This past week, I found myself wishing more than once that I lived in a more populated area. In general, I love the U.P. and the fact that there aren't a ton of other people everywhere.
But this past week, I realized one of the perks of living near a big city, namely the increased chance of finding other people who unicycle.
I learned to unicycle my freshman year at Northern Michigan University and have since been riding around the various roads and bike paths of the area, usually all by my lonesome. Last week, however, I was in Saline, Mich., which is home to the Redford Township Unicycle Club, the largest unicycle club in the country and the hosting organization for the 2012 North American Unicycling Convention and Championships.
NAUCC is held every year, hosted by a different club, to allow members of the Unicycling Society of America from around the country to get together and compete in all things uni.
Because unicycling isn't as simple as just getting on and going for a bit of a ride, which is what I usually do.
Uni competitions range from individual, pairs or group freestyle - which is a bit like ice skating, including costumes and routines set to music - to all sorts of track and long distance races to flatland and trials, both of which are a bit like skateboarding and involve tricks like jumps, spins and crank flips.
And then there's team sports like hockey and basketball and mountain unicycling, or MUNI for short.
It's a chance for expert riders to compete against each other.
But experts aren't the only ones there. Unlike other sports where it's just the kids taking part, unicycling and NAUCC are open to just about any age, with 5-year-olds and their parents learning to ride alongside each other. In each of the competitions, no matter if it was racing or freestyle routines, there was a division for beginners, allowing those with less experience riding to compete against others in their same division.
I attended NAUCC by myself, not knowing anything about how the competitions worked, and that in itself made me a bit unusual. Most of the other unicyclists there were part of clubs from around the country, which gives them not only other people to ride with, but people to learn from, something I wish was available in the Marquette area.
While I don't mind riding by myself, the experience of sharing something you like to do with other people who enjoy the same thing adds a whole new dimension.
Best of all even though I was definitely in the beginning riding category, I didn't feel discouraged to ride while at the conference. There were more than a handful of other riders in the exact same boat. The Redford Township club doesn't allow parents to simply drop kids off at the practices. The kids have to be accompanied by an adult, and if the adults are going to be there anyway, they might as well learn to ride themselves, making the whole thing very family oriented. At NAUCC, you'd see five or six members of the same family, all riding unicycles from the parents down to the youngest kids.
Not really knowing anything about what the championships were like, I didn't sign up to compete in anything, but I wish I had known more going in so I could have given it a try.
Even without competing, however, I saw a ton of amazingly talented riders, created a list of about five different unicycles I would love to buy if I somehow win the lottery and picked up a few tips, including how to ride backwards.
Now it just comes down to practicing for the next time I'm able to attend nationals.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is email@example.com.