Jack Smith, skateboarding legend and pioneer of the cross-country skate trip, is now just past the halfway point of his 5th skate across America. 40 years after his first journey on a rickety Lexan deck, Jack has opted to skip the pushing and make the journey on an Inboard M1. We caught up with him for a quick update on the road (literally, we had to skate next to him just to get some answers).
Q: So where are you, and how long have you been riding to this point ?
A: We (my wife Cathy is my support driver/team) started in Mountain Home, Idaho on August 16th, and we’re now in Kewanee, Illinois. We’ve covered about 1,500 miles so far, and Friday will be our 28th day of skating!
Q: What have the conditions been like? Hasn’t it been hot out there?
A: The first part of the ride that took us through Idaho, Wyoming, and some of Nebraska, was very hot, high 90s most days and the asphalt is much much hotter! We had good tailwinds early, but the last week or so it’s been headwinds, which just wear you down like crazy. We’ve had a few rain delays here and there, but we’ve only had to call off one day of skating due to weather.
Q: Your first cross country trip took place over 40 years ago. We know this is a bit of a loaded question, but how has the trip changed for you?
A: Oh man… where to begin? On my first cross-country trip in 1976, I was riding a Lexan deck with 2” wide roller skate trucks and 57mm wheels. The Inboard M1 is like a starship compared to what I rode back then.
This is the smallest team I’ve had on any of my rides, and I am really enjoying having my wife Cathy as my support driver and pit crew. She’s my best friend and knows me better than anyone, she keeps me calm, and is as serious about safety as I am. The early part of this ride followed the paths of of my four earlier trips, but we are on a completely different path now and it’s been great to see different parts of America. Our finishing point will be Williamsburg, where three of my four rides have ended.
It is definitely… “interesting”, to be 61 and riding an electric skateboard across the country. Even though I’m not physically pushing this time around, it is more difficult than you would think. Your feet and legs go numb unbelievably quickly on rough roads. It’s mentally draining as well, you have to be hyper-focused on traffic and road conditions…cracks, potholes, changes of surface, debris on the shoulder or road. It’s as much a test of mental fortitude as it is about endurance.
Q: You have an incredibly unique street-level perspective of America, as not many people travel through our nation’s heartland without a car these days. What changes have you seen in these regions over the decades?
A: For practical reasons, my riding routes have always taken me through rural America. The natural geography hasn’t changed, as 40 years is not even a blink of an eye to Mother Earth. But something that really saddens me is the death of so many small towns, and seeing small communities barely hanging on. You can see the sadness and loss of hope in the people’s faces and hear it in their voices.
Lyrics from the Bruce Springsteen song “My Hometown” sometimes come to mind as I roll through these dying towns:
Now Main Street's whitewashed windows and vacant stores
Seems like there ain't nobody want to come down here no more
They're closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks
Foreman says these jobs are going boys, and they ain't coming back
To your hometown
For the most part the roads are actually in worse shape than they were in the 70s! America’s rural infrastructure and roadways are really crumbling.
Q: Onto the tech- What’s become your favorite M1 feature on the road? How’s it holding up in general?
A: Straight away I was really impressed with the smoothness of the acceleration and braking. So many e-boards have jerky acceleration and braking. I have also been impressed by the M1’s climbing ability; I have ridden mine up numerous 5,000 to 7,000 foot passes without any problems, and they also handle the descents very well. I have put these boards through hell, everything from 90-100 degree temperatures (road temps even hotter) day after day, to the gnarliest chip sealed roads you can imagine- and they’re still running!
Q: So what’re the next few weeks looking like for you? What’s the route, what’s the destination, and how much longer to go?
A: Right now we’re really appreciating the flatlands of Illinois and Indiana, next up is Ohio with its rolling hills, and eventually the challenge of the Appalachians in West Virginia and Virginia. The Appalachians are so tricky and draining, with steep climbs and multiple summits to ride over. I think we should be able to wrap up this incredible adventure in the next couple of weeks. See you in DC!
Q: And before we let you go, any shoutouts to friends from home or from along the journey?
A: Yes! To Brian Neumann, Facebook friend and fellow M1 rider- thanks for joining me for a few fun miles in Indiana. Skating is always better with friends! And also to GoWesty, our support vehicle sponsors- thanks for having our backs out here!