Headwind sucks: Jack Smith and friends skate across America
Thrasher Magazine, March,2004 by Josh Maready
“Scott Kam is (bleep) and I think we are somehow related. Like Jack and Nick, he’s a lifelong skateboarder, owns Rootamental skateboards, likes to laugh and joke as much as I do and shares my juvenile sense of humor and sarcasm.”
JACK SMITH IS A LEGEND. The guy is 46, built like a tank, has been skating since 1974, set world speed records while I was in diapers, and still skates almost every day. He eats fast food each day of his life (and gets frustrated if you don’t order within the first eight seconds at the counter), and yet is still as healthy as a horse. He’s been a huge influence on skateboarding. Do your homework, you’ll see. Nick Krest is the friendliest dude you’ll ever meet. He can talk to anybody about whatever whenever. Nick skated on this trip like a train and always had consistent times. At 38, Nick has his hand in the skateboarding industry, and he, too, still skates almost every day. Scott Kam is 33 and I think we are somehow related. Like Jack and Nick, he’s a lifelong skateboarder, owns Rootamental skateboards, likes to laugh and joke as much as I do and shares my juvenile sense of humor and sarcasm.
Jack has made this cross-country skate twice before, once in ’76 and once in ’84 (consult your Guinness Book of Records, kiddies. It’s in there). But this time we planned to shatter his last record by five days. The morning that we left began with Jack’s ritual of touching the tails of our boards into the Pacific Ocean, then on to our exodus through the beautiful land of Oregon. To begin with there were eight in our crew. We had guest skaters, but one member of the four-man team had to be skating at all times in order to make it legit. So the van we had following us served as a pass-the-torch relay. We also had to log in the mileage and time every time we started and ended a leg. That was a pain. Each leg started out as three miles, but on the second half of the trip we trimmed them down to two miles, unless you were skating through the mountains. Then it was a mile or a half of a mile, all depending on how steep it was.
The first day we had a mileage miscalculation, forcing us to skate an extra 50 miles, to result in 200 miles getting covered that day. Dude, my right leg was rotten. I mean, we all pushed regular and switch just the same (usually I switched up every eight-to-10 pushes) but my right leg got rocked. For the next six days I had to limp on it whenever I walked. Even though it hurt when I skated, I could still push with it. The first few days also took a toll on Scott’s heel. He got this gnarly blister that ended up looking like a hole someone made with a melon scooper or something. It was gross, but he never complained and never slacked up. Jack got a blister towards the end, and had to cut out the back of his shoe. Nick and me escaped the blister craze unscathed, although Nick did take a spill that drew blood, which made up for it.
Skating through Oregon is beautiful. Being all alone on a skateboard in the middle of nowhere is amazing; makes you think a lot. You start to talk to yourself. You start talking to animals, even singing. Sometimes I was so focused on the road in front of me that I had to snap myself out of the trance to realize the beauty surrounding me. When my legs would hurt really bad I would count my pushes or make up songs to try to drown the pain. I mean, pushing is one thing, but pushing up a mountain is a whole different patch of punkins. This trip was my first time stepping on a longboard, and definitely the first time I’ve dropped a few thousand feet in elevation off of one push. I’ve never skated for over six miles going 30-to-40 mph down a hill, praying that there wouldn’t be any potholes I couldn’t dodge.
THERE WERE LOTS OF FIRSTS FOR ME. One night we stayed in Unity, Oregon, one of the most beautiful places ever. Only a few hundred people live there. It was so small that the local sheriff was “out of town for the week.” That night one of the young girls came to me in a panic while I was sitting outside of our hotel room. “My boyfriend is going to come shoot you!” She said. “He got mad that I was talking to you earlier and wants to shoot you! He’s tried to shoot someone before! Please go inside and turn off your light!” So I waited, ’cause no one has ever pointed a gun at me. I thought it would make for a good story, but he never even showed.
Before we left Oregon we hit 17 miles of the gnarliest road ever–rocks embedded in tar. You could pull ’em out with your fingers. It was so gnar. You had to push going downhill. It was bad. Oh, I forgot–headwind. Headwind sucks. We battled so much headwind and there’s nothing you can do but push harder and hope it stops. Sometimes the wind would almost blow you backwards if you stopped pushing.
We hit some dry desert-looking place in Idaho and got busted by the po-po for using video cameras near a nuclear reactor. (Ps: We documented the whole trip and it’s going to be a National Geographic Personal Adventure on TV. Keep your eyes peeled.) For the most part, cops were amazingly cool. Some would pull us over, and boy is it funny to get blue-lighted on a skateboard. But when we told them the deal, most were super rad and even radioed the rest of the cops in that county telling them to leave us alone. We had one or two A-hole cops; one that even made us drive the few remaining miles of “his county.” But overall we were stoked there were so many 5-0s willing to help us.
Wyoming was cool because of all the red and gray rocks. Oh yeah, now I know why we gave the Indians the reservations in Wyoming–’cause there’s NOTHING THERE, MAN. White man lost nothing in that deal. It’s completely empty, but it’s rad to skate through. By Nebraska our crew had slimmed down to the four-man team. It was a lot easier that way. Sometimes people would give us money for the cause as they drove by us or when we stopped in a town. And I’d like to note: it was always the poorest towns that gave us the most. There was a town in Nebraska called Marionville, a town “too tough to die,” that had only 100 people. We were treated like royalty there. They opened their hearts and emptied their humble pockets. It was a modern day “widow’s mite,” and I’ve got a soft spot for people like that.
One fun thing you can do skating across America is spook animals. Deer, foxes … I think the raddest is to make a herd of a few hundred cattle streak across a pasture. You start laughing and, really, it makes you feel kind of powerful. One time I spooked this herd of antelope or something, and it was freaking amazing to see them shoot across the plains. My favorite, though, is the time I spooked some ducks and they flew across the road ahead of me. The lowest duck smacked the windshield of a semi that was coming towards me and shot it up 30 yards or so like a punted football, landing only a few feet away from me. Shaking my head, I kind of giggled and didn’t miss a beat. Another favorite: Once, these two horses ran probably two miles with me as I skated alongside their pasture. It was sick ’cause it was super early and foggy. The horses, the fog and the green pasture made me feel as if I was in some fantasy movie. Trust me, you’da been stoked if you were there, too.
OK, let me clue you in on something: the US is not flat for any more than a rare mile here and there. Sure, in a car it might seem as flat as a pancake, but when you are pushing through it you notice every rise and fall of elevation. So stop thinking that the “flatlands” must have been easy, because there are no flatlands! There are flatter-lands. But no flatlands. Iowa and Illinois are mellower than most, but we hit some big ol’ hills in Ohio and West Virginia, where the hills turned into mountains. Jack said the Appalachian Mountains were worse than the Rockies, ’cause it was up and down a bazillion times instead of straight up and straight down. But it all seemed the same to me, especially when just trying to hug the white line as close as possible so the speeding semi behind me wouldn’t send me flying down the side of the mountain. I had a few close calls. All of the crew got tossed during our journey but me. I did bail one time doing about 30-or-35 mph but ran out of it. And let me tell you: that was goddamn scary, dude. Big soft wheels on bumpy roads makes your board float eight inches either way sometimes. That’s something I’m not used to. And if it starts fishtailing–and you’re not used to longboards like me–then you would probably abandon ship just like I did.
Imagine skating for 21-days straight, from 7:30 am ’til six-or-nine pm. All you do is push, push, push, and every second is rushing. The only time you stop is for a 45-minute lunch, and maybe a radio interview here and there. We even made newspaper reporters follow us so they didn’t slow us down. It was amazing. I appreciated every painful push on the endless maze of asphalt and concrete across America. I loved pushing through the greenery of Oregon, baking under the blazing sun of Wyoming, skating through the sea of corn in Iowa, dodging dump trucks on the razor-sharp mountain curves in West Virginia, and swimming through the humidity of the Southeast. I loved it all. I really did. It was amazing.
Twenty-one days after leaving, we eventually rolled up to the East Coast and sealed the deal by dipping the noses of our boards into the beautiful waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Jack’s mission was never to break the world record. Jack’s mission was to raise money for and awareness about Lowe Syndrome. Breaking his record was really just a bonus for him. But in actuality, I guess the mission really isn’t over.
To learn more about Lowe Syndrome and to help the mission’s end draw nearer, visit http://www.lowesyndrome.org. Many, many thanks go out to justpushplay.com, Rolls Rolls skateboards, Independent, Etnies, Element, Tumyeto, Harbinger and Abec11 bearings for funding this trip, giving us product and making it all possible. So who’s down to skate from Canada to Mexico?