Passion and adventure on one wheel

By Michael Leung

Say you’re on the summit of a peak in Mexico, and you’ve got three ways of getting down. Your radio looks like a tasty option–calling for a comfy helicopter ride off the roof of Mexico’s tallest volcano el Pico de Orizaba means you’d be home in time for tacos. You also have some ropes for a quick rappel off the peak, but you’ve gone down that way a thousand billion times. Then you’ve got this unicycle…

This is not the punchline to a joke, believe it or not. This is, in fact, what unicyclists Kris Holmes and Nathan Hoover did earlier this year along with Vancouver-based filmmaker and photojournalist Sean White. They decided it would be cool to take a trip to Mexico and carry their unicycles up a mountain, turn around and ride them down, capturing it all on camera. The result: a new film by directed by White called Unizaba–the title being a hybrid between the one-wheeled contraption and the peak’s name. The film is currently slotted for a spot in the upcoming Banff Mountain Film Festival.

"Basically it all came together in a week," explains White. "I got an e-mail from Kris saying ‘We’re doing this trip! You want to come?’ In a matter of a week we were on a plane scripting stuff out on a napkin."

For those unfamiliar with planning climbing trips, there are those who meticulously plan every detail down to the exact weight of their backpacks. Then there is a group of guys like this, who see the spirit of adventure and the spirit of spontaneity (read: lack of planning) as much the same.

"Kris and Nathan are climbing up with their unicycles on their backpacks, and I’ve got 40 to 50 pounds of film gear, tripods and cameras," says White, describing the physical production of the film. "Logistically, it wasn’t as difficult. [We] weren’t hanging off of icicles and helicopters. It turned out we had no problems at all."

He explains that the resulting 11-minute short shouldn’t be thought of as just an extended music video with David Letterman-style stupid human tricks.

"Unizaba is not just an action and music film," says White. "It is, literally, a short story told in video that has the exciting elements of a music video but also a docu-story. The story is about Kris and his friend Nathan–both mountaineers–and their idea proposing to go to Mexico, find new terrain and try and ride a unicycle down what was the highest volcano in Mexico."

White also describes how Holmes thinks the unicycle is just another tool of adventure, no different than the gear of a climber or the parachute of a skydiver.

"We have a common passion for mountaineering and Kris very much relates his unicycle into other sports," he says. "Instead of trying to make it seem so different, he’s trying to make it not seem such a unique, far out thing."

When one understands this sentiment, it’s quite easy to see how the unicycle is no different. It’s just not the most common adventure tool out there. A quick browse on the Web demonstrates there is a unicycle culture and lifestyle abroad, and that its novelty is limited to only those who haven’t seen what a unicycle can do. White explains that he takes much the same approach to his films and his appreciation for mountaineering.

"It’s very much a lifestyle choice," says White. "It’s not like Hollywood stuff where you deal with $100 million dollar budgets and big payouts. It’s more, ‘Here’s an opportunity to have a cool life experience, to make some money at it, to live that thing.’ There’s no settling down. Settling down is like two days back at home and then ‘What happens next?’"

For the sake of audiences, hopefully people like White and Holmes won’t settle down soon.

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