“Dorothy, we’re not in Duluth anymore!”

Long road trips and inline skating. Indoor or outdoor skater, if you live in Colorado, and you want to be a part of the circuit or find your glory moment in a field of more than just your skating buddies, you’ll need some gas. Not talking the kind of gas that will get you relegated to the back of the pack for passing it – you need petrol, mate. Skating events in this part of the country aren’t a leisurely 150-200 mile country drive away, we’re talking a minimum of 500 road miles to the east or south, through some of the flattest land on the straightest roads in the country, where the most excitement comes from the occasional wind farm or being jarred from your road-coma by the abrupt road surface changes when you hit Lincoln, Nebraska.    

I've developed an irrational fear of wind farms. Damn things say "evil empire," don't they?

At the end of February my kids got their first taste of a skate life on the road – destination Wichita, Kansas for the 2010 Team United Inline Speed Skating Classic. This was our first indoor meet and a complete immersion into indoor inline speed skate culture. All I can say is “Dorothy, we’re not in Duluth anymore!” So grab a bottle of Saspirilla and kick back…this one’s wordy.    

Have skates, Will travel…    

2/26/10: 10:40 am MDT – Picked up Speed Demon (my daughter’s self-appointed skate name) from school early, the excursion begins. We’re off to the People’s Republic of Boulder to pick up a rented Prius, then to Denver to meet Speedy Weezy & Horseypants at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. From there, it’s no sleep till Wichita – 475 miles later!    

2/26/10: 1:25 pm MDT – Rt. 70 for Wichita! Wait – was that an exclamation mark? WTF am I thinking?    

Joe Cool is the name, Inline Skating is the game.

2/26/10: 7 pm CST – City Limits Bar & Grill, Colby KS. Waitress to server, “See that kid over there? He’s a speed skater!” Speedy Weezy immediately drops his sunglasses to his nose and strikes the “Joe Cool” pose. Where does he get that from?!    

Took a while to get out of Colby. Two trips to Wal-Mart to “buy” a DVD player for the car. The salesperson suggested we consider the dual-monitor headrest-mount car version, but I decline and we walk out with a single monitor laptop version for the kids to share in the backseat. Over dinner, I thought more about it and since we’re not really buying the thing but rather just taking advantage of the retailer’s very liberal return policy (don’t judge me), we decided to go back after dinner, return the laptop version and take the sales clerk up on his recommendation. It’s at this point we’re reminded that I should have called Capital One Fraud Prevention before the trip to advise them of my travels. Reminders like this while you’re standing in line at Wal-Mart with locals behind you and tired kids in tow are always such fun! Won’t be the last such reminder this evening…    

2/27/10: 12:10 am CST – We arrive in the greater Wichita metro area.    

2/27/10: 12:35 am CST – I’m having a hard time finding the hotel so I call the front desk. The gentleman who answers the phone is apparently new to Wichita himself. Maybe even new to America. The English language too. I tell him I’m at Wal-Mart on 53rd & Meridian, in the parking lot next to McDonald’s. He says no problem, make a left out of the parking lot, go past the next parking lot, make a right on the service road, then left, then left, then right into their lot. No problem! An hour and a freaking half later we show up at the hotel. Turns out the hotel dude didn’t know 53rd & Meridian from the corner of Ass & Elbow, despite several phone calls and assurances that “we’re just around the corner,” we were way clear on the other side of Oz. I’m not a violent guy (the red-belt in Kenpo is just for show I guess) but I’m ready to kill this guy. Luckily for all parties concerned Kansas is one of the 35 states that has the death penalty, so I take a deep breath and smile. “Yeah, I guess it’s pretty funny that there IS a Wal-Mart with a McDonald’s just on the other side of the highway, right over there.” It’s 2:10 am CST…    

Hotel Dude goes to run my credit card and it’s at this point that I get reminder number two about calling Capital One Fraud Prevention before I travel. My card is blocked, and no one is answering the phone over at CapOne at this hour. Hotel Dude is completely confused. At this point, the caffeine, aspartame, fatigue, road and unexpected 2-hour midnight tour of “Wicha-‘F’in-ta” catch up with me in a single flood of rage. I lose my cool. End up apologizing to my kids for the shameful display of anger, and the hotel guy and his supervisor who at this point are both cowering trying to swipe my debit card…need sleep.    

2/27/10: 2:30 am CST – The kids are knocked out. Get them in their jammies and in bed in about 10 minutes. I’m tight-wound from the near-death-row experience so I can’t sleep. That and they’ve had the heat on all day in the room so it’s hot, sticky and uncomfortable. We need to be at the rink at 5:30 am, I fall somewhat asleep at 4:15.    

2/27/10: 4:30 am CST – Speedy Weezy kicks me in the kidney – the kid’s a flip-flopper when he sleeps…    

2/27/10: 5:00 am CST – The alarm goes off, time to snort some Starbucks Via and get moving. Speedy Weezy looks no worse for wear. He tells me he’s pumped and ready to go. Gives me a full accounting of all his sleep – he adds up about 9 hours of sleep between the car and the hotel. I’m good with that – he’s cool. Speed Demon looks a little tired, but she’s excited and dressed in a flash. We meet the other skaters from our team in the parking lot and head out to RollerCity.    

Skater Playas in this narrative: Speedy Weezy, B-Man, Mr. Finn, Katie-Bug, The Fast Kid, and Shoulder Roller.    

Supporting Cast: Speed Demon, Big Daddy Longhorn, Horse Whisperer, Freightliner, LibertyL, XBMX, The Mechanic and Scardy-Dog.      

It’s a nice rink, very clean. Looks like a nice family establishment. Stinks of chemicals from the floor being refinished. I’m on a sleep deprivation caffeine high and the fumes are overwhelming. This will come into play later in the morning…    

Speedy Weezy 2nd from left. Back-row: B-Man 3rd from right, Mr. Finn 1st on right.

Speedy Weezy, B-Man and Mr. Finn are in the first heat of the day. We get Speedy strapped up and he hits the floor. I can tell from his reaction that the floor is faster than what he’s used to at Rollerland. It’s a wood floor known for its speed. The warm ups give him a chance to see the field he’ll be skating against. I can tell he’s having fun, his smile is a mile wide. I think he finally feels like he can be accepted for being an inline speed skater. He’s never seen or been a part of a large group of kids his general age on inline skates. He looks like he’s really going to have a good time!    

The Racing    

300 meter – Speedy Weezy finishes First Loser in his heat, places 4th in the final. He’s having difficulty with the second corner, making him go wide. B-Man has skated this floor before and handles it like a pro. The kid is really getting fast. But poor Speedy Weezy is sliding, creating gaps for those behind him to jump right in. These kids he’s up against are good at spotting opportunities and taking them. This is the first time he’s skated against anyone other than those he knows.     

Speed Demon supporting her brother all the way!

First lesson learned: making the practice session the day before would have helped him get used to the floor quicker.

Speed Demon looks on and says, "I'm gonna skate regionals!"

Turns out Speedy Weezy is skating Primary, which is a challenge up level from the novice divisions I thought he belonged in. He’s skating against kids of his comparable ability level. Not a bad thing…wouldn’t want it to be too easy for him, he’d get bored quickly!    

Second lesson: need to learn more about the USARS skater divisions.    

Mr. Finn and Katie-Bug finish their races like the little champs they are. Mr. Finn has been speed skating all of 5 weeks and he’s in his first meet. The kid has a fortitude well beyond his years and has redefined bravery in my book. And little Katie is a seasoned vet at 5. She’s taking the place by storm, the crowd knows her & loves her!    

For me, this is where the fun starts…    

Because Speedy is sliding, Big Daddy Longhorn suggests different wheels to help better manage the floor. He goes back to the hotel to grab some grippy wheels. The Speedy Weezy pit crew goes into action getting those wheels swapped out in a flash and “Land-Ho!” the first E-quipment X-citement of the day – the axle on his rear right wheel is getting stripped in the frame. It’s loose. He can’t skate on this, not at these speeds. Fortunately, we have Speed Demon’s skates in the bag so we decide to swap out frames. Here’s where I say, “Well I’ll Be!”  as we run into Equipment Excitement Two: Speed Demon is on 11.25″ frames, vs. Speedy Weezy’s 10.5″. He’s going to need to get used to the longer wheelbase in a race environment! Not really a big deal but, “Hot Diggity!” please give a warm welcome to Equipment Excitement Three – the mounting bolt in the ball of his adjustable right skate is stripping inside the track in the bottom of the boot, not allowing us to tighten it, causing frame to slip from side to side. This is soooo not good. Longhorn and The Mechanic are called in as pit crew specialists, and the three of us perform trackside open skate surgery trying to get this patient rolling again.    

How many sk8 Dad's does it take to change a frame? Go ask YOUR MOTHER!

At this point, the lights, the kinetic techno-music, the people, the fumes of the recent floor resurfacing, the sounds of the video games, the intense pressure of trying to fix the skates on the fly, the lack of sleep, the Mix 1 smoothie, the 4 shots of Starbucks Via, my cell phone ringing…it’s all starting to have a profound impact on my ability to stay positive about any of this. The place is just so freaking alive – kinetic – I feel like “The Firestarter.”    

I start thinking about why I love outdoor skating so much, and franticly start wishing I was biting off a nice piece of trail. Outdoor, it’s point-to-point. There’s no waiting around, there’s no blaring music, no rink-funk, no time to mess with your equipment. You get to the start line, you skate for a little over an hour, it’s done. You kick back and have a few laughs. This indoor thing is for the birds…clearly I’m not in a good place emotionally or mentally. I want to kill, I want to cry, I want to dig a hole in the rink and hide.

We finally get the front mounting bolt to hold, but it was incredibly costly in terms of energy & adrenaline. I’m tweaked beyond insane. XBMX and LibertyL are keeping their distance. The kids are getting hungry – Horse Whisperer takes them to get something to eat at the snack bar. Heart rate in overdrive. After the mounting bolt debacle I decide it’s not worth the risk to take his left frame off, so net result, his right frame is .75″ longer than the left. He skates the 200m heats this way. He places so things can’t be that bad, right? Well, the mounting bolt holds for the race but it’s loose again by the time it’s over. We can’t get a permanent hold. Now his right leg is a little stiff from the extra weight…    

"Give it to me straight Doc." "Well, we can fix your skate, but you'll never walk again."

Lesson Three: Don’t “F” with set up’s in between events.    

They’re calling kids for the final. At the last possible minute we have him wear Mr. Finn’s skates. No time to change out the wheels from 90 to 100. He’s got to get on the floor, they’re calling his name over the loud-speaker. He skates the 200m final in Finn’s 90mm’s. He’s got a severe handicap with the wheel size. These kids he’s up against are all strong and on either 100 or 110’s. He takes it in stride and skates his heart out. Came back from 2nd to last in the 2nd lap to nearly 3rd at the line on 90 mm wheels! The kid is working hard. A lot of the other kids have been skating this division for at least a year according to The Fast Kid. He’s my hero. I’m suicidal at this point, having slashed my wrists a thousand times in my head.    

Speedy Weezy qualifies for the bonus 400 meter race. By this point he’s visibly tired, he’s been racing since just after 6 am, it’s just after 10:30. We’ve been working on his skate and by this time I try a different mounting screw and it seems to hold so we have him roll on his lop-sided set up. He skates the 400m again fighting back from near last to 4th. Most importantly, he’s getting a feel for the floor, nailing the cone in the second corner. We’re calling it a victory, tomorrow will be a better day.    

He eventually hit this cone tight and consistently.

His starts are strong: he gets the cone position twice, and he’s really good about fighting it out to get out there to the middle to make the first cone. He wins the fight for the first cone nearly every time. But I can’t hold the video camera straight enough without shaking to get any good video. (PRODUCTION NOTE: The video in this post is courtesy of LibertyL!) For us, the racing is over for the day. At this point, I start thinking about how much more “civilized” ice skating must be. I tell the Coach as much when he calls to see how everyone is doing. He laughs and asks to speak to someone else. I’m spent.    

Speedy Weezy, The Fast Kid, Shoulder Roller representing FTC - CO!

The other kids on our team are all in their element – The Fast Kid dominated practically everything she rolled in…for example:     

Katie-Bug finished every race she rolled in and so did Mr. Finn, the kid with the heart of a true champion. B-Man loves this stuff, it’s clear. His form is getting stronger and stronger, and he’ll be faster than The Fast Kid someday if he sticks with this. He truly loves skating. Shoulder Roller is a tough competitor. Everyone has just as hard a time passing her as I do. She’s good at using her space and owning it. If you want to pass her, she’s not going to give it to you. I like skating with her because she’s making me a better skater, helping me face my fear of passing. When you have to think a lot about your move, and then fight like hell for it you overcome fear quickly!    

We like to roll it, roll it. We like to roll it, roll it!

Yes, we drove all this way for this!

After Speedy Weezy finished his races we headed back to the hotel to take a nap. After getting lost yet again. But this time I just bought a map…    

That evening we have dinner and I sit with XBMX, LibertyL & Mr. Finn and proceed to rag on the sport and all I’ve come to hate about it in the last sixteen hours – “the music – the lights – the rink food – the smell – the disco ball – the arcade games – the limited seating – the lack of locker rooms – …” At some point I remember that I’m somewhat of a coach for Mr. Finn and stop whining in front of him. LibertyL and XBMX are still looking at me like I’m deranged, but they’re twisted too so I guess it’s OK…    

Pull the plug when the racing's happening, huh?

But seriously – these kids are world class athletes. Can’t we feed them better at events like this? Can’t we kill the music? Can’t we pull the plug on the video games? Smash the disco ball? These elements do bother me and do detract from the sport a lot in my mind, but that’s a topic for another day.    

Somewhere between the rink, hotel and dinner Horse Whisperer’s dog, Scardy Dog, goes ape-shirt in Freightliner’s Freightliner and literally pulls a window out. The dog has major separation anxiety and he’s strong. Leaving him in the truck maybe wasn’t the best idea according to Freightliner. The way he and Horse Whisperer look at each other through the explanation, I don’t go near it with a ten-foot pole. Okay, so anywho…    

After dinner we buy Loktight Blue at Wal-Mart and back in the safety of the room I go at his skate again. Seems like it’s fixed. Boy, it’s a lot easier to focus when you’re not in a freaking arcade!    

2/28/10: We awake to a good breakfast after a good night’s sleep!     

The next day was exciting. The relays! The guys and girls of FTC – CO – UNITED really did well, cleaning up in the trophy department, being a part of almost every winning relay team in their divisions. The pace for the day was heavier on the racing, lighter on the anxiety.    

The kids are surprisingly good at relays, which is amazing considering we haven’t practiced them much, and when we have they end, um, poorly.    

Speedy Weezy & B-Man would have placed in their relay but they missed a tag (which the ref let go because of interference) but more importantly, someone “who shall remain nameless” directed Speedy Weezy back into the shoot when they were done. Live and learn. The important thing is that the kids skated their hearts out and had a great time doing it!    

So, these next shots, just to be clear, are not the only reason to skate boys and girls…    

Katie-Bug first on left.

 Remember kids, this is NOT what it’s all about…    

The only shot where the trophy or some adult's fat rear end wasn't blocking his face on the podium!

 I cannot stress enough that there’s more to this than winning…    

Way too many shots of these kids on the podium. They spent their afternoon up there!

It’s really not about winning or losing, it’s about being the best you can be, never letting anyone tell you that you can’t achieve something, having the love and support of your family and friends as you do what you’re passionate about – and having fun while you’re doing it!     

Smile now, cause we're about to spent the next 11 hours on the road again kids...

Thanks to the Cotter’s for putting on a great show, and everyone who went with us and suffered through and/or were entertained by my freakshow! At the end of the day the trip was worth every second. I’ve included a lot here, but there was actually more I could have shared. Perhaps those that went along will chime in through comments. The bottom line – we’re all still madly in love with this sport and the people we’ve come to know, and we’re going back for regionals in May, with lessons learned.    

No training updates in this post – it’s long enough already. Suffice to say, if the sun was out over the last two weeks I was skating outside and loving every minute of it!    

Speedy Weezy heading home.

Gr8 job FTC – CO – UNITED! Roll to Live, Live to Roll.

7 responses to ““Dorothy, we’re not in Duluth anymore!”

  1. Chris,
    This was a great blog. I enjoyed reading about Paul and the other kids and their drive for their sport. And I didn’t know you were a comedian…:) your comments were GREAT… but most of all you reason to the kids for racing was the best.

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