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Get Back In-Line, Skates

The '90s trend is back, and with a purpose

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As slow as warm weather was in getting here, we should remember that many Idaho residents have endured a lengthier transition to warmer temperatures. My work takes me up a few thousand feet in elevation and 100 miles north. In McCall winter lingers and "mud season" is just getting under way.

For me, the challenge of this season lies in finding outdoor entertainment. My favorite winter sports--Nordic skiing and snow-shoeing--have melted away with the ice sheet that was Payette Lake. My summer passions--trail running and mountain biking--are stymied by the miniature glaciers still hiding the trails that weave under the shade of the forest. And almost every off-road surface that has thawed is now mud.

Several weeks ago, I paced along the taxiway at McCall Municipal Airport, waiting for a flight and contemplating the end of my rookie season as a skate skier. As much as I looked forward to summer, I couldn't help but mourn the skill degradation that would inevitably accompany the rising snow line. I had invested too much time building that unique and specific fitness to let it silently slip away.

And that's when it hit me. Staring at the vast expanse of tarmac, I realized that I might be able to salvage some skate-ski technique while waiting for the snow to melt and the dirt to dry. All I needed was a pair of in-line skates.

Procuring said skates was not easy. Though trendy in the '90s, rollerblading is now on a par with the grunge music and cargo pants. Despite a recent surge in popularity, the roller derby scene had done little to propagate an easy-to-find supply of shoes on wheels. Phone calls to sports shops yielded nothing in the way of rental skates. It was looking like I would have to make a purchase, sight-unseen, from an online retailer.

In one last-ditch effort, I swung into a used sporting goods store. A pair of almost-new ladies' skates, size 9, was sitting there as if expecting me. The next day, I was gliding past hangars and dodging twin-engine double-props, totally digging a new way to roll.

Apart from an occasional backcountry pilot making a short final approach, or an unexpected crack in the pavement, I couldn't have asked for a more hazard-free environment. It was perfect for practicing balance and developing lateral hip strength without skis or poles. In fact, thanks to my wrist guards, knee pads and elbow pads, I wasn't even afraid of my own klutziness. And in the event of a face-plant at the end of the runway, well, my office--the Life Flight helicopter and crew--was parked nearby.

As the blazing sun heats the tarmac like a giant griddle and the snow rises ever higher up the mountains, I'll be skating through "mud season" in anticipation of the next winter.

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