the loneliness of the long distance mountain unicyclist

Well, I planned a ride a month or so, set a date, and tried to get people to come ride it. Then it turned out people were either busy, or were put off by the stupidity of the ride I’d planned.

“stupid?” you ask? Well, what happened was, I moved house earlier in the year. Since then I’ve spent significant amounts of time scouting out my local and localish trails. My house is in a valley, and there are trails on either side of the valley all the way up the valley, for at least 15 miles or so. Also in the valley, is a train line, which goes from right near my house, to Matlock, 10 miles away.

So, my plan was, to get the train to Matlock, and link up all the trails that I knew on the way back. I plotted up this route, and it turned out to be about 60km, and there would be a lot of climbing, as each side of the valley is up to 300m of ascent. Ouch.

It turns out that a lot of people, even unicyclists, think that riding 60km on a 26" muni is a stupid idea. One unicyclist even threw himself off a bike and damaged his collarbone purely to avoid having to come on this ride. That is how un-keen people are to go on a 60km muni ride.

So I set out on my own. I had a bit of a disturbed nights sleep, and happened to wake up at 6.30am. Grabbed some breakfast, and onto the 7am train.

Everything outside seemed to whoosh past, although I could see the height of the hills, many of which I intended to ride up. This was a bit intimidating.

So I got to Matlock, and picked up some highly nutritious provisions, making the most of twofer offers in the supermarket - under 4 quid for approximately 2000 calories - bargain!

Then I headed up the hill to Hackney. For those who know the one in London, it is kind of like that, except without the crime, the houses / flats, the large quantities of art students, drug dealers etc. Oh and with nice views. Actually thinking about it, it has very little in common except the name.

So, I cranked away up the road, 150m of ascent, and already this was feeling like quite a hard ride. I could see down to the valley, but I knew that before I got there, I had to climb and descend to the moor (100m above this) twice.

Into the woods, on a nice bit of singletrack, getting rockier, with little stream crossings, until finally I come out at a clearing, with a pretty waterfall:

I then scramble up a bank, and through a path that goes straight across a farmers field. This bit is too steep to ride up anyway, so it doesn’t matter that you’re not allowed to ride it.

Then it’s onto one of my personal Everests- Back Lane, above Darley Dale. This used to be a road once, but now it has become a wide, rocky, steep climb, with few enough rocks to make you think you might have a chance at ascending it, but just enough to chuck you on your face when you do. I make it up with only 3 falls, which I think is a record. One day I will beat this bugger. I completely fail to take any pictures of this. At the top, there is a wide, flat track, and I get a bit of easy spinning in.

Now, I’m about one hour in, and at the first summit, which is the high point of the whole ride. I’m on top of the moor, it looks a bit like a blasted heathland - I’m sure if Mike Fule was on this ride, he’d mention Macbeth or something. The sun is a lot higher in the sky, and I’m starting to feel a bit warm.

A brief bit of road riding is followed by a little descent-lite, nice tight singletrack, with drops over roots, and a smattering of rocks. Quite a bit of mud, as it rained a bit last week. Towards the end, it gets very narrow, and surrounded by nettles and brambles. It is hard to see the ground you’re riding on. I manage to take three head over heels tumbles into nettles, brambles, and a big muddy puddle, in that order. When will I learn? Anyway a picture of the start of the singletrack.

…I’ll continue this in a new post…

Now, after the little bit of bonus singletrack, I’m nearly at the top of the first proper descent. Only have to pass through a farm, watched by a farm dog, and a rather odd looking bird, maybe it is a turkey?

The descent is a super fast blast through the woods, with stream crossings, mud, and a steep drop to one side to keep you thinking. At the bottom, a short but vertiginous climb round a couple of switchbacks on the road leads to a trail contouring round to the bottom of the climb.

I climb and climb, up what appears in parts to be a stream, and in others to be a muddy shadow of it’s usual rideable self. But it does the job, and soon I find myself at the top of Back Lane, the climb from before, except as if by magic it has transformed into a fabulous descent, ending with a little bit extra that I didn’t ride earlier, which is a steep rock filled chute, popping me out onto the road at the bottom of the valley.

At the bottom of the valley, I stop for water, and then ride on the road, over the level crossing, with a steam train going off into the distance, through a gated road across farmland, to the other side of the valley at Snitterton, which is one of my favourite place names ever.

I push up the climb of doom from Snitterton - this isn’t even nearly rideable, but it does make for a quick ascent, which is nice, given it is baking hot now (at least for the UK, in the low 20Cs). At the top, I head down a lane for another descent, this time ending by an ancient village cross, in Bonsall. The descent ends down some a weird bit of concrete tank tracks, that I seem to remember being told are something to do with the war.

From Bonsall, another climb, followed by a fantastic descent in the woods down to Cromford, during which I manage to crash whilst batting away a low hanging branch, and leave my unicycle hanging on the edge of the trail. The start of the trail:

In Cromford I buy an ice lolly, and set up the road climb to Bolehill. Bolehill has a large number of radio masts and transmitters, which is always a bad sign that you are heading to somewhere high up. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I UPDed on this climb despite it being on the road, but at least I did get back on and finish it (my lolly was safe too!).

From the top, I head down, across an open rocky wasteland, on a nice fast descent, which is narrow, full of little drops, and twisty turny like a very twisty thing. At the end, I suddenly pop out, half way down what I think is Mikefules ‘own personal everest’. I am half tempted to ride up it just to show off, but my sensible half decides it is time to keep going and head down. This trail is the first time I see people outside a town, it appears to be a bit of a honeypot for walkers, and I get many comments about other wheels and the like as I whizz down the easy wide fireroad to the bottom.

There are some old buildings and some wet stuff, and it can only mean one thing - the canal.

Which is nice, as for about 4 km, I have a nice flat spin along the canal, with excitement provided by aqueducts and tunnels.

Over a little canal bridge, and up into the woods. Up the hill, then back down again, popping out at the next canal bridge.

I poddle a little on the road here, past my favourite pub name in the world - the Hurt Arms, which even has it’s own game, which is that the first person to see it should punch the other person on the arm. I am on my own though, so I hit myself. It doesn’t hurt much, I’m quite weedy really.

I am quite tired now, and very hot, so I forget to take pictures for the next bit. I realise I’m close to the farm we buy eggs from, so I pick up half a dozen eggs and pop them in my camelbak. Then, I follow this with a steep rocky descent with a load of drops on, which I almost clean, but just fall off on the last bit. (what about the eggs? …)

Through the worlds easiest to ride ford and up yet another hill, and I’m onto the last technical bit of the ride, called the Chevin. This is a long wide track, and it’s somewhere we’d take beginner muni riders to try riding down rocks. It is lovely. I can usually clean the descent at the end of it. I fall off 4 times. I think I am tired.

At the bottom I am in Milford, which has not one, not two, but three great real ale pubs. I shun them all, along with the nice factory, and cross over onto the other side of the valley, for the final climb.

This is up a nice easy bridleway to the top of a hill, then across some farmers fields, getting me to the back of our local park. A quick magura squealing descent down what locals call ‘The Ski Slope’ (25m vertical!), across the market square, down past the church, and soon I’m bumping down the big cobbles down to our house, to pour cold water over myself and eat things.


Anyway, like they say, here is the science bit:

Ride length: 8 hours 35 minutes (including stops)
Distance: 60.3km (37.4 miles)
Height gain: 1850m (6069 ft)
Descent: 1869m (6131 ft)
Wheel Size: 26"x2.6 muni.
Temperature: 21C
Calories Eaten on Ride: about 2400
Water drunk: 3.5l
Eggs successfully brought home: 6 (100% success rate!)
Number of proper good falls: 10ish
Visible parts of my body that aren’t sunburnt: None
Pictures at:

ps. Does anyone know of anyone else who has done this long a proper muni ride (ie. On a ride, on a proper muni in big hills, not something in laps like a 24hr race course or similar).


Nice write-up and pics! Too bad you were alone, but at least you can share it with us. :slight_smile:

I would say: guinea fowl. I’ve seen them domesticated before.

I did a fifty mile ride last summer, all on a 24". I thought I was going to die.

i may be doing a 100mile ride ofer a load of hills sometime in the summer. i will probably die:)

Great pics, sorry you had to ride alone. I always ride alone here, no one who rides in this area that I am aware of. I haven’t been on a long ride yet, even the short ones still get to me, plus I only have a 20" cheapy a the moment. Actually, I picked up an ooold cheap 24" today, but have to get a decent muni to ride.

Sounds like a cool ride. To bad no one wanted to go with you.:frowning:

I’d say Guineafowl too…i saw one just the other day that looked exactly like this.

Nice pics, must have been an excellent ride, can’t wait til i get better and i can afford a Muni.

Sounds like a fun ride Joe!

Blue skies, that is kinda freaky for the UK right? :wink:

What a nice write up with pics. I can hardly imagine going so far on such a small wheel even if it were paved. My hat’s off to you. :slight_smile:

Definitely a Guinea Fowl… have loads of them around here. Proper name is Helmeted Guinea Fowl.

Sounds like it was an amazing ride, and the pictures show it. 60km’s on a 26" is crazy, but then again we are crazy to ride on one wheel in the first place :smiley: Well done on finishing the ride.

:)Impressive ride and nice write up:)

I know how you feel. Most of the time I ride by myself. I’ve taught several to ride, but I can’t seem to get anyone seriously interested:( I have to drive nearly 2 hrs to meet up for a group Muni ride w/ the Berkley club (I’ve only gotten myself out there a few times a year).

I believe you can contact the NY club through

I thought the route you proposed was closer to 75km? If I had known it was only a mere 60km then I would have definitely come… up with a better excuse for not being there :o

Looks like a fantastic ride though. Some of the photos are great.


Nice one Joe, sorry I couldnt make it, although I finally rode to Scratchy Bottom and Middle Bottom last week! (just west of Durdle Door in Dorset)

That is exactly the kind of riding i’m interested in. Unfortunately as I don’t have the proper “long” trails around my area I’ve had to resort to 12 hour races for the time being; at least for training (I’ve gotten in 50 miles on hilly, singletrack that way however). However I’ve done some longer rides in the past of around 50km+ all on difficult, hilly singletrack. I’m talking about rides where they may be a fair amount of time hiking, uni on shoulder! I just don’t have the time/opportunity right now to do much more but boy do I have plans…

Great job and great write-up by the way! You should be writing this long distance MUni story!

Nice writeup, Joe. Great pics, too. You loon.

very cool, thats a super sweet adventure. i love long days on the uni. whats next on your adventure list?

South Downs Way?

Someone really should do this in 24 hours. It’d be cool as.


Yes, we have a super bonus of the access law and history here, there are trails everywhere in the country, and thanks to being historical rights of way, they tend to go from somewhere, to somewhere else, so it is often easy to link up loads of paths to make a long route, especially if you don’t mind a mile on road every so often.

The downside of having all that riding, is that you have to find it, maps can tell you that a trail exists, and roughly how steep it is, but they don’t tell you much about terrain, width, scaryness etc. I’m still learning my local trails at the moment, big rides like this are great for getting my head around how all the various areas and trails fit together.


p.s. It occurs to me that the reference in the title is slightly obscure so people probably didn’t get it…