I’m sitting in my backyard in Seattle, about to grill a chicken with my wife, looking back on driving a giant S-shaped route across the United States in three different vehicles with five teen skateboarders during a caffeinated blur of twenty intense days. And I’m realizing… this was one of the most ambitious, most challenging, most rewarding things I’ve done in my 46 years.
I’m exhausted, physically and emotionally. My butt is sore from driving more than five thousand miles through countless towns and cities in nineteen states. My body can still feel the hum and rumble of our beloved Dodge passenger van, purchased of necessity in Jefferson City, Missouri. For the first time since leaving Seattle before dawn on July 19, I’m not obsessed with reaching the next town, the next skatepark, the next hotel, with feeding the boys and keeping them safe and showing them America, with balancing our budget and staying on task and Google Mapping on my iPad, with taking photos and video and writing blog posts, while still attempting to keep my eyes wide open and have fun.
Last night I slept restlessly and had anxious dreams – I’m in the back of the van with the boys, going 90, but no one is driving; I’m in a hotel room but the boys are gone. My dog, who at one point was going to join our Sk8 the St8s road trip (thank god I heeded my wife’s advice), keeps looking up at me with a worried look that says, “Are you okay?”
Following Friday night’s emotional family reunion at the Amtrak station in Portland (photos here), we all walked around the Pearl District and ate dinner at Henry’s 12th Street Tavern. Later, back at our hotel south of Portland, my buddy Reid and I stayed up late reviewing some of the highlights, lowlights and trends of the trip that began with a shocker – a broken-down bus in his home town of Charleston – and ended with a long goodbye to my kids yesterday at Windells Skate Camp at the base of Mount Hood.
Over cocktails at the Crowne Plaza, I told Reid that one of my disappointments during the trip was not having enough time to pull back from the day-to-day management, to analyze and observe the skate culture that I’d set out to understand. I’m hoping that a deeper understanding of my kids’ obsession with skating, and my support role as skate dad, will come with time, and that with the perspective of distance I’ll eventually find some answers to the question: what is skateboarding?
I did learn that skating meshes perfectly with the anti-authoritarian streak most of these teen boys possess, especially Sean. (As Sean’s kindergarten and second-grade teacher, Reid saw the origins of this. Even at age six, Sean was challenging his elders). During one of the on-camera interviews I did with the kids (here), Sean explained how he prefers street skating to skate parks because it’s more “guerilla,” and that run-ins with security guards and the police is “something you need to be prepared for.”
Yesterday morning we had driven the final leg of our road trip, traveling an hour east of Portland to Windells Academy, a skateboard, snowboard and skiing camp that Sean and Leo have attended the past two summers. This year, Willem is making his first visit to Windells. (Nathan, alas, was bummed that he was headed back to Seattle on the van, while Niall, now back home in D.C., had already had a skate camp experience of his own earlier this summer at Woodward Skate Camp in Pennsylvania).
Windells was founded in 1991 by a former pro snowboarder, Tim Windell, who converted a roadside motel into his camp. Over the years, he’s added more and more concrete ramps and bowls, basically turning the entire camp into a giant skate park called the Concrete Jungle, whose counselors are devoted to helping kids like mine fully explore their passion. Before leaving the boys, I met briefly with Tim to ask if he’d be interested in buying our Sk8 van, which is now plastered with stickers – from ‘Sk8 the St8s,’ Windells, generous skate shops and shoe companies, and our 14-year-old sponsor, Max Williams, and his skate wax company, Ledge Lovas – and putting the former prisoner transport and church van to good use at his camp. He’s thinking about it…
One of the dominant Sk8 the St8s themes had to do with three of the boys (Sean, Willem and Niall) starting high school in a few weeks. This road trip was partly an attempt to give them a fresh perspective and a look at other parts of the country before entering that new phase of life. One thing I didn’t write about was entering a new phase of my own… After ten years as a self-employed journalist and author I’m about to start an exciting new job, working for Amazon.com here in Seattle. My first day is a week away.
So as we wrap up this adventure, and this blog, I wanted to extend another round of sincere thanks to our support team and pit crew: the kind folks who donated to our Kickstarter campaign; the gang at CBS, especially Kristen, Kevin and Adam; the moms and dads who entrusted me/us with their kids; auntie Katherine and uncle Dave for helping us find our new van, and Pastor Mike for selling it to us; Gerry, Ed and Claire, the Chicago crew; Tina, for the T-shirts and moral support; Todd Morris and Caleb Clark, for the goodies and hospitality; and to the skaters and skate shops that donated boards, T-shirts, DVDs, stickers and such, especially Sno-Con, Marshall Reid, Max Williams (aka Ledge Lovas), Uprise, Windells, FTC and the Skatepark of Charleston. Finally, thanks to Willem’s dad, Paul, and the deepest of gratitude goes out to my outstanding friends and co-pilots, Lou and Reid.
Relive the whole coast-to-coast, dads-and-sons adventure here at http://sk8thest8s.cbslocal.com/