Stephanie Dietze; Down The Mountain On One Wheel
Stephanie Dietze recounts her bikepacking trip to Iceland, on a unicycle.
My feet are okay right now. They are standing on a level, sturdy rock surface, for once. But one inch next to them, there is nothing but thin air, for a couple of hundred meters down. I am standing in the middle of an exposed ridge, leading from Rumer Spitze to Arzler Scharte, the scree field on the horizon we want to descend back to the valley. The view would be breathtaking, if my breath weren’t already gone. I am moving very slowly, one foot after the other, climbing at times, making triple sure I don’t slip. Carrying a 7kg unicycle in one hand doesn’t make the whole thing easier. Why am I carrying a unicycle on a dangerous ridge at 2000m altitude? I am asking that myself right now.
Mountain unicycling doesn’t seem like obvious fun, and surely there are easier ways to challenge yourself – I am aware of that. But that is exactly the point. I had to trained my body and mind for many years, to be able to ride down steep narrow alpine trails on my KH 26” mountain unicycle. I had to teach it to balance differently when I pull the brake, or ride over a rock. I had to overcome my fears again and again. Now, when I turn around and look at a trail I rode down, I sometimes can’t believe it’s doable on one wheel. If I hadn’t just done it. But it’s more than that. Unicycling makes it possible to explore a landscape at medium pace – I do have time to look around and enjoy the beauty in between sections, but I also won’t get bored while moving. The equipment is as simple and light as possible, making it fun to hike up a mountain, not having to worry about it breaking every minute. And then there is the philosophical aspect: In a world overloaded with things and information, making things simpler means freedom.
So how did I end up here? It somehow just happened, really. One step led to another, and somehow I made my way from competitions in glittery dresses to riding down technical trails from high mountains a couple of years later. Now camping in a gorge to hike up to Rumer Spitze when the sun rises, only to ride it down on one wheel in the last beams of daylight is the most natural thing in the world to me. How will I reach the end of this ridge? Slowly, and calmly. My friends are waiting ahead, making sure I am fine. Once I have both feet on solid ground again, we put on our armour and from here it’s pure joy. Yes, I’ll fall a lot. And I have to take care I concentrate every millisecond. Keep one hand on the brake and one outstretched to balance over those rocks, find a rideable line down the mountain. And while I am in the seat, eyes fixed on the ground in front of me, there’s a thought forming in my head. This is, what it feels to be alive. Breathing the clear mountain air, feeling those muscles, making it possible. And whoops, here I am again, falling, trying to catch the uni, laughing into the sunset over the valley.
Stephanie Dietze is a mountain unicyclist and freelance writer. Being based in Berlin, she escapes to the mountains whenever she can, while she can also enjoy a proper long-distance bike ride in the flat countryside surrounding the city – if it involves camping and a starry sky. stephaniedietze.de