Sitting at a stoplight a few months ago, I looked to the left and saw what any city-dweller has come to expect: A dog-walker, a rollerblader, and someone waiting for the bus.
As the light switched from red to green, an unforeseen unicyclist whizzed by in my rearview mirror.
Wait, a unicyclist? Yes, a unicyclist.
So I did what anyone looking to fill their blooper reel would do. I logged onto my laptop and searched “unicycle for sale” on Facebook Marketplace.
Two days later I was driving back from Apple Valley, $30 poorer but richer in one thing: a used 20-inch unicycle.
I had two questions. The first: How fun would this be? The second: How hard could this actually be?
I answered the latter in the form of a bet, wagering $100 I’d be able to unicycle over nine miles by the end of the summer.
Little did I know, I was in for quite the ride, including countless falls and lots of wisdom. Here’s what I’ve learned.
YOU’LL FALL. A LOT.
With a fairly average bicycling background behind me, I figured learning to unicycle couldn’t be that difficult. Sure, maybe it would take a few mounts to get used to.
Was I ever wrong. It’s one of the physically hardest things I’ve tried.
I’ve noticed the cycling community is a fairly optimistic one. After all, if you’re going to hop on one wheel you’d better believe in yourself. So when I tell a unicycling friend, “I just keep falling!” they’ll respond with, “I think you mean an unexpected dismount!”
Whatever it is, it happens more often than you’d think — and to the point of frustration at times. But the more hours you get on the wheel, the less familiar you become with bumps and bruises.
I’ve only severely fallen a few times, more so at the beginning of this whole journey. Most of the time, I can catch myself with my feet instead of my wrists or face.
But when I don’t, suddenly everything I thought I knew about concrete feels wrong. You won’t remember everything hurting quite so badly upon impact. Each bump, at first, feels like a mini trench waiting to pull you in.
Drama aside, I’ve thus far neglected to share the best things about unicycling which seem to overpower the not-so-fun ones.
DONNA SUMMER AND STRANGERS ARE YOUR BIGGEST FANS
Or Cyndi Lauper or Con Funk Shun. Whoever gets you moving and motivated to hop back on again after a thwarting fall. Pop some earbuds in and suddenly you’ve got your own cheering squad in the form of “On the Radio” or “Love’s Holiday.”
I let them serenade me to the other side of the tennis court (or just through the next wheel rotation, some days). But when the battery dies or the last song on the album is played, it seems nearby park-goers always have my back.
While unicycling, I’ve come across dozens of people I wouldn’t have met otherwise, some who I now call friends. Children showed off their newly-learned thumbs-ups; families sat and watched with encouraging words.
I’ve been given rounds of applause and free Gatorade on more than one occasion. Conversations about trying new things and learning to skateboard or rock climb came about. Doing something out of the ordinary brings out of the ordinary people together.
And when people watch, becoming embarrassed is off the table.
After the first five times your unicycle goes flying one way and you go flying in another, all the knee and elbow pads in the world following suit, little compares. Suddenly, singing in the grocery store or calling someone by the wrong name doesn’t seem so horrifying.
I’ve come to realize unicycling isn’t about coordination or even balance. It’s not necessarily about training for the circus or talent show, either.
It’s about throwing yourself into the undiscovered, sharing a laugh with a stranger and, most philosophically of all, learning to patch up an ugly knee scuff.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a bet to go strive for. Sept. 21, here we come. I can only hope “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire will be enough to carry me through.