AKRON, OhioSo Rusty Moncrief phones the other day from a service station somewhere in America.
I ask him where, exactly.
“Hey, Casey, where are we?” he calls to his friend.
Casey ambles outside to look for a sign.
“Gatesville,” he calls back.
That’s Gatesville, Texas, somewhere near Waco. Of course, Rusty’s not there anymore. His in-line skates have carried him westward since then, on his odd but earnest journey.
Rusty is the 24-year-old University of Akron grad who decided late last year that he was going to skate across the country. He set off at the beginning of January with minimal preparation and the goal of shaking loose some of his bad habits procrastination and lack of focus, mainly and getting himself into the Guinness Book of Records.
His friend Casey Brooks has been driving the pace car, a borrowed 18-year-old Ford F-150 with a camper in the back. The truck needed a little carburetor work this day, hence the unplanned stop in Gatesville.
The nails of his big toes fell off early in the trip, victims of a pair of skates a little too snug in the front. Rusty sawed the toes off the skates, wrapped them up with duct tape, and he says it has been smooth skating since.
Or relatively smooth, anyway.
Rusty’s got some time to kill while the mechanic works on the truck, and he ambles into the story of one of his misadventures.
Seems they had set up the portable camper one night in a bank parking lot near Niceville, in the Florida panhandle. Next morning, the tellers come to work and they’re standing inside, peering out the window at this Beverly Hillbillies scene.
One of the women gets on the drive-through loudspeaker and says, “Hey, what’re you up to over there?”
Rusty goes to the door and explains, and the bank workers become instant fans, giving directions to the next destination and volunteering to call the local radio station with news of the adventure.
On his journey, Rusty has found himself part of a little subculture. As he has made his way, averaging 36 miles a day, he has discovered other adventurers making similar pilgrimages. He heard about a man pushing a grocery cart around the perimeter of the country. About a newly married couple honeymooning by biking across the states.
He met a man from Canada, bicycling around the world. They stopped and ate together, swapping stories until it was time for Rusty to set out on his way again.
As he skated away down the open road, the bicyclist turned to Casey.
“Y’know,” he said, “he really does look silly on those things.”
Maybe so, but this is my kind of silly. I’ll catch up with Rusty again in a few weeks. He’s a little behind schedule, but expects to make the California coast by mid-March. He says to tell all his friends back home he misses them.
With a little luck, a lot of duct tape and a few more good-natured cops, he should be rolling home by spring.