf. They were on a typical Herculean workout, and with Dave a few meters behind Allan took a sharp turn onto a big hill only to hear Dave cry out in terror, “We don’t go down that hillllllllllllll…”
The skis began to shimmy like the space shuttle during reentry. With the speed increasing, and the asphalt void stretching out before him, Allan did the smart thing and dove face first into the ditch. A few minutes later, the ‘click, click, click’ of a man running in ski boots heralded Dave’s arrival. “Are you okay?” A few square feet of Bacitracin and a new ski suit later, Allan was off his crutches and ready for the Birkie.
I’ve skied with Allan since then, and though he declares certain hills are “safe,” I insist on walking them first. Hey… it’s my head, after all!
Rollerski Law #6: When Possible, Bail Out in the Ditch
Sometimes you see the fall coming, and there’s no way to avoid it. The next best thing to not falling is guiding your fall to someplace relatively soft. Although a rocky ditch filled with scrub brush might not seem softer than asphalt, trust me, it is. Face first is best avoided. I’ve had some luck tucking my head and landing on the back of my shoulder. At the very least, attempting such a maneuver leads to a clean break and you’re back in action in weeks instead of months.
Keeping those simple laws in mind should lead to a lot less bloodletting, and a much less painful Birkie. There are some good things about rollerskiing: the glide is always consistent, the air temperature is usually above freezing, the leaves are changing, the vastness of paved roads lead to almost limitless places to explore, they start to get to know you at the emergency room, and hospital ice cream tastes better than any other ice cream. So get out there and start enjoying this great sport. If you don’t own a pair of rollerskis, I’ve got some I can sell you… cheap!
About the Author: Walter Rhein is the author of “Beyond Birkie Fever” and “Reckless Traveler.” Write him for questions, comments, or to purchase some used rollerskis at: firstname.lastname@example.org.