All about the 1
Unicyclist Jared Stoltzfus explores the valleyís narrow trails on one wheel.Jason Kauffman joins him on his hair-raising exploits. Photos by Craig Wolfrom.
Riding the Wood River Valleyís backcountry trails can be a challenging, hair-raising adventureójust ask Haileyís Jared Stoltzfus.
On any given ride, the 18-year-old may come across hidden tree roots, formidable rock gardens, loose sand and gravel, steep switchbacks and errant canines. Any one or a combination thereof has the potential to send the tall, lanky rider spinning out of control.
Itís a risky obstacle course for any rideróbut especially so for a rider minus one wheel. You see, for Jared, mountain biking apparently isnít challenging enoughóhe travels the valleyís single-track trails on a unicycle.
On a recent ride with Jared out Adams Gulch, the young adventure seeker gave me a glimpse into his one-wheeling passion.
For nearly two hours, I rode second in line behind Jared. Whether it was the steep, rocky stretches, the downhill, winding switchbacks or foot-deep creek crossings, he skillfully negotiated each impediment on his beefed up, off-road unicycle as easy as you please.
A 2006 Wood River High School graduate, Jared has been unicycling since he was 11. His father, Joe Stoltzfus, has been a unicyclist for nearly 40 years, and it was he who got the junior Stoltzfus into this challenging, albeit relatively unknown, sport. Still, beyond his fatherís influence, Jared likes to ride on one wheel for another more personal reason.
"Itís very cathartic," he said.
Jared says he doesnít focus well on other organized sports such as baseball, but excels at the intense focus required for unicycling. Simply put, lose your focus while riding a unicycle and youíll quickly fall flat on your face.
"I can ride some really
difficult rocky downhill, and Iíll get to a level road and Iíll just
fall because Iíve lost my focus," he explained.
Unicycling is an individualistic sport, Jared said, while we rested for a moment at the top of Sunnyside Trail mid-way through our ride.
"Itís all about the one," he quipped.
A decidedly less-technical affair than regular bicycles, unicycles have no brakes, gears or controls beyond those your hips and core strength naturally provide. On Jaredís mountain unicycle, a 26-inch tall, three-inch wide knobby tire designed for downhill mountain bikes provides the traction, while the simple contraptionís padded hourglass-shaped seat and small wooden handle underneath gives the leverage needed to negotiate rough, winding trails.
Slowing down is achieved by pushing back on the pedals and cranks, which are directly connected to the specially made unicycle hub. Because of the direct crank-to-hub connection, thereís also no coasting. Think the constantly rotating pedals of a fixed-gear bicycle.
Despite his eye-popping, one-wheeling skills, Stoltzfus says heís pretty good at falling. "I tell people falling is my real hobby," he said.
But donít let his modesty fool you. From what I could gather during our ride, he doesnít fall all that often.
Out on the trail, Jaredís presence often attracts inquisitive stares as well as humorous remarks. "The most common is people asking me if Iíve lost a wheel," he said. "If Iím unicycling with somebody whoís in front of me I can tell the passerby that they stole it."
Watching Jared mature as a unicyclist, since he began the sport as an 11-year-old, has been enjoyable, his mother, Judy Stoltzfus, said. "I was really proud of him."
For the past eight years, the Stoltzfus family has attended the Moab MUni Fest (www.moabmunifest.homestead.com), an annual get-together of mountain unicyclists in Moab, Utah.
Judy said that in its first year, only 11 people showed up at the event. Today, more than 200 mountain unicyclists typically attend, a significant number given their individualistic tendencies.
"Someone once said itís like herding cats," said Judy. "Theyíre pretty interesting people."