Monday, September 21, 2015

NYC Unicycle Festival

Faithful readers to the Pillsbury Press know this past January Don challenged himself to learn how to ride a unicycle. He now owns two unicycles -- the big one he got for his birthday, and a smaller one that is proving easier to master. Off-hand he has ridden his unicycle in three states (New Jersey, Ohio, and now New York) and one other country (Montreal, QC, Canada). 

When he learned a unicycle festival would be in New York City over Labor Day weekend, he wanted to go. As a loving wife, I went, too. 
Cheapskates we are, we parked in Staten Island and took the ferry over to Manhattan. (The Staten Island Ferry used to charge a quarter, but has been free for some time.) We then took the ferry to Governors Island (which is free until noon). The views from both ferries are spectacular. The Staten Island Ferry is about a 20-25 minute ride. The Governors Island Ferry is a 10 minute ride. Their docks are right next door to each other. Now if their schedules would only line up it would not take well over an hour from when we parked the car to when we arrived at the festival. The only way to get to Governors Island is via this ferry.

Governors Island is a really neat oasis. Due to the lack of cars, it is a very pedestrian and bike-friendly space. We walked around most of the island in about 15 minutes, which surprised me because the island has a hospital on it, which made me envision something a lot larger. I brought lunch with me not knowing what to expect. I found a food cart with Caribbean food that was out of this world -- I had curry chicken with pumpkin and collard greens. I ate it too quickly to take a picture of it.

While on the island Don unicycled (well that was the purpose). I spectated (there were opportunities to try a unicycle, but I opted to spectate instead, and sightsee a little.

The logos each year are really neat. Don bought a 2015 t-shirt with an old subway token incorporated into it as a wheel. All of the designs are quite clever.
The festival included just about anything you could imagine being done in public on a unicycle. There was a costume contest (we only saw one person in costume, and failed to take her picture), bicycle basketball, lessons in free mounting and in idling, sumo wrestling (we left before this happened), some trick riding, and groups trying to ride together synchronized. We did not see unicycle polo or official unicycle synchronized riding on the schedule. In many ways this reminded me of the Tour de Fat festival.

Don had a lot of fun riding without having to worry about cars. He picked up some tips on idling and free mounting, but the biggest tip was what he already knew -- practice, practice, practice. There is no magic solution.

I walked around Castle Williams -- an old fortress built over 200 years ago. It was built prior to the War of 1812 to protect New York. It was funny touring something from that era because while in Canada this summer a friend described the War of 1812 from the Canadian perspective ("We came down, attacked your capital and drank some beer.") No wonder we don't cover this in US History classes. It was used as a fortress and a jail. I did not time things right to go on an official tour.

The US Army and Coast Guard were each stationed on Governors Island. Now the place pretty much shuts down with the last ferry leaving at 7 PM on weekends. We met a couple who used to be stationed on Governors Island with the Coast Guard. They were enjoying their trip down memory lane.

Governors Island may be a hassle to get to, but the views of Manhattan Island are magnificent. From the island you can see all the way from Lady Liberty to Ellis Island to Manhattan Island to the Brooklyn Bridge. As you can see in the pictures, it was gorgeous that day. So gorgeous, it did not look real. As I was taking pictures I kept thinking it looks like one of those fake backdrops. 

The plan for next time is I will stay home (unless I am unicycling by then, you never know). Don will go in for a group ride (anticipating he will be a stronger rider by then). They had two group rides (one on Thursday, the other on Friday, we went on Saturday): Battery Park to Central Park and a Brooklyn Bridge to Coney Island ride (try to imagine riding up the Brooklyn Bridge on a unicycle -- I double-dog dare you!). 

Don will probably be looking for some company next year. Now is a great time to start learning how to ride a unicycle. As is, Ashley stayed in New Jersey this year.

The official word from the NYC Unicycle Festival is as follows:

It was a successful NYC Unicycle Festival, over 800 people took part in this year's festival.
Thanks to everyone who participated, donated, helped out...
Here's a look at the numbers:
16 unicycle riders took part in Manhattan’s West Side Highway/Central Park ride.
62 unicycle riders crossed the Brooklyn Bridge on Brooklyn Unicycle Day.
56 unicycle riders completed the 13 mile ride across Brooklyn on Brooklyn Unicycle Day.
803 people took part in activities on Governors Island

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