There is certain magic that lies upon the trails of Moab. You follow a path made of red soil, large rocks and loose rocks. You’re constantly concentrated, using the muscles of your legs, arms and back to fly over the without losing balance. With the flow, you start feeling the joy, you pedal faster and try something you’ve never done before, a higher drop or an incredibly technical and exposed section. You stay on the wheel. You ride on, stay focused, and keep your muscles tense. Until it happens: you weren’t focused for a millisecond, the pressure on your pedal was just a tiny bit too weak, you try keep the balance but it’s too late. Your legs need to run to keep up with the speed you are moving at. You slow down, you stop, you are trying to catch your breath. You turn around to pick up your uni, but the beauty surrounding you catches your eyes. And you pause. You look at the wide canyons, the red rocks, the towers and arches, the formations formed in a long passed chapter of this planet. You take a deep breath. You turn, grab your uni and hurry down the trail.
Last weekend I had the chance to participate in Moab Munifest, a classic amongst the mountain unicycling conventions. It had been on my list for a while, so last month, during my incredibly fun stay at Tenerife, I decided to simply book a flight and do it. I teamed up with Benoit Gonneville Damme, a rider from Montreal (who also organizes Unicon 17, the next unicycle world championships this summer) to extend the weekend to a weeklong adventure and make it worth the long flight.
We met up in Denver and went riding in the smaller mountains of the region, which weren’t completely covered in snow. We did some fun rides, went to Mallory Cave and the Dinosaur Mountain outside of Boulder, went up the Northern Table Mountain of Golden and had excellent snow riding conditions on Bergen Park Trail outside of Evergreen. I had never seen mountains like these before, very high but yet delicately formed and constantly imagined cowboys on horses exploring these wild lands. In the evenings we returned to Denver, where we were staying with Anne and Marco, the most lovable hosts one can imagine. Marco just recently got into unicycling and spontaneously invited us to stay at their house when he heard we were coming to the area. Every night a delicious home cooked meal and warm conversations about culture and politics were waiting for us. We also made friends with their joyful son José, who is four years old and turns out to be a big fan of balloon animals and hats.
On Thursday before the convention, Benoit and I met up with Max Schulze, who is also a member of the KH Factory Team, Jacob Spera and Jenni Rinker. With Max’ car packed to the roof with gear and camping equipment, we drove through the Rocky Mountains in the dark. When we arrived at Slickrock Campground in Moab later that night, we were happy none of our unicycles had fallen off the bike rack in the back, pitched our tents in the dark and soon crawled into our fluffy sleeping bags.
When I awoke the next morning, I found the campground to be surrounded by huge red sandstone hills, which kept the valley in the shadow and the air cold and crisp. As the sun came out and slowly warmed up the air, one by one unicyclists from all over North America showed up. This is probably one of my favorite parts about unicycling: Seeing old friends who I’ve met before at conventions all over the globe, as well as meeting new riders whom I had only heard of or talked to on the internet before. We quickly formed a bigger gang and decided to get ready for some physical exercise with a big American breakfast at Denny’s. Some of us decided to go to a bouldering area afterwards, where I found myself rock climbing in hiking boots soon after (Note to self: bring climbing shoes when going to one of the most beautiful climbing spots in the world next time).
As much fun as it was, we decided it was time for some unicycling and went to the skate park where everyone met up for the official start of the convention. While approaching the site, I could make out a diverse group of people unicycling, juggling, chatting about the latest innovations, some proudly showing off their manly chest hair – the usual sight when a couple of unicyclists turn up in the same spot. After years of virtual communication, I finally had a chance to chat with Kris Holm, my unicycle sponsor and idol to many of us. He decided to come on a ride to the infamous Portal Trail with us.
On that trail, while hiking up, I got a first impression of the endlessly wide, red canyons and rock formations to all sides and couldn’t really believe what I was seeing, that I was actually there. Once again, I was amazed by the openness and friendliness of all the other unicyclists, as well as the riding skills of so many of them. With a young sport like mountain unicycling, the bar of what’s possible rises so quickly, it never gets old to see some of the top riders stop because they have spotted a challenging line, climbing up there, looking at angles and landings, measuring and finally clearing a spectacular obstacle on one wheel. Motivated by the outstanding terrain and good company, I too found myself riding lines I hadn’t thought I was capable of doing a couple of days before. Oh, what the spirit of the mountains and the warm vibes of the unicycling family do to you.
Back off the trail, the evening was filled with pizza, relaxing our muscles in the hot tub, whale stories and balloon art around the campfire.
When unzipping the entrance of my tent early the next morning, the first thing I saw were people showing off their bib shorts and rubbing silicon lube on the inside of their thighs. Life doesn’t get any better than that.
At the trailhead of Porcupine Trail it was snowing when we started the 14-mile downhill track. Again, the curvy, narrow trail led us along the edge of a breathtaking canyon. The trail is rather technical throughout the whole ride, which made it equally fun and exhausting all along. I stopped for a couple of scenic lookouts and worked my way down the trail for the next 6.5 hours.
As the the sun rose higher in the sky, the amount of drinking water left in our backpacks became a popular conversation topic, although I wasn’t worried since I had completely overdone it by taken five liters on the trail. Nevertheless I did look forward to the end of the trail – during some (very brave) drops I had over expanded the junction of my right big toe several times, which made riding on the technical parts harder and painful. After the final descent along an exposed edge with the Colorado River below me, I decided to hop into the ice cold river with our gang, while waiting for Max who went to pick up the car at the beginning of the trail. (Thanks again!)
At the formal western-style convention dinner that night, we managed to shoot a picture with all present members of the Kris Holm Factory Team: Max, me, Kris and Ryan. Rare and special moment.
That night, we also broke the world record of the number of people fitting into one hot tub and made mini s’mores at the campfire.
When getting up early again the next morning, I couldn’t really believe it was the last day already. I happily noticed that others were feeling the same way, so we wasted some time playing frisbee and lighting a morning camp fire while packing and taking down our tents. Our last ride took us up HyMesa Trail. My legs did feel a bit tired from the long technical ride the previous day, I had barely managed to squeeze my swollen foot into my show and of course I over expanded my toe a couple more times. So I took it easier on the technical part, nevertheless enjoying the landscape and the beautifully wound Jackson Trail elegantly leading among the carved red rocks.
At the end of the trail we decided to skip the shower and instead went to have a last big lunch with everyone. One buffalo (!) burger and a dozen piggyback rides later it was good-bye. Boy, why is it that unicyclists are such lovely people? We had become a family in just a little more than two days and even now, writing this on my flight home to Berlin, it is hard to believe that we will be spread all over the planet again until the summer.
Driving through the Rockies back to Max’s place in Golden was another bonding experience, while sitting in the smell of our sweaty gear, dancing to one song on repeat, looking out the window imagining what it would be like to ride down the super steep lines on the mountain ranges passing by. The last couple of hours went by much too quickly, including camping in Max’s living room, sitting on top of my suitcase for a while (Why is it always harder to close on the way back?) and taking a good-bye photo in colorful tights in the front yard at freezing temperatures.
As I am writing this, the fingers of my right hand are covered with black ink from my broken pen. I can’t believe this trip went by so quickly. Babies, it’s been an overall epic trip. I literally cannot wait for the summer to come to see your sexy bodies and lovely faces again. It’s been an honor to go on this adventure with you. Take care and ride safely.