I never found a definitive answer to the question; am I was the first person to roller skate across France? 1981 was a good 10-15 years before real Internet to search was there, and certainly we had nothing in the local library with information like that. Nothing in the papers that I was reading would have a word of it. With a backpack, roller skates and ski poles, I left Ventimiglia, Italy and roller skated the French Riviera until cross the border at Port Bou, Spain. Since then I haven’t been able to find another sole who has done the same.
Most of the other distance skaters I’ve found out there, like Kacie Fisher Cleveland who skated across America, are doing the distance on rollerblades. In 1981, rollerblades didn’t exist in any of the shops in Germany. Though the inline blades would have been more efficient in the flats, the best money could buy was custom Adidas quad skates.
And as it turned out, the quad skates were the best for a roller skate trek across France. The steep hills – virtually double-diamond ski runs down asphalt – would have killed me with in-line skates. The friction of four wide wheels was the only thing that saved my ass when I got going too fast to rely on slalom turns for speed. Weaving in-and-out of cars on the steep hills at 30 mph – including the head-on cars in the opposite lanes – was no place for thin wheels.
Not only in speed, but in stability did the quads win. Carrying a 35 pound backpack on roller skates across a country requires every benefit available. In times when I barely moved skating back up those inclines, quad skates with toe stoppers proved to be the only solution to continue any movement with that load on my back. Unfortunately for my trip, there was no SAG (Support And Gear) team following my slogging progress up and down the mountain roads. Support was Adidas leather gripping my ankles, and Gear was whatever I had on my back. Stability of four wheels in a rectangle pattern were the difference between climbing a mountain in hiking boots vs. high heels.
Not that I endorse any of this as a sport or some goal to break – especially weaving like a giant slalom racer through fast-moving automobiles – it’s not an ideal method of travel. But first is first, and it’s my method, my legacy of backpacking on roller skates across France that has given second thought to our old school thinking that quad skates are considered old school. Quite the contrary; when quads fit the mission, they’re the perfect mode of transportation for seeing every inch of the French Riviera over the windshields of oncoming cars.
Roller Skating Across the Country
Get out there and skate, like Cheryl Crow sings in Roller Skate. Get out your quads and have some fun swinging a hula hoop around or whatever your pleasure with quad stability. Even if it’s a heavy backpack your swinging around. Get out there on your wheels and have fun and maybe you’ll end up skating across the country one day and meet me at the finish line for a proud high-five.
I hope to see you there. Be careful.
~J. Michael Jarvis