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May 2005


By admin - Posted on 11 September 2005

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Crossing China on One Wheel, by Roz Beste

Having decided to uproot myself from my home of the last eight years in Hong Kong and emigrate down under, I thought I deserved a bit of a holiday. I thought about chilling out on a beach and a few other kinds of conventional vacations but they didn't really enthuse me - I prefer holidays where I can get fit, hang out with some interesting people and do something different. And so it was that I came up with the idea of unicycling across China. That seemed to fit the bill much better. I speak a bit of Mandarin and I'd done a similar trip before (on 2 wheels) and I wanted to improve my unicycling so this would be the perfect way to do that. I thought six weeks sounded like a good time to be away so I studied my diary and came up with some dates.

Being less organised than most people I only made this decision 4 months in advance so I had a bit of work cut out to arrange everything. The most difficult being finding some willing souls to accompany me on this journey. I told everyone I knew about it and advertised in various newsgroups and was somewhat surprised that I wasn't overwhelmed by people who wanted to come along. Hey, if I'd have seen this advertised I would have wanted to go... But I guess not everyone is like me (which is probably a good thing, in perspective). And of course reality always bites - money, time... fear of the unknown and all those other excuses people have (OK, they don't usually admit the last one but I'm sure it's in there too.)

I did eventually manage to find people to come along for every section of the trip -A total of nine people joined me at different times for anything from 1 day to 3 weeks, on either bicycles or unicycles (The unicyclists were Jeff Tremblay (Hong Kong), Martin Turner (Hong Kong) and Roger Davies (UK)). This made it seem like lots of different holidays which fitted in with the change of weather and scenery as I made my way across the country from East to West.

The trip was excellent fun and the logistics of so many people coming to meet me at different times worked surprisingly well considering the potential for difficulties- you gotta luv mobile phones and the internet. The most challenging parts of the trip were (in no particular order)

  • lack of contour maps (or actually very accurate maps of any sort). Roads are being built very fast in this booming country and even buying the latest maps doesn't seem to guarantee that they will be very realistic. I had about 5 different brands of maps and used to consult all of them to get a consensus on the likely route. We could travel 80+ km in a day if the route was flat but if it was mountainous - 30-40km might be all we could do so it would have been good to be able to plan better. Asking the locals didn't really help as they always thought we were crazy to be cycling that kind of distance when the bus was so cheap and would point us to the bus station (being mostly peasant farmers, they don't really understand the concept of recreational sports such as cycling or hiking) and give us conflicting information about the gradients of the roads (I think they must have always slept through the journey, if they had done it at all!)

  • lack of tourist information. We were staying in hotels, not camping. It was difficult to know which towns would have accomodation. We found that any town of a certain size would have something (which may be very basic). However, our only method of knowing the size of towns was the font size on the maps and there was not always a good differentiation between a hamlet of a few houses (if you could find it at all) or a town of 10,000 people. So there were one or 2 occasions when we got it wrong. However, buses would nearly always take us and the unicycles (and/or bikes) so we could easily get to the next town if necessary, even if we didn't have the strength/motivation to cycle any further that day. (And in addition, buses can be flagged down anywhere - no need to wait for a 'bus stop' or town)

  • luggage transport. On the first part of the trip, I was the only unicyclist and I had at least one person on a bicycle with me who carried my luggage which worked very well. But later more unicyclists joined me and we no longer had the bicycle backups. We tried various types of systems including taxis, buses and private mini-buses. But sometimes had to resort to getting on a bus at the end of the day and picking up the luggage ourselves. Or staying in a town for a few days and cycling out in different directions from it and/or doubling back.

The most memorable of the trip:

  • On our first day, in a fairly crowded area near a bus station, someone spotted me unicycling and ran to side of the road and with a big smile put his hand out 'high-five' style for me to slap as I came past. Other people seeing him do this, decided to do the same - so I cycled all along that road high-fiving people as I came past.

  • About half way through the trip we had a security issue where Zoe who was riding a bicycle got ahead of us, was pushed off her bike and her money, camera and passport stolen. I usually think of China as being an extremely safe place so this incident really affected my confidence for a while and was certainly a more sobering part of the journey. It also led to adventures at the police station and learning about bureaucracy in China. (The official franking machine at the police station was broken so they couldn't stamp the robbery report and initially suggested that we would have to wait around for a week until it was fixed. Jeff offered to buy them a new machine - but in the end a way was found...)

  • Being persuaded by an English teacher in a small rural town to come in and talk to some of his students...and then on arriving at the school, discovering we were actually giving a speech to 250 students! (They asked us questions like "Can you tell us about farming in your country"... "Er... actually, no..." - We tried to stick to subjects we knew more about like unicycling)

  • The stunning scenery. China's countryside has some incredible scenery that is not promoted as a tourist attraction and therefore most tourists never see. I'm sure their tourist industry will wake up to the fact soon but until then you can experience it without any other camera-toting tourists getting in your way.

Cycling is a fantastic way to see China and unicycling guarantees smiles from everyone you pass. If you ever get the opportunity to do some long distance cycling in Asia - do it!! I highly recommend it.

Roz Beste

If you'd like to read more about Roz's trip, see her blog.

Report on the Chiltern Muniuni Weekend – by Mal Bird

There was a roll up of 7 unicyclists plus me.

Normally in Chiltern at this time of the year it is extremely hot and dry. As luck would have it, a Victorian cold change came through during Friday night and Saturday morning. The rain and freezing wind caught us by surprise and took a bit of fun out of the morning.

The hastily built trials course proved a hit with the trial riders and some of the more mature riders cruised around a bit with the occasional swapping and lending of various types of unicycles.

At 12:30, the local Policeman turned up to escort us down the main street and luckily the weather cleared up enough for the ride. I had some problems with organizing the street ride and publicity, so when it finally happened it took any one at the main street at the time by total surprise.

After lunch, we headed to the Magenta Mine site. Magenta is an old disused goldmine in some beautiful country. We did a 3k warm up with the first hill a bit of a challenge going up. Young Tom cruised up next to me chatting all the way. He made it to the top easily and I didn’t. I think (correct me if I am wrong) James also made it on the first attempt.

After the warm up I drove everyone up to Pipeline track with full intentions of going down the easer side to the South. Everyone looked down the steepest side down to the North and decided to go that way instead. Previously I have never been game to try that side by myself; peer pressure does wonders. Tom sped down enjoying the challenge. The rest us stopped one way or another but all made it down somehow including 13 YO Matt Clark who had never ridden off a basketball court before. Tom was the first ever to join the unofficial “Pipeline Masters”

After a rest and some messing about at Magenta Mine, Pipleline North was on every riders mind. We all walked, tried to ride and somehow got back to the top of Pipleline to give it another go. Tom actually stepped off this time but James Ross of Albury became the second ever Pipeline master. We then rode back to Magenta on a great challenging single track.

That evening a few of us went to the local to debrief and watched all Kris Holm and Alex Tom Videos on the big screen. At first the other customers found the extreme action amusing but definitely outside their schema. Finally they all went home and left the unicyclists to watch the last video “Into the Thunder Dragon” without interruption.

James’ car broke down on the way back to Albury late Saturday night after the video session, so James and Mark did not get back Sunday.

On Sunday we went to Donchii Hill Track which is a reasonably maintained track (locals Call it Donkey Hill) to tackle Bull Ant Track which runs across Donchii Track. Bull Ant Track is a relatively un-maintained minor track with lots of washaways. The first ride went West with a reasonably technical downhill section then some steep to gentle tracks back up hill. To add to the rides complexity, Tom managed to find old gold diggings, fallen trees and all sorts of natural trials obstacles on the way. I also felt humbled when Matt out accelerated me going up one of my favorite steep hills. I was on my Roger Davis CK with all the good gear including a Michelin Hot S tire and had ridden the hill lots of times. Matt was on his first Juggleart unicycle and his first weekend in the bush. I think he could have a big future.

We had another short but steep down and up Bull Ant to the east (we all ended up walking up that section of Bull Ant) to finish the day.

It was a great weekend. My aim was to share my terrain and for all of us to share skills, challenges and unicycle stories. I hope and also think the aim was achieved by the participants.

Thanks to the riders who turned up to support the weekend.

Mal

UniNats ’05 update

Planning for UniNats ’05 is well under way. The Australian Unicycle Society has been awarded a grant of special assistance from the NT Minister for Sport and Recreation, Mr. John Ah Kit. This $3,000 grant has ensured we are well placed to provide excellent facilities over the 4 day event.

UniNats ’05 will have something for everyone, including track and field, freestyle, basketball, hockey, trials, muni, distance (5km, 10km and half marathon) as well as workshops and social events. World Open-X champion, Julien Monney, has committed to providing two workshops at UniNats ’05 – one on mounts, and another on using your unicycle in public performance. Julien is a successful circus school instructor in Geneva, Switzerland, and I am sure he will pass on many useful tips to beginner and accomplished riders in Darwin.

Darwin is currently experiencing a beautiful start to our dry season – expect excellent sunny weather of 30 degrees during the day, down to 18 – 20 overnight. Darwin is a surprisingly vibrant city, with excellent nightlife, shops, galleries, markets and restaurants all within coo-ee of some of the world’s most renowned national parks.

Championship Trophies: As something new this time around, we will be operating a points system at UniNats ’05. Points will be awarded for participating in an event, finishing an event and achieving a placing of 1st, 2nd or 3rd. The person with the most points in each category at the end of the 4 days will be presented with the Australian Champion Unicyclist trophy for that category (e.g. Australian Champion Junior Male Unicyclist 2005). Obviously, the more events you enter, the more chance you have of increasing your points.

Sponsors: We have been very fortunate to secure some excellent sponsors for UniNats ’05, which will help keep the costs down for competitors. In addition to the $3,000 grant from the NT Government, we have received sponsorship from:

  • NT Athletics (in kind, discounts on venue hire, assistance with grant application),
  • Melaleuca On Mitchell backpacker lodge (in kind, significant discounts on competitor accommodation),
  • AW Bell continues their support of UniNats with provision of over 300 medals,
  • Kidz Fun Biz (countless hours and dollars worth of in kind assistance),
  • Café Uno – located almost opposite MOM - have come on board as one of our newest sponsors, offering 10% off all breakfasts, lunches and dinners for UniNats ’05 registrants (upon presentation of registration pass),
  • Cold Rock Café are also offering discounts on ice-cream purchases, and
  • In Depth Archaeology & Heritage Conservation has provided many hours of in kind support in the organisation of UniNats ’05.

We hope to bring more sponsors on board to make this a great event for all participants.

Official Dinner: The official dinner will be held on the Saturday night, and it will not be your average garden variety dinner! We will be having cocktail food (plenty of variety and plenty of food) and a party atmosphere. Unicycles are welcome, and we encourage unicycle sumo wrestling and other one-wheeled games.

We hope to see you all at UniNats ’05 in July!

Hidden Vale Cycle Epic

The Hidden Vale Cycle Epic will be held in Qld in September. One of New Zealand’s best unicyclists, Ken Looi, will be traveling over for the event. He will compete in the unicycle category with local talent such as Andrew Carter and Rockley Boothroyd.

Cheers,

Karen Martin-Stone
Secretary, Australian Unicycle Society (AUS)
President, Unicycling Association of the NT (UniANT)