“Can I help you find something?” the REI saleswoman asked me.
“Yeah, I guess. I need some protective gear for, uhm, doing something really stupid.”
The saleswoman didn’t bat an eye. “What kind of something stupid?”
“Is that like rollerblading?”
“Yeah, but with a dog attached to you who’s pulling you along at a sprint.”
Yeah, I was going to need protective gear for that, so when we found they were out of gear in adult sizes I was off to another place to look. Four stores later I was at Play It Again Sports digging through their bin of used gear, some of which, with straps hanging by a thread and dirt crusted in the ridges, looked like it had been used in the filming of The Walking Dead. But I figured zombie gear was better than no gear, so I kept digging, and eventually ended up with a decent set of knee, elbow, and wrist guards (I already had a bike helmet).
The next morning I got a decently early start - not so early I’d freeze body parts in the cold, but not so late that the trail would be crowded with people.
“This is such a stupid idea,” I said to myself as I got dressed. So many things could go wrong - I could crash brutally and break something; I could wreck with some cyclist or runner or pedestrian, or (shudder) a kid; I could lose my dog; or my dog might not stop at a road intersection and we’d both be squashed against some speeding car’s windshield. Or, we could just get on the trail and not go anywhere, because knowing Ryder he’d constantly stop and pee on every bush.
“Well, let’s call it an experiment then,” I told myself to muffle my worries.
We parked at a local park with access to the American Tobacco Trail. McCrae drove us over and brought his bike with the idea that he’d ride along with me to make sure nothing awful happened. He was appropriately cautious and supportive of my antics, though I suppose he should have been more concerned; I had conveniently forgotten to mention to him that I don’t actually know how to rollerblade.
Oh sure, I owned a pair of rollerblades that were at least 15 years old (I’d bought them used with pocket money from a garage sale that long ago). And sure, I’d spent a lot of Friday and Saturday nights at the roller rink in middle school cruising around to N’SYNC and Britney Spears, but in reality most of that time was spent gossipping at the pizza bar or clinging to the roller rink wall while my friends and I ogled the cool high school boys doing tricks in the middle of the rink. Honestly, I don’t even know how to brake on rollerblades.
So yeah, McCrae should have been way more worried.
Sadly, my incompetence was quick to show itself. I wasn’t even out of the parking lot when poor Ryder, spooked by the unfamiliar rollerblade noise, tried to make a break for it. Rather than crash into a curb and railing, I leaned backwards and fell - HARD. Buttcheek, meet road rash.
I thought I’d broken something. I thought I’d turned my bum black and blue. I thought I would lie on that pavement gasping against the rough, gravelly asphalt moaning unprintable swear words and writhing in agony until the blacktop swallowed me whole.
“I don’t think I can do this,” I croaked to McCrae, and then I lay there, stunned, for several more minutes.
And yet, and yet…
I took stock. I was alive. Nothing was broken. I might not sit for a few days, but in the grand scheme of things, that was nothing. It was very painful, but that was all.
So I got up and tried again. And again. And again. And again.
I wiped out less fantastically each time, and worked to gain steadiness and build confidence (in Ryder as well as myself) while trying to stay out of the way of cyclists and runners and other people who very sensibly walked their dogs on a normal leash and tennis shoes.
And then we tried again, and this time, it was incredible! I finally had momentum and balance, and Ryder hit a steady stride. Honestly, I don’t even have the words to describe it. There’s just something about being totally in the moment, putting all your trust in your dog and using all your concentration to encourage him and praise him, while sharing your wild elation and intensely focusing on balance and steering, and watching the surroundings for obstacles or dangers, constantly aware that anything could go wrong. Anything could go wrong! And yet, amazingly, it didn’t. We flew over the landscape, air rushing in my ears, legs taut and tucked and Ryder in his primal element. He was born to run, and I was just along for the ride.
We went maybe a half mile down the trail before Ryder decided he was done hauling my dead weight. The soft indoor wheels on my rollerblades had picked up dirt and pine straw so they only sluggishly rolled and Ryder gave me an exasperated look when I tried to cajole him into one more run back to the car. McCrae walked Ryder back to the parking lot, his fluffy white tail raised like a banner with his self-satisfied trot, while I was tasked with rollerblading back to the car on my own because, as McCrae so aptly pointed out, I desperately needed the practice.
Ultimately I ended up with junk rollerblades that are two sizes too small and now have ruined wheels from dirt and debris, one roughed up bum, a dog who happily lazed around the house for the rest of the weekend, and one decent run, which I’m going to count as a success. I need to make some adjustments to my set-up (anyone want to lend me a GoPro for my helmet and pillows for my butt??), but with a little more practice Ryder and I will have some more amazing runs.
Just remember, kids, don’t try this at home. You might end up having fun or something.