Skating Away
By James Prial
author and skater

Napa to Calistoga Roadskate 1999The Napa to Calistoga Skate. 24-27 miles, depending on whom you ask. I'm not sure, I didn't have a pedometer. I planned to do it, and reserved a room at the Napa Budget Inn. Got a few people from the 'Net to share it with me - worked out great, $30 each. So, I drove up. Picked up Kevin and met Dutch for the ride to Napa, after a short stretch of the Friday Night Skate. After the Pier 39 stop, Kevin and I turned back to the parking lot, got Dutch and began the haul to Napa. Laughed a lot with Dutch & Kevin at Jack in the Box, trying to order through the "talk to the sign" contraption to the almost complete imbecile who took our order. We finally got it right, and then proceeded to eat and talk before we got to the motel. At the motel, the main office window was closed. We knocked on the door, and a man came and opened the window and gave me my key - an electronic card, slide in to open. I was surprised (as I usually am) at this modern technology. We got in to find Stacey and Ali, our room sharers, already asleep in the floor in sleeping bags. I thought, how nice of them. They all agreed to let me have the one bed in the room, since I had made the reservation! Man, that was fine with me! After laying awake for about 10 minutes wondering how in the world I was going to get to sleep in a totally strange room with 3 almost total strangers, I went out like a light!

I woke up promptly at 6 AM, my normal wake up time, alarm or not. I proceeded to make some Hong Kong style tea, my usual morning beverage, that I had brought with me along with a camping style stove. I wasn't about to skate 24 miles without my dose of strong, sweet, tea! I brewed some for my roommates, and we enjoyed drinking it together. OK, the race is about to begin!

Well, almost. Let me backtrack a little. The night before, Ali, one of the gals who shared the room with us, was wondering where she could get hold of a set of wheels. Hers were a little worn out. I offered to go to a nearby skate shop and pick up and pick her up a set. While I was there, I had the owner look at my wheels and I ended up buying myself a set also. Bearings, too. Hate to make extreme changes the day before a big skate, but I took a chance. I bought a pair of sole inserts to increase comfort also. I was ready to go!

6:30 AM the morning of the race. About 200 of us gathered in the motel parking lot, to register, get our race number, and greet the day. And what a day it was, too! If you could order a perfect day directly from Heaven, this was the one to order. Just warm enough to be comfortable, a gentle breeze, and a clean fresh scent in the air. We began to skate to the starting point, about 2 miles away. The asphalt was smooth and level. I thought if the whole course was like this, I could do 50 miles! We skated down the road a bit, to a little parking lot to listen to a briefing by "the Man", the California Highway Patrol. Over and over again we were warned, "Stay to the right of the white line." "Cross it and you will be cited." "Anyone who cannot identify themselves to the officer's satisfaction will be taken directly to jail." Okay, Okay, I thought- you said it enough, let's go already! I was eager, I wanted to roll. So, we lined up in groups of about 15 each, and were released about 3 minutes apart. To keep the traffic flow small, and to get an accurate record of our times. Somehow, I ended up in the last group. Well, it really didn't matter who got to the finish line first; it was how quick you got there. So, I skated along. The first few miles were easy, no hills and fairly smooth asphalt. Not as smooth as the road over to the starting point, though. The Napa Wine Country is gorgeous! Nothing but green trees and vineyards lined the way, with rustic homes and farms. We passed a few pastures of cows, and I saw some balloonists taking a ride in the sky. I stopped for a second, when I saw my kneepad had slipped down to my ankle! I thought the extra weight down there might slow me down, and was tempted to just toss it! The only thing the kneepad on my prosthetic slide protects is my socket sleeve, anyway! I didnít toss it; I just fastened it securely, tucking the strap under the liner. Off again! We were only allowed a small portion of the road, the shoulder. At spots it was only 2 feet wide. And, being unable to cross the white line, you had to ask the person if front of you for "passing permission". I passed way more people than I was passed by. Funny, I was skating along, and a person came up behind me. He said, "Wow, I thought I was good, catching up to you, and then I saw your prosthetic!" I didn't see him any longer after a while; he had dropped way back.

As I skated, my thoughts were concentrated. I was only thinking of motion, speed, and endurance. I was enjoying the feel of my new wheels and bearings, just kind of rolling along. I was moving, but not going full bore, I didn't want to exhaust myself and not be able to finish.

I kept marveling at the beauty, it was so different from the city where I live. My watch (a cheap sport watch that I wear while skating) had stopped reporting the correct time, so I just kept skating. I was told there would be 3 water stops on the race. I was approaching the first one. I was a little tired, but just kept stroking those skates. I was really getting to know the inside and outside edges of the wheels, and trying to use the entire wheel surface on each stroke. I was also trying to stay on one leg, either the left or the right, for as long as possible to reduce friction. I am still trying to find out what makes real speed, the push or the number of strokes you take. Probably a combination, I'll let you know the next story. I approached the water stop; a person was handing out little Styrofoam cups about 3/4 full of water. I grabbed a cup, (I didn't want to stop to drink) and grabbed a few sips as I skated. It was refreshing, and I think it energized me a little, I gave a short burst of speed. Soon I came to a downhill, and the road was full of loose gravel. I pushed hard down the hill; I wanted to take advantage of every opportunity to increase my speed. That was probably the hardest spot of the race. The gravel made my footing unsure, and I was probably reaching 20 or 25 miles per hour. Anyway, I got through without mishap. In fact, to jump ahead of the story a little, the entire race went without mishap - not one fall, no collision, nothing! It was gratifying.

Two more water stops, and the race would be over. Still just stroking, stroking, as fast as I could. At the third and last water spot, I knew the person handing out the water, Rico. He said "All right, James, you're almost there!" Wow, at last! My ankle had been getting VERY tired for about 5 miles now. And my lower back was aching, just a little. I pushed hard for the last 3 miles, seeing some of the racers who had already finished heading back the other way. There were people waving flags at the finish line, and a tape stretched across the road. Everybody cheered and clapped as I made it to the line! After I crossed the line, I couldn't stop; I just kept skating around. My new friend Kevin gave me some water, which I gulped immediately. I had made it! I waited around eagerly to get my official finish time. 2 hours, 4 minutes, and 52 seconds! Not bad, for my first race. People I knew, and many I didn't know, offered me congratulations on the race. I was elated, and I am having a hard time waiting for this race to happen again... next time I'll be wearing racing skates!


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