Mike Lempko is a 26-year-old inline skater from Buffalo, New York. He has lived in Denver for the last three and a half years but recently returned to Buffalo to spend a few weeks at his childhood home. Then, he will head to San Francisco to begin his cross-country skate to New York City while raising money for charity. In this interview, we discuss his love of skating, his inspirations, his gear, and more.
How long have you been inline skating?
I’ve been playing hockey since I was 5-years-old and dabbled a bit with blades in middle school. I stopped for a long time and seriously got back into it in 2013 when a neighbor in Chicago let me borrow his blades a few times. I seriously started getting into skating in Chicago, it was my main way of commuting around the city. Beat trains and buses by a mile! There is no better way to explore a city and I have been blading hard ever since.
What kind of skating do you enjoy the most?
Urban for sure! I love ripping through city streets, finding new obstacles, skitching on a car or two, and buzzing with all the city’s energy. It’s a great way to discover new unseen spots in a city too. Like so many others, I bring my blades every time I travel and putting them on to explore is usually priority #1.
Are there any skaters you watch or follow online?
So, before I got into Instagram and doing research for this trip, I really had no clue how big the world of blading was and how enthusiastic the community was. I was just blading in my own little silo in CO. Then I discovered what was out there and learned about others pushing the limits – especially through your site’s features. Since, I’ve been following Eric Cruz, Caleb Smith, Yanise Ho, the Bladeventures guys, and some people from Colorado like Jarrod McBay and my friend Colleen Lizowski. Also, I consulted with former cross-country skaters Kacie Cleveland, Shawn Hunter, and Jack Sisson. All of the above have been super helpful in learning so much more about gear, blade setups, distance advice and etc. that I knew so little about. Danny Aldridge and the PCBladies crew are fun to follow too.
Have you followed the journeys of other cross-country skaters like Yanise Ho?
Oh yes definitely! Yanise is such an inspiration of positivity and optimism – and blading. And she’s doing the whole thing with no money, just relying on the kindness of strangers! What an animal! It’s so great to see she’s received nothing but open arms in the communities she’s rolled through as far as we can tell. I’ve been keeping up with the South American Bladventures team too.
I clearly do not know enough about South America but I was shocked there’s even enough of a road network to circumvent the continent like they’re doing. Their trips have been super reaffirming in instilling some confidence in my trip as well. Even more so, they’ve helped quell some of my mom’s fears and showed her that something like this isn’t totally impossible and can be done safely. Some of the books written by cross-country walkers, like Peter Jenkins’ A Walk Across America, inspired and helped a lot too.
Have you done any long-distance skates before?
Yes I have. I started getting into long distance skates in Chicago doing 20-25 miles. Once I moved to Colorado, I began pushing further and doing 30, then 50, and then a few longer skates. The Denver to Boulder and back ride was one I loved doing a lot. There’s something so enriching and meditative about those long adventure rides. Not to mention, you get to spend all day on blades, and really nothing beats that.
What’s the most miles you’ve skated in a day so far? And how many miles do you plan on averaging a day once you start your trip?
Most in a day was a little over 75 miles from my house in Denver to Idaho Springs and back. I’d like to hit about 45 a day once I’m cruising.
What made you decide to skate from San Francisco to New York City?
As a big wheel blading enthusiast yourself, I’m sure you know the feeling and freedom that comes from blading miles and miles. There’s nothing like it. When I started to push the long blades, I thought to myself “What’s the longest I could go?” From there, the seed was planted. I always planned to do some traveling in my 20s and this seemed like the perfect move. Once I thought about it enough, there was no looking back and at this point, if I didn’t at least attempt the cross-country blade, it’d be a lifetime regret.
I’m also super stoked to pull bladers out of the woodwork and “bladespire” them to put the boots back on! So many people approach me and tell me they used to blade all the time and haven’t in 5, 10, 20 years. My first question is always, “Do you remember how fun it is?” I want more and more people to get into blading. It’s too good to miss out on .
I chose west to east because I didn’t want to get stuck in Idaho in September risking snow and chose to finish in NY where all my family lives.
What Charity are you planning on raising money for and why?
I’m raising money for No Kid Hungry – it’s a national initiative ran by Share Our Strength. Their main goal is to end childhood hunger across the country by making sure all kids get nutritious food. However, one of their biggest initiatives that spoke to me is the School Breakfast Program, which focuses on providing breakfast to kids in school after the first bell. It’s huge in helping learning rates.
I chose this because the fact that I even have the chance to pursue this dream is a culmination of a bunch of opportunities and privilege I’ve been fortunate enough to receive throughout my life. When I was picking a charity, I wanted to find one that was both national and did things that gave kids born into less fortunate circumstances a chance at better opportunities to learn, succeed, and follow their own dreams. No Kid Hungry does just that.
90% of money donated will go to the charity and 10% towards some of my expenses. You can find the donation page here.
How long do you expect it to take to get from SF to NYC?
I’m not really sure on the time. The trip total is a little over 4,200 miles with a lot of elevation gains in the west. Once I’m cruising, I hope to average about 40-50 miles a day. With weather difficulties and rough road conditions expected, I’m thinking the whole thing will take 3.5 to 4 months. I’ll be giving myself the chance to take time in cities and with people though, so no real deadline.
Do you have your route planned?
I do, I detailed it over a few weeks of diving into Google Maps. I’m starting in San Francisco on May 28th and heading northeast from there. I go over the Sierra Nevadas into Nevada, northeast through Nevada, up to Idaho and then east through Wyoming. From there I go south to Denver. If I can get to Denver, the hardest parts are out of the way. Then I go east through Kansas, up to Chicago, hug the Great Lakes home to Buffalo, and then up through NY to Brooklyn. Ocean to ocean!
What training have you done to prepare for this trip?
Over the last few years, I’ve bladed just about everywhere I can and played a lot of hockey which has helped me advance. Once I began seriously training this winter, I was mixing a schedule of skiing, hockey, weight training, and weekly blading. As the weather got better, I tried to blade about 10-15 miles every day (with some days off), do a 30-40 mile blade once a week, kept up the weight training, and take in as much cardio as I could through hockey or other activities. I still feel like I’m not physically where I want to be, but I’m planning to have the trip further get me into shape along the way. The first few weeks will be tough I’m imagining.
Do you know people to stay with along the way? Or do you plan on camping?
Here and there, but mostly camping. I’m hoping the trip can begin to gain enough steam to create connections for places to stay, similar to what Yanise is doing on her trip! Basically, here’s my order of operations for lodging:
- Social network or connection that allows me to stay with them.
- Calling ahead to churches / community centers / homeless centers.
- warmshowers.com and couchsurfing.com
- Knocking on doors in residential neighborhoods to see if I can pitch a tent in a backyard. I expect this to have a pretty low success rate.
- Stealth camping or ditch camping when all else fails. I have a weird love-hate for sleeping in ditches.
Related: Best Pads for Inline Skating of 2023
Will you be skating alone the whole time?
I’ll be skating solo for the most part with a backpack on my back. I’m looking forward to the challenge and chance for introspection. I have some friends who are going to bike with me for a bit out of Denver and maybe in New York too, and my dad wants to follow for a few days at some point. Open to any bladers who want to join for any miles along the trip!
Do you have any concerns about the trip?
Definitely. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. I’m probably equal parts nerves and excitement at this point. There is of course some fear as to if I can actually accomplish it, but I know that’s all mental and just need to get the wheels to the pavement. I’m a little worried about wildlife in California, Nevada, Idaho, and Wyoming and of course weather throughout the trip. I was initially worried about possible mountain lions and maybe wolves, but I guess stray dogs could be my biggest risk from what people have told me. Cars and trucks too, but that ’s part of the journey.
Will you be skating with a backpack? If so, what are you bringing with you?
Yep, backpack with all my gear! I’ll have a tent and sleeping necessities, water bladders and filter, first aid supplies and safety gear, some extra clothes, extra blade wheels and bearings, a brake for big hills, extra power supplies like a solar charger and battery, and a GoPro. No cooking set up like most backpackers carry though.
What skates will you be using?
Powerslide r6 Trinity marathons. It’s funny, I had no clue all of this technology existed in rollerblading a year ago. I only had my hockey skates with a 4x76mm set up and fighting through 40-50 mile blades. Once I started doing some research and coming across your blog, I realized there was a whole huge world of big wheel blading and am so glad I did. With this 3×125 setup, I absolutely fly and it eats up miles so much more easily and efficiently.
Do you have any sponsors for this trip?
I do! A lot of support came in the last few weeks. For wheels and bearings, I have the following sponsors: Powerslide Matter Wheels, Inline Warehouse, Wicked Bearings, Undercover Wheels, and Bones Bearings. Their help makes the financial part of the trip way more realistic. Darn Tough is helping me out with some socks and DCurve is supplying with sunglasses.
Do you have any plans on things to do and see while not skating on your journey?
Not exactly. I have some cities and areas I’m planning to stop in, but no hard-set activities. More than anything, I’m excited to roll through the country and take in all the different landscapes and towns and people in them. I think the most rewarding part will be meeting all of the people, listening to their stories and taking in tons of different perspectives of people living in different ways.
Will you be live streaming or making any updates during the trip?
Almost daily updates with video, photos, and written content will be posted on my Facebook and Instagram pages. My website mikeonblades.com will be getting updates along the way as well. I’ll document my full slip into madness in the desert.