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Philly '06: Best Skate Save I've Ever Seen and Done!

eebee's picture

The Saturday evening excursion of the 2006 Philly Freedom Skate had several skaters' lives flashing before their eyes! One stretch of the route back in to town from the Merion Station, NW of Philly, had those of us at the 'front of the pack' flying full-speed into a hairpin-bend like downhill.

After a welcomed ice-cream break, Blake and I were not particularly hankering to be racing at the front of this diversely-skilled group of skaters, rather to take each stretch of the route as comfortably as we felt like. However, after the post-reststop regroup the skate leaders decided to pull a fast one on us and lead us in the opposite direction to where everybody expected to go. This put us unwittingly in the front of the group with the speed freaks.

We've been skating for years and at one point in the past both of us would have been able to hang at the front without having to brake much on a downhill, so we followed the few people in front of us, headlong around a blind curve, thinking "If these guys flying past us on the wrong side of the road think it's OK up ahead, then they must know what they're doing - it's OK to go for it!".

Yikes! I watched as a skatergirl ahead of me (Freddie?) and Blake both took the first very sharp and fast left turn. I noticed Freddie was looking like she was going too fast around the turn, and Blake suddenly didn't look relaxed either, but they each made it through. It was too late for me to brake at this point so I leaned into it and hoped for the best. My wheels started to slide out towards the outside of the turn and I think I was about 6 inches away from the grass before the turn opened up to a small stretch of straightaway. At that point I surveyed the road surface, thinking "That's gonna really tear up my thighs when I hit it!!".

Thinking I'd have time to really hit the brakes I tried my heel brake, looking up ahead at Blake to see how he was handling it. Was it just me or was this nuts?! Realizing Blake and the others ahead of me were hurtling towards a tight right-hand bend, I had enough time to imagine the gruesome sights and sounds of him falling and to think to myself "Oh great! I get to watch him have a really bad fall. This'll be an emergency room trip for one of us, without a doubt". Braking was absolutely futile at this point. Blake was T-stopping as much as he could at that speed, but it didn't help much. Using my heel brake was hardly any help either since I had to prepare to lean into another turn.

Ostrich-like, I didn't want to look ahead at Blake any more to make sure he was OK, I just kept my eyes focused a few feet ahead of me so that I wouldn't panic or become off-balance watching others get off-balance. I was aware that I was probably going to have to either swerve, jump or fall over a body in the road at any moment. Somehow before or during the next steep downhill sharp bend, Blake managed to pass the ever-teetering Freddie, who was now in front of me. Both she and I were in about a 15 second state of limbo, trying to keep both skates on the ground but knowing we are actually completely out of control and in effect, in a really SLOW fall. Anybody who has fallen on skates, especially at higher speeds, knows that helpless moment between being vertical and scraping skin onto the road. Time seems to stand still during those moments. The final right-hand bend was slow to open up but just as steep, keeping Freddie and me waiting for the moment where we would simply stop pretending to be vertical any more and give in to gravity + centrifugal force.

One skate loosely on the ground and the other by its side purely for company, I braved looking ahead at Freddie to see if I could help her at all or if I should avoid her. At this point she resembled a cross between Disney's Bambi in that famous ice scene and Bode Miller at the 2006 Winter Olympics as he lost control of one of his skis and left it dangling behind him, balancing on one leg.  I was saying over and over in my head "She's going down! I'm going down". Blake was long gone around the bend and I was almost resentful, thinking "Hey! Does he know how much trouble we're in back here?!". He sure did!

Finally, after what seemed like a torturous eternity, the road straightened out and all three of us made it without tumbling down the hill. Speaking for myself, after getting both skates firmly back on the ground, going through post-trauma shakes and numb legs, I caught up to a white-faced Freddie and congratulated her on keeping it together. I attribute her staying vertical, largely to her not physically exhibiting signs of panic, and being able to reign in both legs going in different directions at top speed. A fellow behind me, however, was not so fortunate, and I heard a loud smack as he hit the opposite side of the road. Perhaps he deliberately veered off over there to avoid a pile-up.

The hill dumped out into Fairmont Park and a huge Reggae Festival! Boy was I in a daze going through there.

I'm not sure how many skaters went down on that hill, but I heard five at one point. Later at Mischa's event wrap-up party, a skater named Bill from Philly said we were not supposed to go down that hill at all. He sputtered "Oh! Were you that girl who had smoke coming out of her heel brake?". Sparks, more like!  I tried looking on a map to see what road that was. I'd love to know.

Happy to be in one piece!


Fun, for most!!!

I've heard wonderful things about this year's Philly skate, wish I was able to attend.  I love a little of excitement, but I also appreciate that most people need to go to work the next day.  Much of what we do poses enough exhilaration for most, but I get concerned when the skill level disparity and routes are a little out of sync.

 I remember one year, at dusk, going down a hill with serpentine curves, hearing the skaters in front of me screaming, but I wasn't able to see them.  I was dragging and braking with every last bit of strength in me to maintain control.  I realized at the next stop that the screams came from people that were in the woods because they didn't make the turns.  This happened to be a Friday night, which in my opinion, tends to draw everyone, regardless of whether or not they actually belong there.  Skaters that don't belong in a particular skate need to be more responsible, but also skate leaders, unfortunately, are saddled with the task of going above and beyond once the diverse crowd is in tow. 

eebee's picture

It's hard to shepherd a diverse group of skaters

Well what made things more confusing was that since the Friday night skate, some of the skate patrollers had gone to the trouble of stopping everybody prior to any relatively steep downhills to announce to the whole group that they needed to be alert and able to brake up ahead. Unfortunately, those hills, to us, were nothing really, plus they were in a straight-line witha run-out, mostly, and no treacherous downhills into cross-traffic. So by the Saturday night skate we were taking such warnings with a grain of salt. However, there was no warning that I heard for that particular downhill.


Mark and Artem were further back due to the sudden about-face of the group, and had to brake from the very top because of people braking precariously in front of them! So I'm sure to them, this particular downhill was a breeze and nothing to fuss about. Although I think Artem was sandwiched at one point between a left-most frenzied braker and an oncoming car...


I have never shepherded such a large group of diversely-skilled skaters, so I can't imagine the difficulty in accommodating everybody to where the newbies are safe and the experienced aren't bored.

roadskater's picture

Good and Bad of Philly Hills

We'll be posting more on this I'm sure as we've located the spot and we'll make a gmap so you can look at the road in satellite view. Suffice it to say that I was on the edge of my ability, and thought I was beyond it briefly, with a person in front of me looking past the edge of theirs. But I found I had more skill or maybe luck than I was thinking.

One bad idea was when they played a cute trick on the group. This would have been a cute trick on the flats. It really wasn't in this case. They made most people think we were going one direction when in fact we were heading the other. So the people who wished to be at the back and tended to be slower were now at the front. We were hanging at the back because we just didn't care where we were and we were enjoying the frozen treats and water.

I saw some guys I knew flying down this hill and incorrectly assumed they'd been down it. That made me incorrectly feel more safe.

Anyway, I like when it's everyone together and I like that the best on Friday night and Saturday morning. Friday night should be a pretty moderate skate I'd say, and Saturday morning can be fun without being unsafe. I like the Saturday evening skate to be faster and hillier since we ride the buses out of town, but I'll say they warned us more strongly about much lesser hills than this one the night before. I think Saturday afternoon/evening is a good time to split the group the way they did Saturday morning, and not everyone should do the bus out skate perhaps.

And I like the Sunday skate to be lame and downtown and art museum and riverside and coffee and snackies.

That's just me. But the last Philly Freedom Skate was great regardless of any flaws, and I hope next year's Philly Free Skate will be just as safe (or more) and fun (or more). Philly's a great place for a skate fest!

Nothing compares to the icy water of LOVE fountain giving me an almost heart attack and pounding on my shoulders on a blistering hot sunny Philly day with so many happy skateyfaces about and so much crystal blue rippling color swirling about my feet and spinning around on Elizabeth's jersey.


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