“Wet, wild and worth it!” pretty much sums up what A2A 2017 was for me. It was my 3rd year competing in my home town long distance race. This year was more interesting than my previous two years due to hurricane Nate bringing a whole day of rain storms to Georgia. I had done a lot of training in the rain up to this point and have fond memories of recently skating during hurricane Irma with my best training buddy Sam Fistel (the nut who does A2A2A) and getting soaked in a tropical downpour in south Florida with John Rodriguez. I was ready for the wet weather, and actually kind of excited for it, but unlike last season when I managed to place 3rd, I had been unable to put in the miles necessary to be competitive with the sharp end of the field. Life responsibilities and a stressful, mentally and physically demanding new job had to take priority over training this year, and it was hard sometimes to find the energy, motivation, and excitement to train after a long work day. I already knew what to expect regarding my personal performance and had accepted it positively, especially after having skated the NYC 100k the previous weekend with my boy Sonic, so none of it diminished the excitement and happiness I felt skating towards Skate Escape to meet up for the Friday Night Skate, which marks the beginning of A2A weekend.
I skate Atlanta streets on a weekly basis with my local night skate group, the Atlanta Peachtree Road Rollers. However, the Friday Night Skate before A2A is incredibly special because it’s the only night of the year in Atlanta where we roll with a police escort critical mass style through the streets. It’s fun showing the out-of-towners what it’s like skating in Atlanta, especially the first-timers who have never skated much over rolling hills and crappy pavement. It always makes me so proud of our local APRR group, because street skating Atlanta’s terrain takes a lot of skill and endurance. Part of the FNS route is the last few miles of A2A, going through the finish line at the skate park where we get to throw down in the bowl. After that, it winds through downtown past some of Atlanta’s tourist highlights, such as the World Congress Center with its gymnast-statue fountain, the Georgia Aquarium, the largest aquarium in the world, and SkyView, Atlanta’s colorful and brightly lit ferris wheel. The pace is easy-going and regroups are plentiful, and after about 12 miles and 2 hours we end up at Willy’s socializing and eating burritos, then head home to get ready to go to Athens Saturday afternoon for orientation/Henry’s rant.
For first time skaters to A2A, I highly recommend attending Henry’s pre-race rant on Saturday. He lays it down nice and thick about what’s going to happen on Sunday. Police crossings, church goers, road conditions, how the course is laid out, and history of the event - all told with Henry’s usual sly sense of humor. He’ll put the fear of god in you describing just how fast you’ll roll down Silver Hill, and you’ll laugh when he starts reading The Rules.
After the rant, we had dinner and stayed at an Airbnb apartment a few blocks from the starting line with a murderer’s crew: Sonic, Peter Doucet, Candy Wong, John Rodriguez, and Ben Price. It was awesome watching Ben Price eat food off the floor one-handed (his other hand was broken) while trying to putting together his skates, listen to everyone debate what to do with the next day’s conditions, give each other advice, and settle pre-race jitters.
Here’s how the race went for me: 6AM race morning, it’s completely dark outside, a comfortable 70 degrees, the roads are damp and it’s misting, but not the downpour that everyone had expected (yet). Like last year, at the front of the starting line I make sure I have Eddy standing on my left hand side and I plan to follow him for as long as my body will hold out. The starting horn sounds at exactly 7AM, and we take off!
A bunch of lefts and rights, and we finally pull out of downtown Athens. Hit the first big downhill, 25+ people in a pace line, all stacked up together pushing 35 mph downhill. Then comes the real test – the very first actual uphill, 2-3 miles long, and we find out who is really going to stay with the lead pack. Lead pack drops to about 15 people after this hill, with a bunch of the usual suspects like Kent Sutherland, Eddy Matzger, Francisco Ramirez. Sun’s still not up yet as we approach checkpoint 1, then a few more up and down hills as we approach checkpoint 2 and shortly after the marathon distance. Then, Francisco takes off, splintering the lead pack and only five pull away with him. Peter Doucet and I are the only ones left trying to run them down and it takes us 2 miles to catch them. Breathing hard, I only manage to last 3 more miles after that before becoming unable to keep up with their pace without sacrificing my form too badly. During the race last year, I remember Eddy very amusingly telling me “I like it when they go quietly.” So I refuse to do that, and I suck enough wind to yell and scream as loud as I can “I’LL SEE YOU AT THE FINISH LINE!” as they slowly but surely pull away.
I spend the next few miles by myself, going a steady pace. The mist had turned to heavy drops a while ago, and is now coming down in a moderate drizzle. The road is definitely soaked, but I don’t have any issues with grip, my skates are comfortable, and my skin suit is serving me well in the wet. At about mile 33, I hear a familiar voice calling me from behind. Sure enough, it’s Sonic in a small pace line of four. I let them catch up to me and hop in, glad to have some company and a group to cut the wind with. At the 38 mile finish, two of our pace line leave, so it’s just me, Sonic, and Antti Haljak who came all the way from Estonia. We end up spending a bunch of miles together, taking turns pulling, and laughing and taking pictures at times when the downpour becomes so thick we can hardly see more than 30 ft in front of us.
The absolute best part of the course for me is Silver Hill, which is right before checkpoint 5. Last year, I hit 46 mph top speed in the perfect weather sprinting it at the top. This year we don’t sprint it because we’re in rain so thick we can’t see much in front of us, in a worn out little pace line of three. I’ve got Sonic by the waist to make sure he doesn’t fall in front of me, and a 200+ lb Estonia guy behind me screaming “KAMIKAZE!” as we plummet down the hill and manage to hit 41 mph max speed. The rain leaves rivers going across the road, and there’s a “puddle” at the very bottom of the hill at least 1 ft deep and 6 ft long going across both lanes. In the middle of the pace line, I yell to Sonic “JUST STAY STANDING”, hold onto his hips and we make a huge wake as we hydroplane our way through it laughing and screaming. The adrenaline and ridiculousness of it all after we make it through feels absolutely amazing, and everyone high fives and fist bumps each other as we roll towards checkpoint 5 at the end of Silver Hill.
Checkpoint 5 for most skaters is the last bastion of hope: Falcon’s game, chicken wings, candy, adult beverages. Sadly, we keep on rolling and didn’t even stop. Right after checkpoint 5 is what the locals know as the Comic Book Skate route. I had already told Sonic earlier that I would wait until that point before making it a race. I know the route home better than just about anybody else so I put my headphones in, my head down, pin my ears back and take off without them.
In Dekalb County, A2A is designated as a “parade”, so per Henry’s directions, I make sure to give a parade wave as I blast through every intersection. Turning onto Wiley St., I have flashbacks of last year. On this street, I had started crying because of the full realization of the fact that I was going to finish third place at my second A2A and everything I had been working towards had come together in that moment. This year however, I’m more thinking “Oh my god, I made it this far without getting hit by a car, falling in the rain, or a mechanical failure, and I’m going to make it to the end in one piece.” I hang a hard right into the dreaded Krog tunnel, which is a death trap that is completely dark, the road is torn up and garbage, and you’re likely to die from fumes from the spray paint graffiti that’s happening inside of it. Fortunately, being part of our local night skates, I know to get through staying on the left and had no issues.
As I come down the home stretch, I see my dad and stepmom, my girlfriend, and several of my best skate friends waiting for me, cheering me on as I cross the finish line in a power slide, fist pumping and cutting tracks on the wet road with my wheels. Everyone at the finish line is happy they survived the rain soaked A2A, and I’m definitely glad to finally get to go to the bathroom, eat food and sit down. Overall, I feel great, and I eagerly wait around for Sonic and Estonia to make it through the finish line so I can high five and hug the skaters that stayed with me for over 40 miles of skating.
Rain still coming down, Ben price finally makes it through the finish line, and I get to the second best part of the whole event - bowl skating immediately after doing 87 miles. My man Ben Price and I throw down flips, stalls, and airs in the wet bowl at Fourth Ward Skate Park at the finish line, showing that aggressive skaters and distance skaters can all get along.
According to the OG’s, this A2A was the hardest since 1999. I was quite pleased with my 6th place at 5 hrs 32 mins, comparable to my first A2A two years ago but in worse conditions. I’ve already signed up for A2A 2018 and look forward to it rain or shine. I love every part of this event – the course, the people who show up, the volunteers who put it on, the community and camaraderie. A2A is a bucket list item for many skaters because best part about this event is getting to challenge yourself beyond belief in conditions you couldn’t predict and getting to share it with your fellow crazies. Unlike other races, there isn’t as much of a competitive vibe. The fun is in working together to the finish, which quickly builds strong bonds of friendship. It’s a diverse lot of skaters that come to A2A every year - those who have been skating this course for over twenty years, to first-timers who first strapped on skates ten months ago.
If you’re thinking about coming to Atlanta to do A2A, go to the website a2a.net and check out the facebook group Athens to Atlanta Road Skate Chat for everything from places to stay, skating advice, and rides to/from Athens. I’d also recommend watching Endurance Traveler’s episodes on A2A to get an idea of the course.
Shout out to SEBA Skates, MPC, Cado Motus, and Bones Bearings for my top-quality race set up. Find me on Instagram @thetrenter
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