Thursday, October 8, 2009

Roller Parade

Two weeks ago Dallas and I put on our brave faces and participated in Brussels' last Roller Parade of the summer. Every Friday from June through September a group of skaters meets up on their wheels at the Palais de Justice and takes to the busy streets of Brussels. A route of 20-25 km is blocked and it is all very organized with route stewards, medics, police, and of course many sponsors leading the way. I thought it sounded like fun and have been trying to find a Friday all summer long to join in. When the very last "parade" rolled (ha!) around I made getting there a priority. Dallas agreed to take on the challenge with me. However, she neglected to tell me that she used to be on a roller hockey team! She whipped out her personal blades and then the fear started to really set in. I had never really roller bladed before. But I loved roller skates so I thought - how hard could it be, right? Wrong!!! I rented my skates for 10 euros and was trembling with nerves as all the athletes around me turned circles and jumped down stairs with their blades on. I remembered to wear long sleeves and pants, but without a helmet, elbow, and knee pads I knew I was toast. I circled around warming up on weak ankles and down a tiny incline. I had serious, serious doubts and thought about backing out. But then the music started pumping and the night seemed to overwhelm me with magical warm weather and city lights. I told Dallas and Thomas I would give it a try but likely would go 20 feet and then quit. I thought I ought to attempt it since we all went to so much effort! Thomas was adorable because for the first 10 minutes or so he ran forward and took photos of us on foot. Don't I look like I am having fun in this shot? Can you sense the underlying fear this crazy expression is trying to cover up?

Well..... Lo and behold! After a few minutes of unsteady glides I got a little stronger and a little stronger. The cobblestones and tram tracks proved formidable challenges, but somehow it all came together. And after 20 minutes I was able to relax a little bit. Very invigorating sport - especially with Friday night bar crowds cheering us on and never knowing where the next turn would lead us. One glide in front of the other I actually did it! It was a terrific rush! We did come across a good handful of downhills. I never got the hand of the stop mechanism on my skate. Pushing forward rather than back to stop never seemed natural. At first I would just roll from one car to the next smashing into it and lunging for the side mirrors to slow my speed. It wasn't long til one of the French stewards started telling me "Ne touches pas les voitures! Ne touches pas les voitures!" (Don't touch the cars!) Uh oh. I started to head to the "poop out van" to stop knowing I was over my head. I was FOR SURE the worst skater in the entire bunch; I swear all the others must have been professionals! But then Ludwig, the same scolding steward, took my arms and told me to clutch his waist. He let me hold on for dear life down the hills. I thought I was going to yank his belt loops right off. And Ludwig could only speak French so my mind was urgently trying to translate his words and appear calm as I sped down the hills. At another point one of these doctors literally pushed me up a hill as I was lagging behind. It seemed they were all rooting for me and helping me along! After ~13 km and over 2 hours of skating all over Brussels I was exhausted with jelly legs. I knew there were at least 2 steep tunnels coming up so we called it quits and got on the bus before any bones were broken. I was satisfied and happy with our accomplishment. Although next time I think I might follow this little guy's example and bike the route! I am so glad I have a friend like Dallas to try out these crazy new experiences. It was certainly a night I will not soon forget. Here is Dallas' blog account of our journey.

And here are some shots we took the week before of the roller parade passing right under our apartment. This is what inspired me to join in...

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