By Shawn Chitnis
DENVER (CBS4) – A roller blade enthusiast traveling across the country to raise money for hungry children returned to Colorado this week as he prepares to make the next leg of his trip to the East Coast.
“Rollerblading is the most fun thing in the world to me,” said Mike Lempko. “Fell in love with like long distance rollerblading, liked the challenge of it, liked the Zen of it, it’s pretty fun.”
Lempko moved to Colorado three years ago to enjoy the outdoors and live closer to nature. His time in the state allowed him to test his ability on inline skates. Trips from Denver to Boulder eventually had him traveling all the way to Georgetown for an overnight stay.
“What’s the farthest I can go? Figured I could go across the country,” he said. “If I didn’t do it, it would have been a lifetime regret.”
He camped that night in Georgetown and chose to sleep in between generators to avoid any bears. He spent the night outside during a rainstorm. The experience prepared him for the journey across America this summer.
Unlike many other travelers who choose to bike from one end of the country to the other raising awareness or money for a cause, Lempko knew he had to do it on his favorite mode of transportation.
“I feel like it’s safer than biking,” he said. “You can dance a little bit while you’re on your blades. You get a little more freedom.”
Lempko even sang on his blades while speaking to CBS4 on Wednesday. He explained that the privilege to take this trip highlights the need of others who are less fortunate.
“I wanted something towards underprivileged education,” Lempko said. “It started with the mission, kind of philosophy of, wanting to give back to those kids that maybe didn’t have the same starting opportunities that I had.”
No Kid Hungry is a campaign by Share Our Strength that funds programs nationwide feeding children that would otherwise miss a meal. Lempko explained the focus on food around school was important to him.
The night camping in Georgetown was a “sketchventure” for Lempko, a trip that was not as predictable or safe as he would have hoped. The journey across the west has covered more than 1,300 miles in 38 days. He averages 40 to 50 miles each day of travel on his blades for five to seven hours.
In some cases, he has traveled as much as 69 miles in one day, or spent 11 hours on those wheels. So far, he has used the same pair the entire trip. But it hasn’t been without some more “sketchventures” that include sleeping by train tracks, filtering water out of wells, and rollerblading on an interstate.
“It’s like to full time job,” said Lempko. “But I have to remind myself, I’m very lucky, I get to roller blade all day.”
While he has mapped out his entire route from coast to coast, he never makes plans for where he will sleep more than a day in advance. This requires camping or staying with strangers. Some have offered to pay for his hotel room and occasionally he chooses to check into a motel himself.
Each day he is on the road, he carries a 40 lb. backpack with all of his belongings. A natural stopping point can be tough on this trip, but so far he has used five days for rest.
“It’s kind of a reinvigorating view of humanity of how much help I’ve gotten on the road,” he said. “It is crazy how nice and how helpful, and how good people are.”
From San Francisco, Lempko made his way to Sacramento and then Nevada. He has also passed through Idaho and Wyoming before returning to Colorado. Next he heads east through Kansas and will go to Chicago, Cleveland, and Buffalo, before arriving in New York City. All that time on the road has restored his faith in people living all over the U.S.
“When you really get face to face with everyone, everyone’s got some good in them,” said Lempko. “Put more trust than you have in your fellow stranger.”
He has a GoFundMe to raise money for No Kid Hungry with 90 percent of proceeds going to the campaign. But beyond the cause he is championing, he hopes people will also take another look at talking to those they do not know.
“Have a conversation with a person that may look weird or strange to you,” said Lempko. “Because it might be me and I might need some help.”
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You can follow his journey on a website he created for this adventure called “Mike on Blades,” or connect with him on Instagram and Facebook. The mission for this trip is focused on helping those kids in need. Lempko hopes that in addition to the important cause fueling his journey, people also reimagine the fun they can have on roller blades. He admits it has been tough at times to put those skates back on but a few minutes in, his excitement returns.
“I definitely have some mornings where I really don’t want to roller blade today,” he said.
While in Denver, Lempko will participate in local events to help raise money for his cause. Dry Dock Brewing will host a fundraiser on Tuesday, July 10 at 7 p.m. at 15120 E Hampden Ave. in Aurora.
“If you roller blade or if you have roller bladed and quit roller blading, get back on your blades,” he said. “It is the most fun thing in the world.”