300 km rollerski in France

29 May

Participated last week in a 3 day, 300 km rollerski trip in France. The tour organized by the Alliance Glisse Franche-Compté club and inline wheel and rollerski manufacturer Roll’x started next to the Swiss border and finished near the city of Beaune in Burgundy.

We were 19 participants, 14 inline skaters and 5 rollerskiers. Additionally there were the support staff that made everything possible. They transported our luggage, provided frequent food and water breaks, protected us from traffic, ferried us through breaks in the bike paths, set up camp and fed us great food for lunch and dinner.

The trip stayed mainly on greenways closed to car traffic along canals, rivers and disaffected railways. When we ventured out onto country roads with vehicle traffic we usually were protected by a van in front and another behind us. So we got to experience the route in fairly ideal conditions of comfort and safety.

The weather, on the other hand, threatened to be less than perfect but finally worked out much better than expected in the end. We only faced heavy rain at the end of the afternoon of the second day.

The biggest challenge for me was the speed. Since we were with inline skaters with speedskating equipment, our average pace frequently exceeded 30km/h. This meant that the rollerskiers had to use hard, polyurethane racing wheels which I’m not used to. In Oslo I tend to train with slow rubber wheels.

Starting out on the first day the cruising speed came as a shock. In the initial minutes I was already making mental pictures of large expanses of skin scraped off from falls at such high speeds.

Moreover, to make matters worse, my luggage failed to arrive with my flight from Oslo to Zurich. That meant I had to borrow equipment the first day. I ended up with boots 3 sizes tool small that also gave me very little ankle support.

Happily my falling fears didn’t materialize any way significantly the first day. Once, when the inline skaters in front of me braked abruptly I had to throw myself onto the grass and bushes beside the path, but that only provoked minor scratches. However I realized then I quickly needed to learn the inline skate t-braking technique where you drag the wheels on one foot perpendicularly behind you to stop.

The more pressing worry shortly afterward at the lunch break was my left calf that had started to cramp up. I really wondered if I was going to make it the whole 300 km.

Clearly the ill-fitting boots weren’t helping. Happily my luggage arrived from Switzerland at the end of the nice meal prepared for us that we ate all together, sheltered from the rain under a couple big tents.

After a group breakfast, and setting off from the campground to our next departure point, the weather threatened but semi-miraculously it only rained heavily while we were under the tents for lunch. The followed bright, warm sunshine to dry the path off. That was great because hard wheels slip more on wet asphalt than the rubber ones I’m used to. Moreover, with better boots that actually fit me my leg cramp went away.

Even though we got completely soaked by rain the last hour, the rest of the day went well. I spent a lot of it not using my poles, just skating in the group of participants with inline skates. Staying close to the person ahead of you you get sucked along in their air pocket and can maintain your speed with much less effort. However being so close at such speeds entails risk because you can’t easily see hazards and obstacles in front if you. That requires teamwork, where each person signals obstacles to the skater behind him, whether cyclists or pedestrians, barriers, cracks or branches on the asphalt. Nevertheless, in spite of these precautions, we had one group fall the second day. I was out ahead with the other rollerskiers and so avoided it. Nothing broken but some nasty scrapes.

After a cold and rainy night the final day dawned with welcome sunshine. The first part of the day’s route was gently downhill through beautiful Burgundy wine country. Before lunch took a slight detour to visit the 18th century Salines Royales. Here in a large complex of grandiose and ornate buildings briny spring water was boiled down to salt. The return route, which was mostly uphill degenerated into something of a race.
We then took another van transfer to the last stretch of the day. It went through rolling terrain approaching the history rich city of Beaune, the capital of Burgundian wine. While my initial objective was just to survive, by this time my ambitions had creeped up to wanting to go fast. I guess I’m never satisfied.

I spent a good portion of the last kilometers switching between drafting behind and leading with just one inline skater from the group. I had taken it a but easier because of fears of falling or cramping up again. But with nearly three days experience rolling fast and the finish nearly in sight, I gave it a bit more gas. The finish itself came as a surprise since our route was cut short because of a horse show making entry into Beaune itself impractical.
It was a great experience. Thank you to the organizers for the hard work that made it so successful and to the participants for all the good times!


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