Road kill and railroad tracks aren't considered normal hazards in roller skating. Cracks in the sidewalk, lost skate keys and ripped tights maybe. Not dead possums and skunks, or metal rails laid upon large wooden ties.
But this wasn't normal roller skating. It was the world's longest roller race, the Bauer Point-to-Point, a 138-mile trek staged this spring on the byways between Fresno and Bakersfield. That's in California, of course, the land of tinted contact lenses and poodle psychiatrists.
The race was conceived by a true California dreamer, David Miles, a 35-year-old San Franciscan who four years ago founded the Outdoor Roller Skating Association of America. His organization sponsors various Bay Area competitions—criterium races, 5K and 10K races, and meets that feature high jumps and long jumps, all performed on skates. Last year, when the group staged a 95-mile race from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, Miles got to thinking. "We wanted to do something with a gigantic exclamation mark," he says. "We wanted everyone to recognize skating, and I thought people would look at this race and realize that this was an awesome feat."
On April 13, Miles and his 44 entrants, most of them on five-wheel-in-line skates, were blessed with a beautiful race morning. They rolled out of the parking lot of a roadside hotel in Fresno at 6:20 a.m., just as the sun, casting a luminous glow on the vineyards and orchards that lined both sides of the road, crept above the horizon.
No one was emboldened to make an early move, and the skaters traveled in a few small packs for the first half of the race. At 80 miles, though, as the hills began to wear down the other competitors, two racers broke away. The duo seemed perfectly well suited to lead this offbeat event: Sandy Snakenberg, 29, is a chef at a San Diego vegetarian restaurant that is run by students of meditation; Greg LeVien is a 26-year-old unemployed San Francisco carpenter who has a lot of free time to work on his skating. Snakenberg and LeVien skated together for about 30 miles, averaging 15 mph uphill, 24 mph on the flats and up to 35 mph on the declines.
With 28 miles remaining, LeVien was all in. He dropped back and Snakenberg, realizing that he was about to win this great event, was overwhelmed. "What an emotional experience those last 30 miles were!" he says. "I just started crying, looking around and experiencing the beauty. It was all so beautiful!" That the last 30 miles of scenery featured churning oil rigs and taco stands was lost on Snakenberg, who had apparently achieved some sort of roller nirvana.
Once he had the lead, Snakenberg, a 12-year skating veteran, wasn't going to lose it. He had been in training for weeks, and he was one of the few racers who had already traveled more than 138 miles in one stretch. Six years ago, a broken relationship left him despondent, and to find solace, he packed a knapsack with convenience-store hot dogs and a jug of water, and skated more than 200 miles, from San Diego into Arizona. "I crossed the border into some city and passed out behind a dumpster. That was in my early, wild days," he says.
Older and professedly more mature, Snakenberg reached the outskirts of Bakersfield well ahead of his rivals. There, he had to slow his pace considerably in deference to the traffic. He was forced to a stop by pedestrians in a crosswalk and twice by red lights. "I always obey traffic rules," he explained later. "I've never had a driver's license, but I know the rules."
At the finish line in Jastro Park, Snakenberg was greeted by Miles and Miles's wife, Rose, who was doubling as race statistician and chief cook. In the latter capacity, she had just finished barbecuing 50 pounds of chicken for the postrace party. In her primary job, she clocked Snakenberg's official winning time at 9:21:42.
Snakenberg, elated but battered, limped toward the massage table. "I feel like 138 miles of bad road," he said.
An hour and 35 minutes later Anna Stubbs, 26, a student and sports massage therapist from San Francisco, crossed the line. The women's winner, who finished seventh overall, was greeted by a cheering crowd of six. "The road just ate up my ankles," she said. "But it feels good to have finished."
Seventeen skaters went the distance, and all showed up for the awards ceremony at a nearby Days Inn later that evening. At the gathering, Snakenberg said that he hoped his sport would soon enjoy more prominence. "Winning is not that important," he said. "But prize money! That's different. That's rent."
Snakenberg (left) and LeVien glided away at 80 miles, but still faced the roughest rolling.