Last March or so, I started reading about the unitours people were doing. Across the Alps, through Laos, back and forth across the U.S., and other long distance journeys, absolutely amazing. Being a fan myself of self-propelled touring, which mixes endurance and determination with a bit of stupidity, I did a bit of investigation, and a bit of Google Earthing, and eventually decided I was going to ride from North Sydney, Nova Scotia (Canada), to Halifax, Nova Scotia, take in some of the buskers’ festival, couch surf, and get back home somehow.
First step: Call Dave Stockton, get him to make me the best unicycle ever:
Ahh, the Coker. Definitely a different ride from anything else I have, and definitely one of the most fun. This one has the 29’er tube in it, SS spokes, the whole Stockton super-wheel. Darren Bedford powdercoated the frame and added Magura mounts (which I later didn’t use - airbrakes, right Ken? :P) Nice pedals, too. The seat is stock uncut 2006 KH dual-layer foam with a tube under it. Shock absorbtion and comfort, right there.
Unicycle in hand, I got a ticket on the Argentia ferry, the shortest driving distance, and set off for North Sydney to begin my journey. This is the ferry as it’s docking just here.
About an hour from when this picture was taken, I was riding my freshly-laden unicycle into the belly of the ferry. It was absolutely surreal, me and another dude on a bike (who I’ll mention later) with several hundred campers, cars, and trucks behind us, slowly rolling up the ramp to get on. It was pitch black outside, and more or less midday inside the boat. It felt rather like riding smack-dab into the middle of 2001: a Space Oddysey, the surrealness of riding into a 40 foot high, 100+ foot wide opening over steel grating on a unicycle. I am sure the ferry crew was not expecting to see me, and I got my fair share of hoots and waves, and questions - where’s your other wheel, how do you go up hills, how far are you gonna ride that thing?
Eventually we got the bike/unicycle tied up, and spent a good part of the next 14 hours (the length of the ferry crossing) talking with Correy, the guy I’d ridden onto the boat with. He was a pretty cool dude, told me about how he was coming back form a bicycle tour of Newfoundland, and showed me where he’d been while I showed him where I was going.
Right around now I was starting to feel in my head just what I was in for - here I had a unicycle, two litres of water, a book, pack of cards, some bananas and a first aid kit and I’m gonna ride 500km? Truthfully, I was both scared and incredibly giddy. I slept in a lounge chair on the ferry that evening, which according to my travel journal had ‘very unpadded arms’ - and I think I’m still feeling them a couple hundred kilometres and several weeks later.
The next morning, I waited out the remainder of the crossing eagerly, hoping the foggy fuzz surrounding Cape Breton Island was going to dissipate - I was itching to get going. Myself and Correy parted ways, and I was off.
That was seriously exciting. Here I was, just landed in a province I’d not been in for at least ten years, with a unicycle to get myself from one place to another. The next few hours were full of people slowing down to gape, people shouting and cheering from the sidewalks, and more or less everyone staring at me. It’s cool, I’m used to it.
Hopping off the ferry was definitely liberating though. I didn’t have any responsibility to anything but my continued state of being alive for the next week, and I could spend it doing the one constant thing in my life for the past few years.
I rode down some highway, casually checking my map as I went, knowing that I’d be fine, as I’d checked and rechecked my route dozens of times. Wasn’t gonna get fooled up at this stage! Sadly, somewhere between exit 7 and 8, I wound up on the wrong highway, and it had started to rain, and I spent the last few hours of my first day cursing myself for taking a wrong turn, and upon some local direction, took a dirt road for a couple kilometers (way longer than I thought it would be) until I got back on track, wasting perhaps 40km of distance traveled that day.
In the end, it worked itself out though. I made it to the fork in the road I was earlier promised, and a nice, if somewhat creepy guy driving a run down two-door hatchback of some description with a cracked and yellowed ‘temporary permit’ packing taped to the window, turned me in the right direction. I passed by his house after, and he got his whole family to come outside and stare at the funny man on the unicycle while telling me I was nuts. The fact that he had about six teeth and I could easily see the root structure of the remaining ones, not to mention he was a wiry little dude and could probably tear my body limb from limb if he wanted (except for the legs, those are damn strong) didn’t help my comfort levels much.
Dude: How far are ye ridin’ that thing anyhow?
Dude: Don’t take no offense now, but’cher fuckin’ nuts.
Dave: I get that a lot.
Dude:: You from Newfoundland?
Dude: hah! Tolja! maniacal laughter
This is more or less representative of most conversations I had along the way. I excused myself, as it was starting to get darker out, and rode on.
A little ways up the road, I met the only good part of my entire detour, an ex-biker dude wielding a chainsaw with the most broken vehicle I have ever seen which can still be driven under its own power. He told me tons of stories about his (pretty awesome and likely partially fake) life, mostly vague details about how he’d owned a brothel at age 19, spent years bouncing biker bars in Ontario, and now owned a peat moss, and a boat he’d bought from a guy in St. Pierre for 1$. He was a very cool guy. He stopped at his house first to feed the dogs, and I got a picture of his horse:
This guy had turned most of the (many, many) vehicles in his yard into machines for his own purpose. He had a half-truck sawmill, and a firetruck that’d he’d turned into a land-clearing device. He was incredibly cool, and drove me to a B&B that he knew was cheap in Sydney Forks. I probably would have slept in an emergency blanket on the side of the highway that night if not for him. Thanks, Alan
That night I slept in absolute comfort at a small family cabin-type hotel thinger in a very sleepy Cape Breton town. At first, the woman there wasn’t too keen on having me, but the conversation was interesting:
Dave: Hi, I’d like a room for tonight.
Woman: Oh, sure thing. How old are you anyhow?
Woman: Ohhh. hrmm. That’s a bit young, you know. How did you get here anyhow?
Dave: I rode a unicycle.
Woman: a unicycle?
Dave: It’s outside.
Woman: takes one look at the unicycle - How’s 45$ a night sound?
Dave: Sounds great!