The March 30, 1996 Napa to Calistoga Race
I participated in a really beautiful skating race through the wine country
The course was the Silverado Trail, which goes 27.4 miles from Napa to
Calistoga. The race was a CORA production.
We started with a gentle skate to the start line -- a couple of miles
on Redwood Road. Then after final preparations, the elite men's skaters
started, followed a minute later by the elite women's skaters. A minute
later everyone else started. This keeps people out of each others way.
There were about fifty skaters in total.
The first mile or so people settled into drafting chains. People would
break out of their chain and draft one further on, or they would fall off
and draft one that approached from behind. I was lucky to settle into
a drafting chain of people who were a little faster than I was. It pushed
me, in addition to the advantages of drafting.
The course is mostly flat with occasional gentle hills -- none of the rolling
hills are as hard as skating back from the beach in Golden Gate Park.
But even these gentle hills are enough to break some chains up.
half way through the course CORA volunteers had a water station and carried
cups to passing skaters.
All along the way CORA volunteers drove the course with signs on their
cars/vans saying "Caution: Skaters On Road". They watched for people who
had fallen, or whose skates suffered mechanical breakdown. They did pick
up at least one person who had suffered back cramps. When no help was
needed they would cheer the skaters on. I know the skaters appreciated
the support. Some of the volunteers could have easily been racing, but
sacrificed their chance to participate in order to help CORA and the other
skaters. Many thanks.
As I was skating along in the chain I noticed that there is more physical
contact between the skaters than I'd thought. If you are going faster
than the person in front of you, then you put your hand on their lower
back (close to their center of gravity). You gently give them a push -- it
doesn't take much to equalize your speed. This prevents a collision, and
preserves the momentum of the chain. It isn't uncommon to see a chain where
everyone but the leader has their hand on the back of the person in front
The person(s) in front are cutting the wind for you, so giving them a bit of
momentum, possibly through the chain, makes it a bit easier for them. Why
would you want to help them? Don't worry, it will be your turn in front soon...
You can't skate as fast alone as in an appropriately paced drafting
chain, and the experienced skaters know it only too well. You could end up
in a chain that is too slow for you though if you aren't determined at the
beginning of the race. There is a more or less cooperative nature to the
chains until the end of the race where people begin their sprint...
I didn't really understand any of this until the race was already underway.
It was only luck that I ended up in an appropriate drafting chain.
People communicate verbally too while in the chains. If there is a rock
or stick on the ground, only the person in front is going to see it in
time to react. They shout "rock" usually (doesn't really matter what is
on the ground if it needs to be avoided). The leader would also skate
to the side of the obstacle, so if people just follow them they miss it too.
Nonetheless, I stumbled on an obstacle about 2/3 of the way through the race.
Too many slalom runs and Friday Night Skates gave me the balance to recover,
but I was amazed to find that my arms, stretched before and behind me for
stability, had been grabbed by the persons in front and behind me. And they
had quickly stabilized themselves to be able to support part of my weight.
We all skated together, with arms linked and bodies poised for a fall which
didn't arrive. We were all relieved that no fall occurred, because you
don't just fall yourself, you can easily cause the people behind you to
fall as well. This happened in other drafting chains.
Nothing like some adrenaline to give you a little motivation!
All along the way there are mile markers, so you always know how far you
have left to go. About a mile and a half before the finish there is a
single big hill. Actually, it isn't any worse than the return trip from
the beach in Golden Gate Park. But when you come down the other side of the
hill, there is a long straight, flat section. There is a shoulder lane to
skate in, but it isn't wide enough, and there is a lip between the road and
the shoulder which interferes with your stroke. Most people give up and
try to skate in the street. If there are any cars you get honked at, and
passing police will ask you to skate on the shoulder over their
loudspeaker. But, the shoulder makes a poor skating lane there. Most of
the rest of the course has adequate to excellent shoulder lanes.
The finish was marked with a series of cones (which I felt obliged to
slalom). CORA volunteers noted each person's time.
Then people skated or rode to the Calistoga City Park for a CORA sponsored
BBQ. The results were available at the BBQ. The winners had times just
over 1 hour 20 minutes.
How I Fared
I finished the race in 1 hour, 48 Minutes, 58 seconds. My goal was to beat
two hours, so I was really psyched. I averaged slightly over 15 miles/hour
for almost two hours. The next day I skated the Lake Merced Loop twice. Shortly after this race I sold my K2
Extreme Speed boots and bought Bont boots. I know I could have skated
even faster in the Bonts -- they really are noticibly better. Next time I
hope to beat this time, but it will depend on my getting into an appropriate
The T-shirt participants received was really excellent.
It had the classic
CORA logo (left) on the front, and the name of the race on the back. The
shirts were an unbleached tan color instead of white. Very nice.