One Saturday morning every June, hundreds of grown-up inliners arrive, bright and shiny and punctually, on Madeline Island in Lake Superior. They have skin suits and thousand-dollar-plus setups and helmets, and they’ve been training.
As an “aggressive” skater, there’s a weird energy to being there. They’re mostly in the 40-to-60 age range. They’re our bosses and our moms*, and they’re the image we’ve been fighting off for 20 years. Long strides, bad fashion choices, trouble with turns and bumps and stopping. Very little drug use.
But there you are, on a remote island with 200 of them, reflexively trying to maintain your cool while they’re the majority and they don’t give a shit. Most of them probably blame you (and your 360s and rail slides) for all the “no skating” signs. They generally prefer rules and order, not chaos and “blader time.” When they’re skating, they line up into long packs, with no sound and no expression except the whoosh of their bearings, a flock of geese in a flying V. You’re an ugly duckling.
When it comes down to it, they’re doing what’s at the heart of what anybody on inline skates is doing — skating. A surprise to me was that I actually didn’t know much about how to skate — it’s a complicated motion that’s hard to maintain for a long time, and (imho) as far as wheeled endurance sports go, it’s way more elegant than cycling. Basically, though we normally only push outward off the inside of our feet, we can also push inward off the outside of our feet, creating a “double push.”** Where this gets elegant is that instead of simply shoving with your leg muscles, you can use your body’s weight to power your push, by rocking your weight downward into each stride. YOu convert gravity into your forward momentum, basically. I had no idea, but I really like it. I can’t imagine wanting to ride a bike or go to a gym anymore. Skating is magic, and I want to do it forever.
Which is what they’re doing, out there on Madeline Island in Lake Superior every June. Madeline is a pristine island with pristine waters and miles of pristine asphalt and a silly little skatepark. You have to take a ferry there, and cheap camping is available at a couple of parks (an old-timer told us they used to drop acid back there the night before the race). The little, open-container town*** has a bar that burned down and instead of rebuilding it, they put locks on the cabinets, raised a tarp for a roof, and kept going. You can jump their fence, put some quarters in a box, and take a shower in their bathrooms after hours. There’s good pizza and good beer and kayaks and sea caves and supposedly there are bears about.
I don’t know whether this is a trip report or an invite. If this sounds fun or interesting to you, about 10 of us are going this year (it’s on Father’s Day, June 18), and the bigger our pack the more fun it’ll be. You could look us up on Facebook or just sign up and join us at the campground. You can sign up for a “fun skate,” a half marathon, a full marathon, or just come spectate. It’s guaranteed fun.
— Ben Price
*Bosses and moms who have been made getting made fun of for blading for decades, been getting honked at, kicked out of public spaces for it, etc., and who are still taking off weekends to go to skate events in the north woods.
**To do this, instead of pushing behind yourself using your toes (which uses a lot of calf and ankle muscle), you need to squat a little lower and push outward from your heels (which uses quad and butt muscles, which have more stamina). All of this works better on bigger wheels because the leverage increases with height.
***For a really serene moment, try skating from through the woods along Lake Superior with a friend, a beer each, through the dark under a big moon with perfect pavement flowing below you.