Some of you might have caught my update on the Tacoma longboarder that was part of the newspaper’s Whatever Happened To series last week.
I couldn’t write about everything Ben Warner experienced along his two-month, 2,400-mile journey because of space limitations in the print product, but I thought I’d share the rest via this blog.
Here are a few other highlights of his trip:
- As was mentioned in the story, Warner and his group often stopped along the road to camp for the night while raising awareness for local Boys & Girls Clubs. Sometimes the people they met along the trip would offer up rooms, but that was if they were lucky.
At one point, the group actually paid an apparent owner of a Texas mobile home park to camp for the night. The next day, the owner was gone. They skaters later found out the owner was a squatter who had conned them out of a few bucks.
- Warner says two of the most poignant stops on the route were El Paso, Texas and Shreveport, La., two areas crippled by poverty and crime.
In El Paso, the group spoke with youth who lived with gang violence and influence. “Every kid at that club had a brother, sister, mother, father, aunt, whatever, who had killed by gangs,” he said. “They see violence every day.”
At one point, Warner says, one of the group’s members had a gun pulled on him while skating the streets.
In Shreveport, they saw kids who lived in deep poverty. The local Boys & Girls Club had burned down, and staff was operating out of a local Goodwill store.
He was struck by the South’s de facto segregation between whites and blacks. White neighborhoods generally were wealthier, more middle-class. Some poverty ridden black neighborhoods resembled slums, he said.
“Some of those kids had never seen skateboards,” Warner said. “To them, it was like looking at a spaceship.”
- The group’s route took them along the U.S.-Mexican border in the Southwest. They regularly were stopped by Border Patrol officers and would have to explain what their trip was all about.
- The journey was physically grueling, and a few times members visited hospitals. Warner, for example, checked in and learned that he had bronchitis. Another group member, Stacy Donahue, got treatment to remove a tick in her back.
- There were plenty of positive elements to the journey. Volunteers and kids offered encouragement throughout the trip. The group sampled crawfish and ate at the popular Waffle House restaurant. They skated across the Mississippi River.
On one particularly muggy evening in Louisiana, the longboarders were so hot that they skated along a swampy area completely naked.
“We were like, ‘We said were going to do this. Let’s do it,’” Warner said.
Finally, after two months, the longboarders made it to Georgia, the final state on their long route. By the time they reached the end — the Atlantic Ocean near Tybee Island, Ga. — their bodies had been thoroughly banged up.
Still, they had done it. They had longboarded across America. Warner remembers that rainy day.
“We saw that waterline, the waves crashing,” he recalled. “I had never skated so fast.”