RAGBRAI was a revelation for this inline distance skater from Iowa

GALVA — Most 18,000 people take part in the Register’s annual Big Bike Ride in Iowa this week are on two wheels. But Caleb Smith is part of a growing contingent of six or more.

Smith, 32, of Des Moines, and a group of five other ‘ultra-skateboarders’ were among the crowds early Monday that left the first overnight stop, Ida Grove, for Pocahontas, a trip of more than 71 miles.

A veteran long-distance skater, Smith had no trouble keeping up with the cyclists on the world’s biggest annual cycling tour. On the descents, he passed them at speeds of up to 30 mph, crouched into a ball shape, then emerged swinging his arms from side to side in full speedskating stride while maintaining his rhythm.

Aaron Burris-Debrosky, left, Mark Catelotti, center, and Caleb Smith are among the 2022 RAGBRAI inline skaters.

“When I’m about to walk, I feel like I’m flying,” Smith said. “I feel weightless and you just move. On a fast-moving bike, it’s you and the bike. You both do the thing. But on skates, you are one. You feel so in control of the moment.

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He was so in control that he took selfies on his phone while driving at 25 mph. Not that he and his companions aren’t aware of the dangers of speed skating through a crowd.

Inline skaters Mark Catelotti, 44, of Fort Collins, Colo., and Aaron Burris-Deboskey, 35, of Denver, were on their first RAGBRAI. They said the crowded roads looked like a crowded roller rink.

Catelotti said he previously lived in Atlanta and would skate in the bike-unfriendly city’s Critical Mass race, which draws hundreds of cyclists on the last Friday of every month to take the streets back for a few hours from car traffic. always thick.

“I know how to get small,” Catelotti said. “The roller rink and the skate park, there are no rules. Your level of consciousness is therefore higher.

Skaters a regular feature of RAGBRAI

Inline skaters are still among the runners, but they have become a regular at RAGBRAI. Sport itself, a key trend of the 1990s, found a revival — like many outdoor activities — during the COVID-19 pandemic, with long-distance skating being a particularly popular subgenre.

Smith has been skating since he was 5, but said he found his long-distance legs on RAGBRAI in 2017 when his girlfriend was riding a bike and he decided to follow.

“At that point I had started skating a bit for exercise, but I had only done 10 or 20 miles,” Smith said.

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He is now on his fifth RAGBRAI. He also skated the Bike Ride Across Georgia, with its challenging mountain climbs. And earlier this year, he skated from Des Moines to the Atlantic Ocean.

“I came down a mountain in the rain at 58 mph,” Smith said. “After that, everything else was just a piece of cake.”

That usually includes the bane of RAGBRAI cyclists: Iowa’s rural highway treads, which can cause a fast-moving cyclist to bounce off a bike. Usually Smith just slides on it. But about six miles from Galva, distracted by a conversation with a pesky Des Moines Register reporter on a bicycle, he failed to spot a set of soundtracks and was nearly wrecked while traveling at about 20 mph.

“I can handle them when I’m ready for them,” Smith said after catching up.

Spreading the RAGBRAI gospel in the world of cross-country skating

Smith now has ambitious goals in ultra-skating. He loves self-guided skating trips and wants to skate across the country. He dreams of a transcontinental trip that would require him to skate more than 120 miles a day for weeks.

But he said RAGBRAI is still his favorite event. He tries to find all the ultra-skaters on the circuit and “shout RAGBRAI” to them.

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“I love Iowa,” Smith said. “Over the past six years, my whole life has been transformed. I wouldn’t have found this without RAGBRAI.

Smith wants to spread the gospel of RAGBRAI. Burris-Deboskey and Catelotti heard the word and are now hooked for life.

“It’s weird not knowing which direction I’m facing because I don’t have the Rockies as a reference point,” said Catelotti, one of the Colorado residents. “It’s just different, beautiful.”

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“It’s its own majesty, the landscape and the hills of Iowa,” Burris-Deboskey said. “It’s cool because in Denver it’s the high plains. We have the mountains, but the city and stuff is just a flat sprawl. Being here is a big change of pace for skating .

Philip Joens is on his 17th RAGBRAI. He completed the river-to-river hike five times. He covers breaking news, city government and RAGBRAI for the Des Moines Register and can be reached at 515-443-3347 at [email protected] or on Twitter @Philip_Joens.

Going for a ride this year? Email, call or text Joens if you have a story to share.

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