Time To Rebuild My Skates

I’ve done this before. 

I have skated 21,000 miles.  Elite Inline Fitness Skater.  I’ve taken a long break from the sport.  There’s practically nobody doing it any more, except us “hard core” group who do it because we enjoy it.

That and your kids.

But it’s not like it was back around 2000 when there were races and competitions and you would trip over people trying to get into a shop.

For a brief time I was even sponsored, although that could be stretching it a bit.   I had a relationship with a skate shop in Philadelphia who would give me some gear from time to time to try out and report back how it worked out.  Not too much, mind you.  T-Shirts, of course.  Water Bottles, but everyone had those.  Deep discounts on parts like wheels and bearings.  Some free bearings that I liked so much that I kept them clean, lubed, and used them for over a year and well into the second year.

A year then was 2000 miles plus.  My peak week was a week I took vacation to simply skate. 

204 Miles in 7 days.

Seriously.

I’ve introduced people to the sport.  Served as a coach and trainer for others.  Even got paid to train people which was a serious ego boost.  Enjoyed Skating more than just about any physical activity that you can do in public.  Had a resting heart rate of 42 BPM as a result.

But lately I’ve come back.  Skating in Florida is different.   There is no park here like the Schuylkill River Trail.  I’ve skated from the Rocky Steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art to Valley Forge and back a number of times.  That is 20 to 30 miles of “Black Ice”.  Smooth asphalt complete with regular Water Stops.

There was one trip that I came around a bend in Valley Forge and spotted a Buck.  A Deer.  Pointy things on its head.  He spotted me and trotted beside me for about a half mile at my speed.  We looked back and forth at each other enjoying the workout and parted friends.

That sort of thing doesn’t happen often, does it?

Here I find myself going to Pompano Airpark in Pompano Beach.  Meh.  Better than most, at least it is safe.  4.5 mile loop of table top flat asphalt with a water stop at start and middle.  Not exactly exciting but … well it works.

After a while though, you find yourself thinking it’s time to rework things.  The wheels get flat spotted.  In the 94 degree heat and direct sun, the polystyrene compound breaks down on the black pavement that you could cook an egg on.  Where I got 50 to 200 miles on the wheels in the cooler conditions of Philadelphia, I am lucky to get 10 out of them here.

Swap the wheels out, especially the all important rear wheel – the Push Wheel that wears out on your power stroke faster than all the rest. 

Look at the bearings.  Wipe off the dust and road grit.  Hold the center spindle in your fingers carefully and see if they spin free.

Nope.  I thought so.  I was out with my dog Rack skating around the neighborhood the other day and thought I was being held back by the bearings.  Takes too much effort to move forward, may as well skate with a parachute.

Take a pin to flick the C Spring clip out.  Then spin the shield around that looks like an aluminum pancake with a hole in the middle and pop it out of the bearing.  Flip the bearing and repeat.  Spin the bearing and see if it is free spinning.  Drop it in a plastic container for later.

Repeat for each wheel.  10 wheels for the racing skates.  8 wheels for the cruising skates.  Two bearings per wheel plus a speed kit in the middle to hold it all together.  36 bearings, 72 O Rings and C Clips.

Do a few extra in case there will be a problem.  Throw out all the sealed bearings because they can’t be rebuilt.  It all comes out in the wash.

The Wash is when you pour Citrus Degreaser on all bearings and shake vigorously for about a minute.  The degreaser goes from a pale orange to black.  All those miles melt into the bottom of the plastic cup.

Triple rinse the bearings in water to loosen more grease, grit, and degreaser.  Bang them out on a paper towel to par-dry so they don’t rust.

Then take them to the hair dryer that everyone has hidden in the back of the cabinets.  Don’t have one?  Stop off at the thrift store and get one for this purpose.  It has to have a metal mesh on the air outlet.  The mesh has to be flat.  Put as many bearings on the mesh as fit.  Turn it on full blast and get the bearings as hot as you can.  That will boil off the last of the water.

Repeat for 36 bearings.

Reassemble the bearings.   One shield, one C Clip.

Snap!

Lay it out on a paper towel and drop 3 drops of Tri-Flex Teflon Lube on the bearing. 

Repeat for 36 bearings.

Put the other shield and C Clip back on.  Spin to test. 

Ahhh, silky smooth!

Each wheel gets one bearing per side, and a speed kit.

Slide the wheels in the skate “truck” that holds them to the boot.

Now, you are good.  Another 200 miles per bearing rebuild if the conditions are average.  If you can hear them get loud, rebuild them. 

Two and a half hours of rebuilding, snapping, lubing, and reconstruction.  They’re not doing this sort of thing any more.  Want to know why? 

Skating is still fun.  Even in 94 degree 75% humidity Florida heat.

Gliding over Black Ice at up to 15 MPH.  4 Minute Miles.  Slower when the wind comes in off the ocean.

That makes that afternoon well spent.  The knowledge that I will be able to go out and have the park practically to myself flying free in the sun.

Feel like a workout?  I’ll slow down for you.  I’ll even give you some tips.  There was this time where I was at mile 20 when I burned through all my breakfast and needed a rest and there was the most beautiful sunrise over the city of Philadelphia.

You’ll be surprised what you will see on 8 wheels.  10 wheels if you’re lucky.

Bounty Of Rollerblades – Tuning Up The Inline Skates After 50 Miles

Everyone has a sport.

This one is mine.

It is no longer fashionable, but I truly don’t care.

I’m not doing it for those people who think fashion is the end all of existence, I never do anything for that.

I’m doing it for me.

I was that guy.  I skated 21,000 miles.  I would do 100 miles in a week.  My peak week was one week that I took off from work and skated 204 miles in seven days total.  I was at Fairmount Park in Philadelphia so much on those skates that the park workers asked me if I was training for something.

Nope.  I really do enjoy skating.  In fact, I skated so much that I had to actually limit myself to 100 miles a week normally because I could over-train.  Near the end of the season, October into November, before the time change I would slow my skating down.  I had to distance limit myself to get the metabolism back down to something approaching normal.  Eating a training diet in the winter was never a good thing.

Even now when my fitness level is not at that same peak as it was.  Meh.  Don’t care.  I’ve got my box of parts and tools and know how to use them.

In season, I used to slack.  I would tune the skates up every other week.  That’s 200 miles.  They really needed it weekly but it takes an hour just to tear them down, wipe off the dirt from the bearings, reassemble everything with loctite and call it good.

That was what I did over the weekend.  One of my Weekend Projects.  I’ve been skating these days just enough to go out and enjoy it.  Headphones on playing music to keep me moving, I’d hit the park where the Goodyear blimp lands and do a circuit plus a mile.

Only 5.5 miles?  Yep.  I’m not skating to prove anything.  Just to enjoy a visit with an old friend.

I was all set to do a complete teardown – that was the 200 mile service.  Pull all the bearings from the wheel, the speed kit from the axles, and fully disassemble the bearings.  That meant I’d be de-greasing, drying, re-greasing, and reassembling each of the 16 bearings, then the wheels, and finally inspecting the boots.

Did all of that with a smile on my face.

I will let you in on a secret though.  Duct tape.  I duct taped the inside of the boots.

No, seriously.  It’s like when you wear shoes out.  That spot in the back of the heel where the fabric wears out first. It starts as a small hole or tear.  Put a small square of duct tape over that and you’ll be fine.  Just don’t tell anyone.

Why do I do that?   My racing skates cost $600 per set.  Even this pair of “run of the mill” boots were over $250 back in the day, although I got my competition discount from the shop I went to.

I used to get some bearings tossed at me by the same shop, long since closed in the collapse of the sport.  You just can’t run out to a sporting goods store these days and pick up a serviceable pair of high end touring skates any more.  For that matter I don’t think they’re even being made available.

Philadelphia was a bit of a hotbed for distance and speed skating.  I was into distance.  I’m way too tall and muscular to truly be fast.  So I’d do 30 miles at 12 MPH average.  4 minute miles.  I could do that forever if the winds were at my side.  Even faster if it were at my back.  Then it would be scary-fast.

I’d do the run from Philadelphia to Valley Forge if the Fairmount Park loop was clogged with some sort of “Walk” which was just a disruption more than anything else.  It also helped that I managed to get out there some days before 6AM, park at Falls Bridge, Skate to the Art Museum for a warmup before anyone else was out there.  Then do 4 mile sprints from the Rocky Steps to Falls Bridge and back until I got tired, bored, or the Walk was starting.

Easier to go to the Valley Forge loop, Schuylkill River Trail.  If I needed more distance, it was about 15 miles from Philadelphia parking through Valley Forge, and to the head of the Perkiomen Trail at Oaks, PA.  There’s a bridge over the Perkiomen Creek that I used to sit, drink my water, eat my power bars, and chat with the other skaters.  One of my favorite spots in the world to sit and chill out.

Pretty country out there, West of Norristown.  Actually, even though it ran through some industrial areas, it was generally quite pretty as long as you weren’t in Norristown, PA.  That was a pretty ugly town itself.

But the skating was fun.  Bring a quart or two of ice water, 600 calories of snacks to keep from hitting The Wall, and tank up at the water fountains at Valley Forge Park.  Plenty of Regulars, and Friends.

Yes, up to 600 calories.  Peak season, I needed 3000 a day on my enforced no-training day, and up to 6000 a day just to get my 30 miles plus weightlifting in.

That scene is long gone.

Pompano Beach Air Park has its own Regulars.  A bunch of leftover Canadian Snowbirds, primarily from Quebec.  A very few on skates, most on bikes.  Some locals getting out there to enjoy the trail.

It’s black ice.  Smooth asphalt.  4.5 mile loop.  You can see the little planes landing at the civil aviation airport.  Sometimes the Goodyear Blimp is out, and if it is landing I swear it comes in at a sharp angle up to 45 degrees.  Never expected to see that when I got there.

It’s not my favorite trail, but it works.  And trust me, after 21,000 miles, I’ve seen many of them.

The servicing worked.  I have a lot of wheels I picked up after skate shops closed up at a dollar or less a piece, some others from skates people threw out that were used once or twice, and I even bought a pair for “backup” at the thrift shop.  The box is a full “Paper box” that would work for shipping reams of paper.  Along with the probably more than 200 bearings in the bucket, all the assorted axles and screws, bolts and speed kits, I’m set.  Good for a couple thousand miles without ever visiting a skate shop.

All of this for a non-fashionable sport that I truly love.

How Mil-Spec Duct Tape helped me skate 21,000 miles

I have skated 21,000 miles.  I know the distance because I have always skated on measured courses, or measured the courses and counted laps afterwords. 

My workouts started out normally and extended to at one point a 6 hour marathon that took me 52 miles with breaks and water stops.

One of the problems with inline skates, rollerblading to you, is that with all of that sweeping back and forth, your legs will rub against the inside of the boots.  After all of that rubbing, something is going to give.  If you’re lucky, the friction will be taken up by the socks, but in my case it started creating pressure sores.  I would get raw spots and eventually blisters on my achilles tendon and lower calf on some of these workouts.

Some of the workouts, everything would fall into place.  The tension on the socks would be just right, the boot would be tight but not too tight, the temperature was cool but not cold, the sun was bright, the breezes were coming in from the South or the North.

Since my trail was an East-West trail from the Art Museum in Philadelphia, along the Schuylkill River, all the way out to Valley Forge and extended to the Perkiomen Creek in Oaks, Pennsylvania.  In that case, the breezes would cool rather than slow me down on my 33 mile workout. 

Three times a week.   Boy! Do I miss that trail!

Needless to say that if I were to enjoy the trail, I would have to do something about the friction.  Remembering Football in High School, I thought to tape up my pressure points and it worked until the warmer weather and sweat conspired to dissolve the surgical tape that I used.  The other problem was that the boots themselves would wear down from all of this friction and I’d end up having to replace the boots.   For Competition Class skates, $300 would be cheap and they could range up to 10 times that price.

I got the brain storm one day that if I was wearing the knock about daily wear skates, why not try to tape the boot instead of the foot? 

Problem was solved, at least for now.  I would get around 100 miles out of a repair and that worked because in Peak Season, I would have to tear down the skates, degrease the bearings and re-lubricate them as well as rotate the wheels.   It would be a weekly ritual every Monday or so since Saturday and Sunday were spent out enjoying the trails in Summer.   It was then that I would touch up the tape.

I was using this standard silver duct tape, the same stuff everyone has seen for 60 years since it was invented in World War II.  The tape would wear out spectacularly sometimes during the workouts but for the most part I could rely on it.

One winter we were driving to Florida for our annual snowbird ritual and stopped off in a Barbecue Joint in Virginia.  Parking next to a workman’s pickup truck, we went inside.  Great meal of pulled pork and afterwords when leaving the parking lot, the truck was long gone.  In its place was a large green roll of extremely heavy duty duct tape.  We picked it up and went on our way.

According to this article, I’ve just found out that it is typically called “Gun Tape” in the Military as well as “Hurricane Tape” and 100MPH Tape”… I never knew that until today!

Thinking that this heavy stuff might be better than the regular silver stuff, when I arrived at our destination, I replaced the gummy silver stuff with this beefy green tape.   It was so tight and so stiff that I thought I could use it to build body panels on cars.

The next day I went to the park and tested it out.  Not only did it hold, it was adding some needed rigidity and the super heavy vinyl was smooth and slick.   It wasn’t teflon but it was nice and slick.

This oddball roll of tape was going to do the trick.

Over the years I’ve used it for both conventional and non conventional uses.  I have a wallet that I made out of the green stuff that is actually stiffer than is reasonable for use since it tends to pop the magnetic clasp open.  I’ll work on that, after all who doesn’t need a weirdly shaped green wallet?

The only draw back is that it works a bit too well.  I once was skating out from Philadelphia soon after and went past Valley Forge for a rest at the Perkiomen Creek.  Beautiful trail out there, but the surgical tape failed and it wadded up on my heels.  So sitting on a bridge in the sunshine of a Pennsylvania Spring Morning, with the sun in my face, I pulled out the roll of tape and proceeded to tape my hot spots up.  No problem right?  Sitting with one foot in a boot, another barefoot, the tape forming green rectangles on the open skin, I got myself rested and prepared for the next 15 miles back to the Jeep at the City Line.

The trip home was one of those amazing workouts with no hotspots, the conditions were perfect and all was well.

Until I got back to the house.  You see, all that tape had to come off.  I’m a somewhat hairy guy.  Yes, you guessed it, I was less hairy once I pulled the tape off.  I had at that point a much more healthy respect for what women go through on a regular basis. 

Closing my eyes and gripping hard, the next thing I heard was from downstairs, Kevin shouting “ARE YOU ALRIGHT?!?!?”.  That one square of green plastic with the adhesive of doom was holding onto the skin as well as it could before I pulled it.   It also had around 50 hairs stuck inside of the adhesive.  One tug and it ripped them off, and none too easily.

From that point forward, In Season, below the crew socks, my ankles and lower calfs would be shaved.  I was NOT going to go through that again!

Ladies?  Why do you put yourself through waxing?  I just don’t get it!  On the other hand, no, I will not let you borrow my mil-spec duct tape since I don’t know when I’ll be passing through that particular parking lot in Virginia again.  HOLY jumping HANNA! That hurt!

A short two mile wake up call

Sometimes you just wake up and say why not?

As anyone who knows me can say, I’m a skater.   Rollerblades, Inlines, that sort of thing.  There’s some other slang names for it, but I’ll leave that to others to come up with.   I skated competitively through the peak of the sport and well after when I felt like I was the last one out there doing it.   I’ve done a total of 20,800 miles on inline skates, and while that sounds like an exact number, it probably is fairly close.   I describe myself as an Elite Fitness Class Skater. 

All that bragging aside, I had stopped skating completely about a year ago.   There are really no excellent trails here in South Florida to skate without being up at 4AM or having to fight traffic like there are in Philadelphia.  I grew used to and spoiled by the challenge of the Schuylkill River Trail, and rose to that challenge by skating 100 miles a week over three workouts in Peak Season, April through October.

One of the things I was looking forward to was finding a long trail and just getting out and getting lost in it.  But I never found anything better than the Pompano Airpark trail.   At Five Miles Long, its a short trail for me.  That is about 30 minutes on a bad day, and while an hour three times a week is what the doctors recommend, its not enough and got boring.

After hanging up my skates and debating about what I’d do, time passed.   I think I skated under 10 miles in 2009, I gave up counting.   Dust grew around the wheels but I refused to toss them out.   I even tried the old school quads in a skating rink in Hollywood just North of the Airport, but I’m way too strong a skater for the whole indoor scene.

Over the last week my knee acted up, and got to the point where I was in severe pain just sitting down.   I had gone through therapy before so I know what to do and recognized the signs.  What it means is that ironically I hadn’t been getting enough exercise.  While bragging about skating, I had started to hear from friends saying that I should get back on them, and when I turned my back I’d hear it phrased perhaps a bit less kindly.

Today, Sunday (Yes I write these postings ahead of time) I woke up at 530am angry with the throbbing in my knee and decided I needed to do something different than hobble around a mile walk with Mrs Dog.   She was all bouncy as usual so I just threw on jeans, turtleneck and leather jacket and grabbed old faithful, My Skates.

The result was a very happy dog and a very surprised me.  I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it since just getting out of a chair hurt the knee above the knee cap, but everything just worked.   I guess 20,800 miles are tough to forget.  It wasn’t a very vigorous workout, I stayed at the speed of my Border Collie’s Trot.  The town is not built for skating, sidewalks are uneven, there are bumpy bits at the intersections for wheelchairs to get a grip while climbing, and there was the ever present possibility of small gravel getting caught behind the wheels and sending me into a “Face Plant”, but none of that mattered.   Mrs Dog was smiling, I was smiling, and it just felt right.

I am now just finishing the first mug of coffee, and there’s no ill results.  I guess things are getting back to normal again.  I’m ready for the trails.

Rollerblading on Schuylkill River Trail Review

Looking at this picture, its not a very pretty scene is it.   To me that is a view of fun.  What you’re looking at is a section of the Schuylkill River Trail in Conshohocken PA.   

This trail runs roughly from the Art Museum in Center City Philadelphia at the Rocky Steps for 22 miles out through Conshohocken, Norristown, and Valley Forge to the Perkiomen Creek Trail in Montgomery County, PA.   I skated that trail for about 10 years, and a total of over 20,000 miles to date.   

The trail is continuous through the length and is a jewel for the region.   I was fortunate enough to be close enough to skate a segment of it whenever I wished.  No cars, few intersections to worry about, very few bad spots with gravel.   This was 22 miles of Black Ice.   There were a few rough spots where there was a sharp incline or a curve, and one hill in particular that was at a railroad style incline for about a mile.  That was my definition of fun, skating down that over 15 miles per hour with some Armin van Buuren “A State of Trance” podcast DJ set running on the head phones on a clear crisp day with little wind.

One of the days when I get back to Philadelphia, my plans are to drive back to my old parking area and skate this section again.   The trails here are nowhere near as long and comprehensive as this.   The best one I’ve found in Broward County was at Pompano Airpark and that one is only a 5 mile loop.  Every time I get a chance to speak with someone in command of a Parks and Recreation budget I put my two cents in for a “multipurpose asphalt paved trail of a minimum length of a mile”.   Why not?  It’s worth your life here to try to cross the street on foot let alone on Rollerblades 8 or 10 wheels.