With one car, two tents and three wheels four longtime friends from three countries take it upon themselves to explore the cold, steaming hills of Iceland. In order to get our bodies and skills ready for this trip, we had gone on three shorter trips to the Italian Alps earlier in the season. Incredible peaks, rocky and technical trails, wild camping without showers, not seeing any other humans for days, dealing with rainy days and getting lost. On the night before the flight that would take us north, we took our unicycles apart, put them in our bag and stuffed the little clothing the weight limits allowed around it. What would the cold rough land of the vikings bring? We had no idea, if we were honest.
Mountain unicycling is demanding on your mind and body. With one tiny spot connecting you and the ground to keep your balance, it’s crucial to stay focused, to notice every detail of the ground in front of you. If you let all the steam, the softly shaped hills and fluffy snow tops distract you, the next thing you’ll take in is the earthy smell of the clay-colored soil your nose was lucky to miss.
Staying focused is as crucial as being humble, knowing when a line might be above your capabilities will save you from injury or worse. So place your feet securely on the pedals, pull the brake and lean back at the same time, pull on the seat to hop over a rock and don’t break too much in the slippery mud, because a sliding unicycle is even harder to balance.
Every mountain and every trail is unique. We never know what it will be like to ride it, until we actually do. We’ll get up early in the morning, eat a quick steaming breakfast that’ll keep us warm from the inside, then stuff everything we need for the day in our backpacks: shin and knee protection, gloves, helmet, first aid kit, maps, camera, lenses and batteries, sandwiches, fruits, clifbars, plus a light down puffy and rain jacket, if we don’t already wear them. On our way up, we try to read the trail. That section looks rideable, these switchbacks could be fun. Will I dare to ride down this big rock later? Big views and jokes at the top. Before the cold wind can make us freeze, we put on our gear. “If you brake, you lose,” says Lutz and vanishes down towards the valley. Jesper and I look at each other, grin, and hop on our unis and follow him down the trail.
The unicycle challenges us–it can make a trail that would normally be an easy hike look like a wild river that’s impossible to cross. But you learn to take it step by step, not to look at the pointy rock, that’s in the middle of your way, but to see a line that leads over its roundest point, where it is possible to ride, even if it that takes a dozen tries.
And then there’s the next rock, and another, a switchback, then a root that’s wet and slippery. But you stay on, you pedal, you balance, you take your surroundings in and feel so free, you become part of this otherworldly nature surrounding you, that will continue to steam and gurgle long when you are gone and the only thing left is the slight print of one wheel that rode through it.
Back in our camp, we take off the sweaty clothes, our bodies steaming in the cold air. Our muscles are tired, our stomachs yearning for food. Next to the snow covered mountains at the horizon, the sky is turning pink. While Jesper is assigning tasks to cook dinner on our tiny stoves, our unicycles are lying on a pile next to the tents, sleeping until they are picked up again the next day.
Pictures. Stephanie Dietze, Lutz Eichholz, Giulia Tessari and Jesper Andersen
Words. Stephanie Dietze