By the time Jake Adkins and Andrew Walker call on Thursday afternoon, they’re sitting alongside a river in Pennsylvania after having just woken up from a nap. To be honest, they don’t know exactly where they are, but they know it’s their second of four days in the state.
Walker’s legs are “cramping up really bad.” Adkins is nursing some blisters on the insides of his feet, just under his ankles. He has been relying on heavy applications of Aquaphor and medical tape for a week.
That’s what happens when you’re in the middle of a nearly 1,000-mile inline skating journey from Boston to Michigan. Adkins (21 years old) and Watkins (22) are calling themselves the “Men in Blades,” and they’re scheduled to reach their destination on Wednesday.
They were both freshmen on the UMass Boston men’s hockey team when the coronavirus pandemic hit. When rinks shut down, the teammates — like many hockey players — purchased Rollerblades to stay in shape and connected to the sport. Most stores had sold out, but they found pairs on a second-hand online outlet. “They’re actually the first pair of Rollerblades I’ve ever worn,” Adkins says. “I ordered them in the beginning of quarantine, and when they came, I was like a little kid on Christmas Day.”
As the duo bided their time blading around Boston, they dreamed of how far they could take their new wheels. They first imagined skating to California. Upon realizing that was unrealistic, they recalibrated their goals: What if they made it to Walker’s hometown in Mason, Michigan, instead?
They decided to make the trip purposeful and raise money for the American Cancer Society. “We want to spread awareness to people that cancer hasn’t stopped, and neither should people who are donating,” Adkins says. “Cancer patients have lost a lot during this time. A lot of people aren’t getting screenings. Attention has shifted off of them and onto different causes, and we wanted to do our best to give back and do something that was bigger than us.”
The @MenBlades will begin their trip of nearly 900 miles to raise money for cancer research in 3 days. Every day this week, the guys will tell you a little bit more about their story + their motivation. Today, learn about what they hope to accomplish with their trip #d3hky pic.twitter.com/mZGn2Chpwu
— UMassBostonAthletics (@UMassBeacons) July 10, 2020
So far, they have raised more than $17,000 in donations, which will be used both for cancer research and for support services to those touched by cancer.
Adkins and Walker mapped out a 10-day plan. If they woke up every day at 4:30 a.m., they could ride about 90 to 100 miles a day in four increments — sneaking in a midday nap (a hockey player staple) to get rest and avoid the heat. In total, they’re usually “in the boots” about 10 to 13 hours a day. Adkins’ father, as well as some supporters including a massage therapist, trail them in an RV, which typically drives ahead and meets them at a campsite.
In the mornings and evenings, they wear reflective vests. “In the middle of the day, we usually go no shirt, or a shirt that’s pretty drenched with sweat,” Walker says.
They also have wrist guards, and Adkins’ father ordered them helmets to wear for the final few days of the journey. “We’re starting to get to the point where we’re getting really worn down,” Jake Adkins says. “You never know when your legs are going to give out from underneath you, or you can hit a small pebble or something.”
#BLADEFERDARONA #MENINBLADES #SPEED pic.twitter.com/kcWXCjQHJg
— men.in.blades (@MenBlades) July 13, 2020
They also bring along speakers to hear music. “In the mornings, we normally talk quite a bit to one each other, just random stuff,” Walker says. “Then once we start struggling a little more, we have our heads down, just listening to the music, minding our business and just trying to get through it together.”
They skate alongside cars on the road, and their only miscue so far was a five-hour stretch where they lost service on Google Maps and just had to trust their instincts on directions. “Some of the roads we’ve been on have been pretty narrow,” Walker says. “So when people do pass us, it can be pretty scary.”
PA ⏳#MenInBlades #BladeFerdaRona @AmericanCancer @UMassBeacons @UMassBeacons pic.twitter.com/qPYmgEKBfj
— men.in.blades (@MenBlades) July 16, 2020
Since they got a decent amount of media attention before they took off in Boston, Walker says they got “a lot of honks — friendly honks — and waves” their first leg of the trip.
“And then we got to Connecticut,” Walker says. “And it was a mix of honks and middle fingers. Some people were friendly, some people weren’t. And then in New York and Pennsylvania, we haven’t had much coverage so it hasn’t been people who are too friendly, but we did have a few people who rolled by us and yelled, ‘Men in Blades!’ or ‘Blade Gang!’ — which is awesome.”
Adkins says besides cars, his biggest fear the first few days was “working too hard, and that I wouldn’t have enough energy the entire time.” As hockey players, they have always trained for explosiveness — “45 seconds, go as hard as you can, get-off-the-ice kind of thing,” Adkins explains. Now they’re skating for endurance in a way they never have before. “I have to think it’s helped us with our conditioning,” Adkins says.
THE BOYS ARE IN OHIO!!!! Day 7 baby!!!! #MenInBlades #BladeFerdaRona @AmericanCancer @UMassBeacons @UMBMENSHOCKEY pic.twitter.com/Brn8eJRYk3
— men.in.blades (@MenBlades) July 19, 2020
As college sports try to navigate the feasibility of playing during the 2020-21 school year, Adkins and Walker know their sophomore seasons are in jeopardy.
“I think this trip has really distracted us from the uncertainty,” Walker says. “We have Zoom meetings with our team every week to keep everyone in the loop, but we’re just keeping our fingers crossed that we do actually have a season.”
They do know one thing.
“Regardless of what happens, we’re still planning to move into a house in Boston with four of our best friends,” Adkins says. “It’s tough, but we’re always trying to look at the silver lining of the situation we’re going through.”
One thing that’s absolutely getting packed up and brought to the new place: Rollerblades.