Hey everyone. I just finished a ride over memorial day and would like to share it with those who may be starved of unicycle activity based off the last few months of global health crisis / may be planning a distance ride and be a bit interested in some ideas.
I should say that this ride is manageable in about 4 days time, which we found out since we were actually on a bit of a time crunch, and would average about 50 (80-81 km) miles a day to achieve such. Would I have preferred to have taken a few extra days? Yes and No. My body (you can guess where) was ready to be done about 10-12 miles (16-19 km) before we ended each day and it would take a 10-12 mile start each subsequent day to actually warm up a bit. Hauling all my gear wasn’t graceful nor was did it make life any easier, but I strongly encourage that if you have any interest in unicycle touring/packing then don’t be afraid to dive right in.
The idea came to me and a friend of mine after a charity ride we attended the year prior in Sussex, NB (Canada) was cancelled due to the global health issues. The border is still closed to U.S. citizens I believe so we weren’t going to make it anyway. The ride is to raise money for athletic scholarships for local women athletes to use towards schooling to remember a rider who had been struck by a car while out one day. Last year, 2019, was when the province unveiled their new bicycle safety guidelines for everyone to adhere to and even though it had to come at the expense of an amazing woman’s life, it was a beautiful occasion to see change occurring to protect lives. It also makes me realize I took for granted all the laws in the U.S. I figured were prominent all over.
We wanted to have our own ride to raise money for the cause in whatever way we could and decided that riding across rural Vermont and the New Hampshire White Mountains National Forest and Lakes Region would be a great way to do this. We put out the call to two of our other friends (because they were the only people we knew who also had bikes) and we started planning.
But wait. You said bikes? Yes, that’s true. My three friends were on bikes and I was planning to do this on a unicycle. A unicycle I did not own yet.
Well John, you big dumb idiot, what have you gotten yourself into. The ride was planned for the U.S. holiday of memorial day and I was planning to ride a 36er I hadn’t owned yet. We made the plans April 13th and I decided it was time. I ordered it pieces, because I didn’t have the capitol to buy it all at once and I wanted to customize it without having 3 seats and crank sets floating around (although you can never have too many). I didn’t have the complete unicycle until the first week in May, to which I was completely oblivious to how little time I have to learn to ride a unicycle that is unlike anything I’ve ever ridden. I’ve spent over a decade riding unicycles, everything from 20’’-29’’, and I felt like a baby deer after first attempting this minotaur of a machine.
To make matters more interesting, I had to master free-mounting the 36er with nothing but myself, then learn to mount it while carrying 4 days worth of gear. Admittedly, I used a lot of shoulders and walls to get on this thing during my ride. I’m going to be honest right now. I COULD mount this unicycle fully geared but at the end of some days the fatigue was either too much or the anxiety was too much. Stage fright is my worst enemy when unicycling and trying to remount this thing with people watching really threw me off my game mentally. It was stressful being the only person on a unicycle and feeling responsible for the group not moving as fast as they could (but you inherently can’t). A lot of my failed mounts were from stress and trying to move too fast. If you’re reading this, know, you are good enough to do whatever you want. Just maybe practice more than 2 weeks on a brand new machine fully loaded with camping gear and clothing.
Also, also the setup I had been using for my 29er was completely failing. In April of this year I completed my first touring ride. It was 2 days/1 night in Lexington, Virginia through Goshen Pass and George Washington National Forest. A great place to try something new if you live in the area and want to try some unipacking. I used a tandem stoker and a seat post to hold a rear bag I had sewn. It fit around the frame of my 29er. I found out days before my trip it DID NOT fit the frame of my 36er. I had built, designed, and sewn a bag just for this trip to the specs of that stoker fitting and when it didn’t I panicked. My front handle bar set up carried a rear bike bag (I just put it in front) as well as my tube bag. On my 36er the tube bag didn’t fit on top and so had to sit underneath the handlebars and the bag didn’t fit at all without hitting the wheel. Soo, nothing was working. I swore, a lot. I also got olive oil on everything trying desperately to grease some holes to make some things fit. whispers it didn’t work whispers
I’ll work on posting pictures, but as of now, they keep coming in upside down. Which is both bizarre and infuriating.
So, what did I end up going with?
My gear was heavily ad-libbed and I’m convinced this ride would have been monumentally easier if I wasn’t riding with a set-up that wasn’t actively working against me. But, it was a fun little “will today be the day everything breaks” kind of game that one can only enjoy being 25 miles away from anything without cell reception or visible car traffic.
So as I said, my old set-up was not going to work. So I modified some things because if there is one thing one has to be as a unicyclist, it’s creative. My rear holder was a some cheap, garbage REI brand clamp that attaches to the seat post I got on Craigslist. I hate these things with every fibre of my being. They are unacceptably heavy, only are rated up to 20 pounds (~9 kilos) of carrying capacity, they never interface as well as I would like them to (tighten the trash heap all you want it will still swing side to side as you go). And swing it did. I rode 200 miles (~322 km) having to reach behind me every 5-10 minutes to make sure it hadn’t swayed perpendicular to the seat post and if it did I had to brace myself and shove it back into place. I was actively pushing my self over trying to move it back into place knowing it was sway again. It literally could not go tighter and still it swayed more than a palm tree in a tropical storm. These things are better used as clubs to wail on junkyard cars to relieve stress.
My front handlebar setup was the only thing that did work, which was a godsend. I found some scrap parts at a local bike store and attached a male/female stem (I think) to a seat post with metal screws and at the end of that attached a double female stem to one end of the seatpost and another one to a pair of handlebars. I found a pair of clamp attachment aero bars and attached them to the handlebars. I really love this setup both because it functions well and has the “perfect mess” kind of look I’ve come to associate unicyclers with.
To these contraptions I attached:
- A tent (which sat under the aerobars)
- A tube bag (which sat under the seatpost extender of the handlebars)
- A stem bag (One I sewed myself that carried my phone, food, bibs and bobs)
- A front light on the handlebars
- A rear bag I had hand sewn to fit the dimensions of my last setup. When I couldn't get it to work, I just bungie corded the thing to the luggage rack and it was ugly and sad that I couldn't show it off better but it worked just fine
- A saddle bag (pint sized)
- A pair of Tom's shoes that were used as post ride shoes that have seen much better days. Perfect for cramming under bungees and potentially not coming back with
- REI fanny pack
- Bike Jersey (back pockets)
- And cycling shorts pocket
I’ll work front to back
Like I said, the tent was on the front of the machine under the handlebars. It was my heaviest single item and worked wonders to counter balance the back. The stem bag carried food (a crushed avocado) and my phone (covered in avocado) as well as electrolyte tablets. Most days ranged from 85-95 F (29-35 C) with full sun exposure so keeping these on hand was very helpful.
The tube bag carried a spare tube (which is massive), a portable battery to charge a phone, and the phone charger.
My fanny pack carried:
- Food. Almost all of my food was stored here. Peanut butter packets, fish pouches, bean packages, meat sticks, stroopwafels, poptarts. Ironically, panic shopping a few months prior at the onslaught of the pandemic meant I already had all of these things on hand. Saved me a trip to the store which was huge. I didn't eat entirely out of my pouch. We stopped at a few small town country stores which never cease to blow me away when it comes to what they offer and the quality of what they offer. These places are hidden gems of massive subs, cold drinks, ice cream, hot foods (which would be good if not it being hotter than sin) and some crazy stories from locals.
- Water filter and filter bag. This came in clutch during longer periods of time without access to water. With COVID-19 being an issue, it was increasingly difficult to find places that would let us re-fill water and finding a safe place to filter water wasn't always easy in flat, agricultural land with cattle run off. If we found a place to get water, we wanted to be prepared.
- Toiletries and first aid kit
- Glasses (to see)
- Sewing needle and thread
- Tiny jar of honey
- Instant coffee powder
- Two water bottles (1 litre each)
- a Mini bike pump (Schrader)
- A set of earbuds/headphones
- I held all my clothing items in here [LIST]
- Wool long sleeve
- wool socks for sleeping in
- 2 pairs of socks for riding
- 1 cycling skull cap with brim
- 1 headband
- 1 buff
- 1 pair of cycling shorts
- 1 pair of running shorts (post ride shorts)
- 1 cycling jersey
- 1 wool goobalini (post ride)
- A set of allen keys
- a pedal wrench
- patch kit
- spare cash
- wallet (ID and 1 Debit Card, Medical insurance as well in case I needed a hospital)
- A single hex wrench of unknown size that interacted with most of my setup and was easier than using the set of 10.
Lastly my unicycle.
It’s 36 inch Nimbus Oracle frame, steel disc brake hub with brake, and a nightrider tire with foss tube. I wanted to try out the Kris Holm Pivotal Seatpost/Saddle set up but UDC was out of stock until the day before I left and I ended up using a Fusion Free Ride Saddle for the whole trip. Did I lose circulation? Yes. Was it because of the saddle or because I was riding 20+ mile (32 km) stints? No clue.
I had to hacksaw the 300mm seatpost down by an amount I am unsure of at the moment. I guess I am shorter than I expected for this. I used 125 mm cranks which felt great to use but probably affected my mounting success rate. I’d say I was mounting 85% successful in practice runs fully geared and was less than 50% on the actual ride. No big deal though since I really didn’t dismount much once we got out of major cities. But getting out of Burlington VT was a nightmare. The stress was real and the performance anxiety was more than I bargained for.
Here is a picture of us before we left the Park in Burlington.
It will be here that I leave you until I mentally prepare to fill in another 5 pages worth of words to explain how the days went.
To leave you fun cliffhangers:
- yes, that is a hardwood box on the front of that bike holding my one friend's stuff
- Yes my other friend decided to bike across New England with nothing but a giant basket in the back
- Yes, my shoes are shown in the front of my handlebars. They make moves as time progresses, trust me.
- Wait, where in the blue blazes is Farmington, NH?