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Shortly after I left off taking pictures and headed home, the rain began. It was cold and heavy. Some of the riders dropped out. They were on their way from Annapolis Royals to Hubbards, a town on the south shore of Nova Scotia. The race is billed as a unicycling equivalent of the Tour de France. At the end of the second day, it was neck and neck, the Germans leading the Kiwis by only six minutes, with the Australian rider in Team Smile just two minutes behind.

Beth Amiro, one of the Nova Scotia riders, had no idea the long-distance unicycling community was so big. She didn’t even know there was a community. She started riding a unicyle as a child, then took it up again in her twenties. For many locals, it is nothing more than a circus toy. Beth would love to have a dollar for every time someone asked if she knew how to juggle.

It is obvious from the turnout for this race that some people take it very, very seriously. The best riders in this race are expected to zip along between 20 and 25 kms an hour on their 36 inch wheels. The race includes time trials and a criterium, a multi-lap race around a small circuit. Today is last day, a gruelling final stage in rugged Cape Breton.

William Sklenars, one of the young riders from New Zealand, learned to ride when his sister moved away from home to a flat in town. He needed a form of transportation to visit her and a uncicyle “seemed the most sensible choice” at the time. He studies music, rides his wheel frequently and is “stoked” to be representing New Zealand on an international scale.

The sport has become popular enough to develop splinter groups. In addition to the small-wheel unicycles and the large-wheel, long distance unicycles, there are a handful of hardcore cyclists who ride the “ultimate wheel.” It is a unicycle without a seatpost or saddle. Nothing more than a wheel with pedals. It is said to be extremely difficult to ride. I’ll take their word for it.

Catch up with the race on the web site: http://ridethelobster.com or on the blog “One Wild Ride” at http://ridethelobster.wordpress.com/

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The Canadian province of Nova Scotia harvests a lot of lobsters and, from the air, is said to look like one.  At one time, the province was a major player in the economy and politics of this country, but those days faded long ago. For some years now, the principal product of the province has been tourism.

The scenery is picture perfect, the people are hospitable and the land resonates with historical significance for Americans. Many of the Loyalists (the losers in the American Revolution) ended up here. This was the end of the underground railroad during the days of slavery. The survivors of the Titanic were brought to Halifax. This is where the Cajuns came from.  Historically, Americans have always been the most numerous visitors.  The weak Canadian dollar almost ensured their arrival every summer.

But when the currency of your primary market drops like a calved iceberg, notions of niche marketing kick in. The next best thing to having a product that people actually crave, like sex, fabulous food, great wine or a Blackberry, is inventing a unique desire– like racing on one wheel for 800 kms across the province.

To convince people from all over the world that they actually want to do this would seem to suggest the sure hand of a marketing genius.  Actually, it was Edward Wedler, a Nova Scotian book store owner who has yet to make it more than five meters on his own unicycle. For some reason he thought it would work. If you dream it they will come. And they did.

Over one hundred fifty unicyclists from 17 countries qualified for the relay race. Australia, sad to say, is represented by a single rider– Geoffrey Huntley. He was born in Sydney but spent his formative years in Hong Kong. He’s been riding for a little under a year. Mind you, in that year he rode from North to South Vietnam.

The cyclists to beat are from New Zealand, those upstarts to the east, who managed to cobble together enough strong riders to actually form a team. Not to be outdone, South Korea sent two. Among the racers will be world record-holder Sam Wakeling, an Englishman who rode his unicycle 453 kilometres in 24 hours.

Despite the fact that most of the highways have no shoulders and much of the asphalt (bitumen) looks like it has been assaulted by a hyperactive teenager with a jackhammer, Nova Scotia is not a bad place to ride. It has been settled so long there are hundreds of little roads that are unused by anyone except farmers.

But it is not flat. And the weather this time of year can be absolutely miserable. Late in the afternoon, after I caught up with the racers in Middleton and snapped some pictures, I felt the first drops. Cold, hard rain. Nothing like Nova Scotia weather to dampen the spirit. But if you are crazy enough to do that distance on one big wheel and one small seat, a few hills and a little rain may just whet the appetite.

More on this event next post. Catch the action on-line at http://www.ridethelobster.com/race/

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