Chasing A World Record, 'One Push At A Time'
The first time Jake Freed rode a skateboard long-distance, it was because he ran out of gas.
He was stuck outside of Yuma, Ariz., in the middle of summer. Without any other options, the military veteran pulled out his skateboard and road 11 miles into town.
"I was surprised how quick I got there and how effortless it was," the 34-year-old former aviation mechanic tells NPR. "I got a new light in me and started to wonder how far I could really go."
Ten years later, the Arizona native is back on the road — this time to set the Guinness World Record for the longest distance traveled by skateboard. Since leaving his home state five weeks ago, Freed has already covered 1,400 miles. But to beat the record, he still has more than 6,000 miles to go.
The current record is held by Robert Thompson, a New Zealander who racked up 7,555 miles riding a skateboard from Switzerland to Shanghai in 2008. To best him, Freed has planned a loop from Arizona to Florida, up to Ohio, and back down to Arizona — a total of more than 8,000 miles, which he hopes to complete in five months or less.
Guinness requires him to keep meticulous records of his trip. He wears a satellite tracker on his helmet, carries two logbooks (one for his miles and another for witnesses) and saves the receipts from every purchase made along the way. Additionally, he must document every landmark he passes and take a two-minute video every hour.
He uploads a lot of that content to Instagram.
On top his recording-keeping, Freed averages roughly 50 miles per day on his board — a distance he covers in between 12 and 14 hours.
When asked what he does to pass the time, Freed says he focuses on the skating.
"A lot of times, you want to start thinking about stuff, you want to get in your head," he says. "You really have to pay to attention to what you're doing, one push at a time.
"The worst thing you can do is fall off at the wrong place, wrong time. You don't want to risk your whole trip because you're in a rush."
Freed knows first-hand how costly falling can be. He crashed at about 45 miles per hour on a steep grade outside of Roswell, N.M., last month. Although he didn't break any bones, he did bust his pack and had to wait a week for a replacement.
Beyond crashing, the main danger is traffic.
To make himself as visible as possible, Freed straps a neon-yellow safety vest to the 40-pound hiking pack he wears to carry his gear. Still, Freed says he never assumes that cars can see him and takes precautions to give vehicles the right of way "100 percent of the time."
But that can be challenging on roads where the shoulders are narrow to non-existent.
Weather poses another hazard.
Freed says he can skate through heat and light rain and nap in his tent during gentle storms. But in the event of more serious weather — like hailstorms or torrential downpours — he's had to hunker down in gas stations and motels.
In the most extreme cases, Freed has even had to alter his route to dodge tornadoes.
Yet, Freed says the most challenging part of the cross-country trek is not the big events but the daily grind. "The hardest days for me are when there's no shoulder, it's really hot, the wind's blowing in my face and I can't get any skating done," he says.
In those moments, he thinks of the people supporting him and lets his stubbornness kick in.
"I always feel that there's so much more to me than this," he says. "Once I put my mind to something, I just keep going, keep going, dig deep, keep going."
David Fuchs is an intern with Morning Edition.
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