By Paul McHugh,  San Francisco Chronicle                               April 28, 1994


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It's very early on Saturday morning. The few drivers out on Napa roads rub their eyes as bright knots of color ripple by. That rolling rainbow is made by 87 people, all. mounted on inline skates, moving onto the Silverado Trail. What's happening? Inline skating is stretching it's wings.

"It's a long, fun tour through the country," said skate impresario David Miles. "We call it the "Roll Through the Wine Country - the Napa to Calistoga Roadskate". We did one last October that that drew 62 people. This one. got bigger, and we plan another for June. Distance races have been around for a while, but the popularity of long, country tours is kind of a new thing.".

If there's anyone in California likely to have a finger on skating's pulse, it's Miles. A Golden Gate Park Skate Patrol coordinator for 15 years, Miles is founder of many events, including weekend competitions in the park, and the Friday Night Skates that tour San Francisco streets. Recently, he formed the California Outdoor Rollerskating Association to steer skaters to activities like this Napa Valley tour.

Industry figures suggest phenomenal growth in this sport. The National Sporting Goods Association says inline skating gear sales shot from $53.3 million in 1990 to $267 million in 1992; and the number of recreation skaters rose from 3.6 million in 1990 to 12.4 million in 1993.

Skaters clustered at the tour's start point on the Silverado Trail revealed the full spectrum of participants composed mostly of men and women in their 20's and 30's, they range from top skaters Eddie Matzger, Dan Burger and Mike Riddle on the "K2 Race Team" (all dressed in matching iridescent tights, bug-eyed shades and sleek helmets) to Kim Green and Chris Paulicka (young beginners dressed in baggy and commodious cotton).

Sure, this roll may not be called a race, but all the pro hotshots seemed more.than slightly interested in their time over its 27 mile course. For one thing, they were mounted on five-wheel skates with outsize tires that emphasize speed, drive and glide. Les driven skaters wear more conventional four wheeled skates.

At a blast from Miles' whistle, top skaters blasted down the Silverado's tarmac with calves and quads rippling. Soon, the fastest skaters formed packs that drafted a leader. From the end, such packs resembled day glo centipedes, with arms and legs flying to the sides in spastic rhythm. These skaters averaged 30 to 35 miles per hour on the flats. But when it comes to a scenic tour of the valley, most of them just didn't get it. A bit of wisdom from the dog sledding world applies: "If you're not the lead dog, your view never changes."

Meanwhile, at the rear of the tour Paulicka, 24 and Green, 25, cruised along, side by side, swinging at an easy 12 to 14 mile per hour pace. "I have to skate near a friend," Green said. "This is only my second time on skates, and I have got to grab on to Chris when I stop. Besides, it's beautiful out here. We don't really miss being up with the pack.

Some of that fresh, country beauty manifested as dramatic cloudscapes. This aspect lost a great deal of charm for the fast lead skaters after the clouds released a traction-robbing drizzle. Unable to drive for the finish line, the centipedes split into fragments. Matzger -a national figure recently profiled in Outside magazine, zoomed past the timer's umbrella with fists raised. His total time was 1hour, 19 minutes and 42 seconds. More wheels whirred over the line. Only 13 seconds lapsed between Matzger and his teammate Burger, who cam~ in ninth.

Top female finishers included Anna Stubbs, at 1:34:55, and Wendy Holbert at 1:35:55. Some women, too, had organized into professional teams. Team Skate Pro, sponsored by a shop in San Francisco, collected first, third and fourth place.

However, asked what they recalled from their 27 mile tour of the most scenic side of Napa Valley, a half dozen top skaters could only provide generic answers, such as: "vineyards," "trees," "grass," and. one very interesting, "road kill"

Eight miles back on the course; Kim Green - still plodding slowly onward. through the rain - was asked the same question. "I guess the prettiest thing so far was a barn with a big painting of a tooth on it," she responded. "But that could have been a hallucination. Actually, the finish line may look rather nice, by the time I get to see it. From the ankles up, I feel. good. From the ankles down, it's sort of awful. But I'm still truly enjoying myself."

David Miles says that those interested in trying to tour the countryside on inline skates should definitely wear helmets and wrist guards because, "Those streets are not swept off, like city streets. You can run into stuff that make your skates just stop, while your body keeps going." He also recommends bicycle tour books for good information about places to go, and five wheel skates for speed.

"We don't have all-terrain tires for skates yet," Miles says, "but they're coming. And when they come out, you know I'm going to be the first guy who tries them."

NOTE: For information on tours, contact your local skate shop; or send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to the California Outdoor Rollerskating Association, 2549 Irving Ave., San Francisco, CA 94122.