The first time Jake Freed rode a skateboard long-distance, it was because he ran out of gas.
He was stuck outside of Yuma, Ariz., in the middle of summer. Without any other options, the military veteran pulled out his skateboard and road 11 miles into town.
"I was surprised how quick I got there and how effortless it was," the 34-year-old former aviation mechanic tells NPR. "I got a new light in me and started to wonder how far I could really go."
Ten years later, the Arizona native is back on the road — this time to set the Guinness World Record for the longest distance traveled by skateboard. Since leaving his home state five weeks ago, Freed has already covered 1,400 miles. But to beat the record, he still has more than 6,000 miles to go.
The current record is held by Robert Thompson, a New Zealander who racked up 7,555 miles riding a skateboard from Switzerland to Shanghai in 2008. To best him, Freed has planned a loop from Arizona to Florida, up to Ohio, and back down to Arizona — a total of more than 8,000 miles, which he hopes to complete in five months or less.
Guinness requires him to keep meticulous records of his trip. He wears a satellite tracker on his helmet, carries two logbooks (one for his miles and another for witnesses) and saves the receipts from every purchase made along the way. Additionally, he must document every landmark he passes and take a two-minute video every hour.
He uploads a lot of that content to Instagram.
On top his recording-keeping, Freed averages roughly 50 miles per day on his board — a distance he covers in between 12 and 14 hours.
When asked what he does to pass the time, Freed says he focuses on the skating.
"A lot of times, you want to start thinking about stuff, you want to get in your head," he says. "You really have to pay to attention to what you're doing, one push at a time.
"The worst thing you can do is fall off at the wrong place, wrong time. You don't want to risk your whole trip because you're in a rush."
Freed knows first-hand how costly falling can be. He crashed at about 45 miles per hour on a steep grade outside of Roswell, N.M., last month. Although he didn't break any bones, he did bust his pack and had to wait a week for a replacement.
Beyond crashing, the main danger is traffic.
To make himself as visible as possible, Freed straps a neon-yellow safety vest to the 40-pound hiking pack he wears to carry his gear. Still, Freed says he never assumes that cars can see him and takes precautions to give vehicles the right of way "100 percent of the time."
But that can be challenging on roads where the shoulders are narrow to non-existent.
Weather poses another hazard.
Freed says he can skate through heat and light rain and nap in his tent during gentle storms. But in the event of more serious weather — like hailstorms or torrential downpours — he's had to hunker down in gas stations and motels.
In the most extreme cases, Freed has even had to alter his route to dodge tornadoes.
Yet, Freed says the most challenging part of the cross-country trek is not the big events but the daily grind. "The hardest days for me are when there's no shoulder, it's really hot, the wind's blowing in my face and I can't get any skating done," he says.
In those moments, he thinks of the people supporting him and lets his stubbornness kick in.
"I always feel that there's so much more to me than this," he says. "Once I put my mind to something, I just keep going, keep going, dig deep, keep going."
David Fuchs is an intern with Morning Edition.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
A guy named Jake Freed left Arizona last month with nothing but a backpack, a skateboard and a dream. And since then, his skateboard and that dream have carried him over 1,400 miles.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Just a start because he's trying to set the Guinness World Record for the longest distance ever traveled on a skateboard, just over 7,500 miles.
JAKE FREED: Well, I've skated a couple of trips cross-country. And every time I go, I try to do a little bit bigger every time.
MARTIN: Freed took a short break from this trip in Hammond, La., to call us up.
FREED: I came across the world record, and it was like - light bulb.
INSKEEP: And to beat that record, Guinness requires him to document all of his miles. So he wears a satellite tracker on his helmet, takes a bunch of videos along the way for Instagram, and he is rolling, rain or shine.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)
FREED: It's like a wall of shower, just pouring down out there.
Here in Louisiana, I've had some really bad rainstorms, so I like to try to get into swim gear, you know, some swim trunks.
MARTIN: He's traveling light, as you might imagine. He's got 40 pounds of gear that's lasted him five weeks. That's how long he's been on the road, and he has got the scars to prove it.
FREED: The second you don't pay attention, you're on the pavement. You know, like, you hit a rock. You hit a stick. You hit some roadkill.
INSKEEP: And he's doing this with a 40-pound backpack on a skateboard. His route takes him down rural roads. And he was recording when a line of semitrucks got a little too close on that narrow highway.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)
FREED: (Laughter) Woo (ph) - talk about adrenaline rush. This is crazy.
MARTIN: He didn't sound too scared, though. That's just life on the journey to break a record, and Jake Freed still has 5,000 miles to go.
FREED: Once I put my mind to something, I just keep going - keep going, dig deep, keep going.
INSKEEP: And now for Jake Freed, it's back to the road.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)
FREED: (Singing) La, la, la, la, la - la, la, la, la... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.