1,000 km, 19 days, four countries, 11 riders – unicycle riders, that is.
The Mediterranean Unicycle Tour (MUT) is a long-distance unicycle ride that begins in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and ends in Aix-en-Province, France.
This year, Newfoundland’s David Cox has the opportunity to become the first Canadian rider to participate in this long-distance unicycle tour.
The MUT participants come from a wide variety of backgrounds.
They are mostly American, according to Nathan Hoover, one of the event’s organizers, with one French woman, and one British rider, and special guests from Denmark and Finland will join in for parts of the tour.
However, Hoover said, “While there are a couple of the world’s most famous unicyclists who are from Canada, we haven’t had a Canadian on any of these tours yet.”
Twenty-year-old Dave Cox is among one of the best unicyclists in his province.
He began unicycling about a year and a half ago. He is largely self-taught, and practices mostly with the juggling club in St. John’s, or on his own, using a unicycle with a 36-inch Coker wheel as a form of transportation.
“There’s no one else with a Coker in Newfoundland that I know of,” said Cox, “It’ll be really nice to go on the tour, because I’ll be able to meet other riders that have put a lot of time into it.”
It was in March 2006 Cox’s interest in long-distance riding was piqued by reading about unicycle tours other riders were undertaking throughout the world, across the Alps, through Laos, and back and forth across the United States.
The same people who are organizing the MUT organized some of these other unicycle tours and others were independent organizations.
“I did a bit of investigating, and a bit of Google Earthing,” Cox would later write in a journal chronicling his first long-distance adventure, “and eventually decided I was going to ride from North Sydney, Nova Scotia, to Halifax, Nova Scotia, take in some of the Busker Festival, couch surf, and get back home somehow.”
In August of 2006, that’s just what he did, riding roughly 500 km alone, and he managed to make it home safe and sound.
Cox said, “There’s a very Zen feel to doing a solo ride like that, riding for 6-8 hours a day by yourself and watching the country pass by slowly.” But that was just the beginning.
“You can see we have a couple of single days that are 100 km or just over,” said Hoover.
“Terrain is everything from big steep hills, rolling, flat, hot, rainy, etc. Several days have more than 1000 m of climbing.”
Cox is well informed about what he is getting into, and he will be far from alone this time around.
Preparation for him and the 10 other riders began in the fall, but soon it starts to kick into high gear. “Now I’ve got my plane tickets booked and training starts in February,” he said.
The training schedule for the unicyclists is complicated. It will begin mid-February for most riders, and it involves training intensely; elevation training, as well as distance and endurance training, speed training and, of course, training in the rain.
It is a rigorous schedule designed to help the riders achieve their goals and have a good time.
The tour itself is bound to be an out-of-this-world experience. There are four organizers this year from the United States.
Hoover is one and is by trade a computer software engineer. MUT will be his fourth unicycle tour.
“I’ve gone on three major tours,” he said, “Norway three weeks in 2003, Alps three weeks in 2005, Laos two weeks in 2006.”
Despite his involvement in the past, this is Hoover’s first time being heavily involved in the organization of the tours.
“I helped a bit with organization on the Alps tour, but MUT is the first where I’m really working a lot on it.”
The other three organizers are Andy Cotter, his sister Constance Cotter, and Irene Genelin.
Andy Cotter is one of Hoover’s inspirations for long-distance riding.
“My inspiration to start long-distance unicycle touring came from a number of people, especially Andy Cotter. It just sort of started and kept going,” he said.
Cotter is quite an accomplished unicyclist and this year is co-organizing the MUT.
He began unicycling in 1986, the year that Cox was born. In 1999, Cotter started long-distance riding by organizing and unicycling in the Unicycle Across Minnesota Tour, the first long-distance group ride of its kind.
He has also participated in the Alps, Norwegian, and European Unicycle Tours, totalling almost 3,700 km on unicycle, not including this year’s 1,000 km.
Aside from that, Cotter has acquired 25 American national and five world titles throughout his competitive unicycling career.
For Cox who has few friends who unicycle, let alone family members, getting to spend time with other people who share his interest in unicycling will be one of the best parts of the tour.
“Riding with the people who will be on MUT is going to be an experience. I’m planning on being in the best shape I can for the tour, since I’d like to at least be able to keep up,” Cox said jokingly.
“It would be really cool to log the kind of mileage these people have and talk unicycles with them for a few days, especially since I don’t see people who know as much as I do about one-wheelers ever.”
The organizers are looking forward to this summer’s tour as much as anyone else is, despite the work that’s just beginning. Out of the 19 days of the tour, only four days are rest days in which the unicyclists will not be riding.
Hoover says that the main reason behind the intensive training the riders will go through is so the riding won’t wear them out too much and they can enjoy their rest days.
“On our days off, we’ll be regular tourists,” Hoover said. “Of course there’s laundry, and all the normal things you have to do besides moving yourself from A to B. But lots of touring around, meeting locals, climbing local mountains, swimming in lakes, whatever the great things to do locally happen to be.”
The unicyclists also spend time during the tour updating their website daily with photos and a record of their journey that day.
This can be a big job, taking into account the number of photos taken each day.
According to Hoover, on the Alps tour, the crew shot 7,000 photos with 10 cameras over the course of the ride.
The Mediterranean Unicycle Tour of 2007 begins on June 17, 2007, when all participants will meet in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
The first day of riding will be June 18. For the 19 days of the tour, the 11 unicyclists will be accompanied by three people, two on bicycles and one in a support vehicle, as they tackle mountainous terrain and coastal roads for 1,000 km.
“I started unicycling because it looked really cool and somewhat impossible. I wanted the challenge and I wanted to have a cool way to get around,” said Cox.
Less than two years later, he is still jokingly asked by Newfoundlanders where his other wheel is when he’s unicycling around St. John’s training for the tour.
He answers with his usual reply. “Oh, you mean the training wheel?”
For more information about the Mediterranean Unicycle Tour, visit the website, at http://mut.unitours.org.
Dave Cox can be contacted at email@example.com.