Hell On Wheels
Dusted off my rollerblades Monday afternoon. I hadn’t been on them since last fall, but I wanted to get some exercise and was tired of the same ol’, same ol’. From my house, I can walk a mile down to the Burke Gilman Trail at Gasworks Park. There’s a store there called Urban Surf that rents and sells blades, and they have a couple of benches where I can change into & out of the blades.
I use the full load of blade paraphernalia - wrist guards, elbow pads, knee pads and helmet. I carry all this in a daypack, along with my cell phone and Archos Recorder 20 . I had strapped on all of my gear, selected my tunes and was ready to hit the trail. Just one more thing - put on the helmet. Oops. I had forgotten that the headphones I brought were not “helmet-ready” - instead of wrapping my head at neck level, they arched across the top of my head. So, before even standing up on the skates, I had my first crisis - tunes or cranial protection? Being a mature adult, there was no decision - the helmet went into the backpack, and I set off down the trail to the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra .
Antibalas is a horde of musicians from New York, including a 5-man horn section, playing a driving and infectious brand of music that is perfect for blading. We were introduced to them at last year’s Bumbershoot Festival . After a tenuous start owing to the long layoff, I got my stride and began to groove.
The Burke Gilman is a former railroad bed that has been converted into a trail for bicyclists, bladers and other non-motorized transport. It runs for 13 miles, skirting the northwest shore of Lake Washington, and joins up with a second trail that heads east of the lake. The combination allows you to travel 25 miles in one direction. Owing to its railroad origins, any grades are very gradual, which is beneficial to me because, frankly, I can’t stop myself very well on my blades (except as noted below).
The trail is a proven jewel of a park, but attempts to add to it are uniformly opposed by property owners (as, indeed, was its original construction). In Seattle, there is a 5-mile segment linking the trail with Puget Sound that has been obstructed for years by commercial and industrial interests whose businesses would be traversed by the proposed route. The City has had possession of an abandoned railbed for years, but has been stymied by intense lobbying. While I’m not insensitive to the legitimate concerns of businesses who need access to the waterfront, I think a lot of the opposition is simply the old property-rights crankiness.
Similarly, at the east end of the trail system along Lake Sammamish, King County owns a railbed that runs along the water, and crosses the waterside lawns of many high-income residences. They have been vehement in their opposition to completing that segment of trail, even though it seems it would be preferable to a railroad. The problem probably lies in the fact that their McMansions were built after the railroad quit running, and they felt they could always bully their way past any public use of land that they didn’t own in the first place. They whine about safety issues and increased crime, but this flies in the face of the experience of property owners along the already-completed parts of the trail, who always emphasize their proximity to it when putting their joints up for sale.
I think these rail-trails are terrific public assets. To support railbanking efforts in your area and nationwide, join the Rails To Trails Conservancy.
I skated along for 6 miles, then turned back. Just as I hit an extended downhill run that I had been looking forward to, I hit a wrinkle in the pavement and my skates went out from under me. Reflexively (I’ll die with the word on my lips) I yelled, “Fuck!”, probably even louder than usual because music was blasting in my ears, no doubt dampening any sympathy I might have gleaned from the mother-son bicycle duo that was just passing in the opposite direction. Despite all the armor I was wearing, I fell backwards and smacked the pavement on my butt and thigh.
When things like that happen to me, my first concern is always how stupid I look, not how badly I might be hurt. As nonchalantly as I could, I scrambled off the pavement and into a fetal position. After a few minutes waiting out the pain, I gingerly put pressure on the leg to see if anything was broken and to assess my chances of completing the trip. Eventually I stood up, selected some more tunes and rolled tentatively back home. See, I didn’t need the helmet after all.