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!

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.