Well I touched on the fact that I went to the Brussels rollerparade last week, but I didn't really say anything about it, and it was a great experience. I think I've been missing out all my life, because when I took up inline skating, I went straight for slalom and didn't really involve myself in these kind of skating tours. There is also the small fact that these sorts of skating tours DO NOT EXIST in the United States, so that's probably also part of it. Well, maybe there is a skate somewhere in the US (Big Apple Roll? Skate Boston? I don't know) that somehow compares, but I've never seen anything like it before. In Belgium, it's all very official, you see, and in the States, if skaters plan on marauding through the city, it's usually just that --a bunch of skaters who meet up and attack the roads together because it's safer than doing it alone or with just a few people. Safety in numbers (and also fun).
Here, there are hundreds of skaters, followed by a throng of cyclists, and the police block traffic at every intersection as we roll on through, and there is a bright pink Evian pickup truck with DJ in the back who looks like he is very much enjoying hanging out in the back of this pickup truck as he is paraded all through the city while he plays music that booms out of big speakers which are set up alongside him in the back of the truck. Along with this, there is a separate Evian truck stocked to the gills with bottles of water, which are doled out at pauses, as well as a Red Bull VW Bug, which also provides free jolts of energy at several points in the tour.
Now, I've been taking part in these tours in Hasselt since I moved here, and it's always a nice skate; usually it's no more than three hours, most of it is flat, and it's very relaxing. We can talk with people while we're skating, we can goof around with wheelings, and it just feels good to be able to stretch out and skate on roads that are usually full of cars. During the pauses, we put down cones and slalom until it's time to go. It's a nice way to spend a Monday night. Also, in Hasselt, the numbers are much smaller than "hundreds," although I couldn't really aim to guess accurately at how many people actually *do* show up. 150, not counting bikes? I'm not sure. Anyway, it's still waaaaaay more people than I've ever seen skating in one place at one time in the USA.
However, when I went to Brussels on Friday, it was a whole different game. There were maybe more than twice as many people as come to Hasselt, plus lots of cyclists. The group left from Palais de Justice at 8:00 pm, and we got back to the same spot at 12:00 midnight. It was fantastic. Unlike in Hasselt, the skate was anything but flat. I was told that the route is never the same twice, but I'm guessing that there are certain bits that get woven into the tour repeatedly, because there was one amazing and looooong downhill section which everyone knew to anticipate. A bunch of longboarders were also there at the top of the hill to take advantage of the road being closed, so they had to know in advance that the tour would go through that spot.
I've never done much downhill, mostly because once I get the feeling that I'm going too fast to be able to stop effectively (and I'm not wearing any protective gear), I get quite nervous. As my skating improves, the upper threshold for how fast I am comfortable going for a long period of time continues to go up. However, I didn't really know what to expect going into the downhill. Naturally I wanted to play the same game as everybody else, so I lined up at the starting line at the top of the hill, ready to run à la speed slalom. Some people counted down, and then suddenly everyone tore away running madly to get speed going into the downhill. However, the running wasn't really necessary, because we picked up speed anyway, and enough of it to get that feeling I get when Tim's driving and I stick my head out the car window and I can't quite catch my breath...it's very exhilarating.
After the initial start, I was going at a good clip and trying to get comfortable with it, but I got going too fast and had to slalom to slow down until I felt comfortable again. After that I let the speed build back up and it wasn't as frightening as it was the first time, and I relaxed into it a little. My bearings were great (I was so happy I had cleaned them the night before!) and my wheels didn't jitter like they used to when I would skate down a big hill very fast, at least not until I was going *too* fast and had to slalom a bit again. There's nothing like bombing down an asphalt hill on your two feet at top speeds to make you think about the fact that you have absolutely nothing protecting you if you fall down or crash into something.
So yeah. Downhill is kind of scary, the same way riding a motorcycle is kind of scary. But it's also fun. :)
On that note, please enjoy this short clip of Greg Mirzoyan bombing down the salt mine in Poland. (!) It's pretty badass. :)
Well I still have stories to tell but they will have to wait til next time.
Thanks for reading and have fun out there! And also, BE SAFE.