To this end, I recall how poorly my sense of balance was when I first began rollerblading. My roommates and I used to lace up and blade through the Saturday streets of downtown Tulsa while blaring Spin Doctors from our Walkmans. The first time we adventured as such, I expected myself to have zero difficulty. I had, after all, gone to the roller rink with Harold Johnson every Saturday afternoon from age nine all the way through to age twelve. In Columbus, Georgia, this weekly intersection of pinball, couple-skating, and gorging ourselves on banana flavored Now and Laters was the hot ticket. And I could do it all: dodge cones, speed race, or skate in reverse if the Dukes of Hazzard theme was playing to inspire me. How different could these new-fangled rollerblades be from those old four-wheel jobs?

The answer? Different enough.

Where I had spent a half-decade of my youth learning to stop on my toes, the rollerblade had no such mechanism. This greatly affected the way I stopped in downtown Tulsa. Roller blades were designed to stop by turning my feet into a V. This was difficult to master, so instead, I just kept throwing my body into lampposts.

At least seventeen times.

I literally stopped the momentum of my body by throwing myself into lampposts on purpose. My reasoning? Less bodily damage than throwing myself into moving automobiles.

After eight months of working with the rollerblades, I was no longer a novice. I had mastered the stop, the sharp turn, and every move necessary to adventure my favorite rollerway: Riverside Drive. Riverside is about six blocks of nonstop sidewalk alongside the river with no roadway interruptions. It is a great place to get your jog on, your rollerblade on, your freaky-skintight-biker-pants on. (I don’t wear them myself for fear of skin overflow.) One fateful day, I decided to take a long roll down to the very end. This was a relatively big deal because I had never rollerbladed the yonder forbidden turns, though I had biked farther. So, I parked my car and began blading south, whipping past elderly speed-walkers and children on bikes with training wheels—thinking them fools for their slowness and feeling the clean, cold pavement whisk by underneath my rubber wheels.

As I rapidly approached the point where I had previously always turned around, I decided to forge onward, but I knew from my experience biking the path that this would require bravery. I was gaining momentum, and I knew that to keep going meant that I would have a sharp ninety-degree turn to my right followed by an immediate sharp ninety-degree turn to my left underneath a bridge. These were intense moves at this speed and I was not certain I was up for the challenge.

But I determined to go for it.

The curve came, and I leaned my body down to the right—fwoosh—and made the first turn. Then, sure enough, I shifted my body weight just as precisely the other way—sweesh—and made the second turn. I could feel the wheels trembling, my leg muscles straining—it was possible that I was about to bite it. But I did not. Because I had trained. I knew well that the road in front of me was going to hold massive twists and turns and so I had prepared myself to handle them appropriately.

What I did not realize was that, underneath the bridge in the shadows, the pavement turned to gravel.

My wheels hit the tiny stones and I flew—literally flew several yards, arms outstretched like a flying squirrel—into sand and pebbles. I felt them embed into my hands, chest, and legs. That sensation of flesh ripping. You know that sensation.

Not awesome.

I lay there, moaning. I staggered up, knowing that once the wind hit all of the scrapes and open wounds, I would be doomed. The wheels on one of my blades were now crooked, and my shorts were ripped. Oxygen did its thing, and suddenly all sorts of places on my body were bleeding.

As I stood there, in great pain and pouring plasma like a Monty Python sketch, I realized how wrong I had been to think myself prepared. I had deceived myself into thinking that the way to travel a unique road was by simply getting better and better at rollerblading. The problem was that this road was not a rollerblading road at all. To traverse it would not require a refinement of the old method. It would require a completely different method altogether.