Picking back up with our full day in Albuquerque, the heat made its presence felt, and quickly. By the time we were out on the town searching for unique concrete and personalities, the heat from the blue sky was beating down on us.
We first visited Alamosa skatepark, an impressive location set behind a summer day camp. Containing stairs alternating with banks and thin channels, the park was slightly confusing, lacking the flow and cohesion that many skateparks have. Ledges ran into walls, ditches cut off runs, and steep rails seemed inaccessible. Complementing this disruptive construction was a massive bowl and full pipe. While beautiful, this monster of a transition feature was too formidable for me. I had to slowly lower myself and then slide down the side of the bowl to reach the bottom, and then attempt to gain some speed starting from the flat. With wide areas and slowly rising walls, it was almost impossible to achieve momentum from this position. After a couple minutes of steady pushing and hard work it became clear that it would be a futile endeavor, and I still had to find a way to get out of the high walls of the pit I had voluntarily lowered myself into. Throwing my board up ahead of me, I took a running start and barely made it to the coping of the bowl and breathlessly pushed myself over the edge, to Mira's amusement.
All of this went on under an unrelenting sun, and I had to return to where Mira was sitting underneath a tree quite often, panting for water. There were few people at the park, likely due to the mid-day heat or work because of the relatively early hour, but it was an opportunity to take in the surroundings and explore the park.
The next park was a more social experience. The Los Altos skatepark across town on the I-40 was full of vibrant characters, beautifully designed features and extravagantly painted bowls that reminded me of FDR skatepark in Philadelphia where I learned to push, pump and take pride. I first met a man in his mid-20s talking to two older men in their 40s or 50s, and I quickly was challenged to a game of SKATE, similar to horse or pig in basketball, but with skateboard tricks. Getting lucky with strong execution of my very limited bag of tricks and the inebriation of my opponent, I managed to pull out a victory, to everyone's amusement.
As people began to filter into the park as the afternoon rolled along, the talent present began to noticeably increase. A woman who I later realized was a professional skateboarder who frequents Xgames competitions and graces the bottom of decks was destroying the park, with flawless style and exceptional grace, treating everyone with excitement and enthusiasm as she proceeded to pull off tricks and transitions that broke barriers and confounded convention.
Another guy around my age pushed mongo, pushing with his front foot rather than his back foot, a style often decried in today's skateboarding culture, but one that he executed with skill and casual perfection. An older man with an old-school set-up, tight hair cut, and deeply tanned skin made the rounds, speaking with and mentoring many around the park, even encouraging me as I attempted to land a frontside boneless in a shallow bowl, with no success. The day was just heating up when I attempted to drop into a steeper bowl, and fell straight onto my chest and shoulders. Walking away from the spill, I quickly called an end to the day and we headed on to the Sandia Peak tram, a gorgeous view of the city from over 10,000 feet.
Waking up the next morning with pain still quite present in my right shoulder, we headed off to Flagstaff, Arizona. A shorter ride than we were used to at only four and a half hours, the red landscape with intermittent patches of flat chaparral and impressive rock formations flew by. A quick swim upon arrival helped alleviate the 100 degree heat of the day, and the heavy heat was further diminished by the setting sun.
Our full day in Flagstaff was an off day from skateboarding, with my choice to rest my shoulder out of precaution. This is in fact a marathon of a trip, with reaching the finish line a priority. We took the day to visit a natural phenomenon that captures the imagination. Petrified Forest National Park, an hour and a half East of Flagstaff, is a spectacular sight with fallen trees 200 million years old whose wood has been replaced with solid rock. The history, geography and sheer beauty of the park was humbling, putting our short time on Earth in perspective.
We will be spending the next two days camping close to the Grand Canyon, celebrating and reflecting on the legacy of our country in one of her most beautiful treasures during the time that we remember her birth. I hope to meet and experience some of the greatest, most diverse and most passionate people who call the United States home in the next few weeks, and see the beauty and hard work that they can inject into their lives as a part of this complicated, troubled, yet hopeful nation.