Sunday, June 18, 2006

Burgundy & Paris Multisport

Pinot noir, chocolate crepes, and escargot. Notre dame, the Eiffel Tower, and the Musée d'Orsay. Biking through vineyards, skating on canal tow paths, and hiking to a hillside church. There is so much happening on our Burgundy and Paris Multisport Adventure it is hard to know where to start my blog.

Burgundy, a province in the eastern part of France about five hours drive from Paris, is known for its food and wine. We have been visiting Burgundy for four years now, however, primarily because of two long, paved, and beautiful paths in the heart of the area.

We start our tour skating along the Canal du Centre in the town of Chalon-sur-Saone. The path running along the canal is just perfect for skating. Because a number of participants on this trip were not experienced skaters, I took about 1/3 of the group to one end of the trail for a short braking clinic. The rest of the group started skating from the end of the path near our Chalon hotel and one of my two co-guides on this trip provided advanced skating instruction while on the trail. It was gratifying to hear how much people liked the path but more so to hear one skater tell me he had learned more about skating in one day than in all his previous lessons.

The activity continued in Burgundy with successive days of biking, hiking, skating, and hiking. On this trip, I ended up supporting the route in our Zephyr van on both skating days and so was able to bike the long route on our biking day and hike both days we were on foot. Since I love getting off the trails into the Burgundy countryside, that was fine with me.

However, it was during one of my driving days that I had my best day in Burgundy. While the group skated from our hotel in the small town of Buxy to our hotel in the slightly larger but more famous (for its ancient abbey) town of Cluny, two of us drove the support van and transferred the group’s luggage. We then went to the local grocery store to purchase ingredients for a surprise picnic lunch.

The menu? Freshly prepared salad with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, olives, and potato; French bread straight from the bakery; four kinds of cheeses and five kinds of sandwich meats; cashews, almonds, and pistachio nuts; fresh fruit including melon, oranges, and kiwi; cake, cookies, and French chocolates for dessert; water with a flavor of mint to wash it all down; and freshly picked wildflowers for the table.

It was a feast and when our group rolled up to the picnic area, situated alongside the trail in a wooded park, they were happy to see us! Naturally, on a normal basis I much prefer hiking, skating, or biking to driving the van. However, this day was special because I felt like I belonged in France as I shopped and prepared a very European picnic. The compliments from our participants didn’t hurt!

After five days in Burgundy, we boarded a chartered bus for the ride back to Paris. That evening, we had a quick dinner before heading to the Friday Night Skate. With thousands of skaters participating (the skate runs every week and averages 10,000) we quickly separated and enjoyed the amazing experience of skating through the streets of the city – at night – in a huge crowd. We met again at the break and were so pumped up by the experience that at midnight we skated up to a sidewalk café for a post-skate drink.

The next two days we toured the major sights of Paris on skates. Many in the group were nervous about skating in Paris and, granted, it is more difficult than skating on a nicely paved path. However, with a little encouragement and some pointers on how to navigate the city, our group headed down side streets toward the Eiffel Tower. Two days, dozens of kilometers, and an entire city later our group of nervous skaters were quite impressed – and justifiably so – with their successes skating in Paris.

I can relate the details but it is hard to relate how emotionally satisfying the last week has been for me. I absolutely love Europe and France is one of my favorite countries on the continent. I have been to Burgundy half a dozen times and it now feels as if this little corner of the world is a second home. Because of this feeling, it is that much more rewarding to be able to show off my “home” to our tour participants.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Camp Rollerblade Denver

This past weekend I had the pleasure of participating in Camp Rollerblade Denver. This two-day camp was part of the 13-city schedule of Camp Rollerblade Weekends in 2006.

We had a relatively small group of nine students at the Denver camp. (Our average is more than twice that and many camps sell out at 24 students.) Participants ranged in age from 17 to 60 with an average age of 42. Three of the participants had never skated before and all were shaky on braking and other fundamental skills prior to camp.

As the owner of Zephyr Adventures, the company that runs Camp Rollerblade, I don’t normally get to instruct at the camps we run around the country. However, since I live in Boulder only 10 miles from the Denver camp location, I was lucky to be able to teach at this one. Kris Thomas, a full-time Zephyr employee in our Red Lodge, Montana office, drove down to join me at this camp as my co-instructor.

The camp started at 9:00 AM on Saturday and was held in a private rink in a city park with nearby benches, picnic tables, and a bathroom. We started with introductions and a discussion about skating, equipment, and safety gear. We then started out with the basics: how to stand without rolling, how to get up off the ground from a sitting position, and how to fall safely without hurting yourself.

Once in the rink, we learned Stride One (the beginner forward motion stride) and skated from one side of the rink to the other. At the beginning, as I am sure all the participants would agree, it was quite a sight! No one could stop so we just banged into the rink wall each time we came to the other side. Legs were wobbly and balance was precarious. However, we kept falls to a bare minimum (in fact, I don’t remember any on this first drill) and everyone had smiles on their faces by the time we took our first break.

The key to skating is to learn to stop and that was our next order of business. Using the heel brake is not a natural motion at all and generally requires instruction. We broke the motion down into parts and, by lunchtime, most people were stopping fairly efficiently. We ended the morning session with a game of “Red Light, Green Light” on skates.

The two days progressed in a similar manner. New drill, practice, fun game to reinforce the concept, and then a short break. Learning to skate comes in waves and periods of enlightenment, when everything we are saying seems to all of a sudden click in a student’s mind (and body). I remember Barbara, who struggled with braking until she watched her daughter Tessa demonstrate it properly. Boom – she had it down. Or Jed, who started out only wanting to stroke with one foot before all of a sudden learning to use both in his stride.

The final afternoon we headed out of the rink to a local trail to practice our skills in the real world. The trail was beautiful and the real-life conditions made it exciting! Everyone did great. We practiced going over rough terrain (including sewer grates), skating up small hills, braking down hills to control our speed, and even perfecting the grass stop (a rolling stop into the grass rather than a flailing of all limbs in a last-ditch effort).

My final memory of the trip was when Savita struggled to perfect the grass stop on a slight decline. Throwing all caution to the wind, she headed down a steeper hill, caromed into the grass, and executed a perfect grass stop. A fitting finale to the weekend.

Congratulations to our nine students and all veterans of Camp Rollerblade. You deserve a round of applause! If you yourself are eager to skate or know someone who is, please send them to!