Lindsey Colla decided to take part in our Outback Odyssey event – an epic 900 kilometre off-road Mountain bike tour through the harsh South Australian Outback. Oh yes.. and he decided to do it all on one wheel! That’s right – a unicycle.
It all began as an idea I came up with after talking to a customer at work. He was in getting his mountain bike ready for a ride on the Mawson trail. At this point I had recently taken up the sport of Unicycling or Muni (Mountain Unicycling) so I wondered if the Mawson trail would be possible on the Uni.
Once I had reached almost a year of Unicycling and had established a few required skills I thought I’d do a test run. I managed to get a good friend and fellow Unicyclist Marc Bracegirdle on board to ride the 300 kilometre Kidman trail where I learnt much about what works and what doesn’t.
Now that I knew Uni touring was a possible thing for me and something really fun, it was time to put the big goal into motion. I met up with Julian Ferguson from Bike S.A. while at Melrose for the 18 hour Mountain bike race and I pitched my idea to ride in The Outback Odyssey on a Unicycle. Julian was really excited straight off and was keen to do whatever he could to see this craziness happen.
My other motivation and goal for these two tours has been to give a little back by raising funds for not for profit charity Wheels 4 Life (www.wheels4life.org). Wheels 4 Life give bikes to people in need in developing countries.
I set myself a target of raising enough to give away 50 bikes and at $150 USD each, which is about the $8500 AUD mark. So far I have raised almost $8000 AUD, very close to my 50 bike goal.
If you wish to help me reach my goal, my web page www.lindseyonewheel.weebly.com is still open and taking donations.
It all began in Victoria Square, Adelaide on the rainy morning of the 9th of May with about 180 mountain bike riders and some TV news crews happy to see the guy on one wheel. After a few quick interviews, the first of many rider briefings and goodbye hugs and kisses from loved ones, we were off down the road towards the river Torrens. We followed the river all the way to the end where the Mawson Trail begins.
It was up hill from here with everyone except about 5 keen and strong riders walking up Castambul Hill, which took us into the familiar Fox Creek MTB trail network. Unfortunately the Mawson trail stays on the fire road and we rode past some of my favourite single track trails.
For me day one was a big learning curve. Riding amongst so many riders in the rain, mud and sleet and getting the hang of the relatively new 36” wheel size was quite a challenge.
These first few days were all about working out the routines, like how many kilometres I could ride before needing to rest the family jewels and taking a walk to keep the blood circulating. This was usually about 5 kilometres at a time then a few minutes walking. While walking I was often asked if I was okay, but the other riders and support crews soon knew that this is how it has to be when Uni touring as I am almost always seated (except on the steepest part of a climb). Due to Unicycles being a fixed wheel, if I am rolling I am always pedalling.
Days 2, 3 and 4 were some of the hardest conditions to deal with. It almost seemed like constant rain and if that eased, a strong abdominal working crosswind would pick up that caused quite a few UPD’s (Un Planned Dismounts). These are a crash where you land on your feet, sometimes at a good run.
One day that nearly mentally cracked me was Riverton to Burra along the Riesling Trail. On a nice day it would be a beautiful leisurely ride but on this particular day it was yet again pouring with rain and I was in a hurry to meet a deadline with a photographer from the local paper. The morning tea stop felt like it was never going to come! When it finally did and I got back on wheel, I was so cold and soaked through, there was only one way to `try’ and stay warm. That was to keep on going. After about 15 minutes of fast pedalling, I started to thaw out and soon after, the rain finally stopped. By lunch I was feeling better and decided for the rest of the day I would try riding with the iPod, something I had not done before, as it seems quite dangerous not being able to hear as much of what’s happening around. The iPod was a breakthrough in my mental ability to keep on going. Well worth the risk as out on the trail there is almost zero traffic.
Once in Burra we had a well-earned rest day. Some time to re-set, re-organise, re-fuel and recover after 4 tough days.
During the next few days the weather was so much nicer. When the sun is out, everything is much brighter and way more fun. Next up was some fairly technical four wheel drive tracks to tackle. It was much easier to keep up with the bikes, for the first time being able to catch other riders on descents as well as climbs. I did, however, have my first of only 2 proper crashes, as my wheel stalled on a big rock and I ended up face down, hip and shoulder in the dirt. I quickly got up and checked that there was no witness to be seen. I was a little dirty but no blood, so all was good and on I went.
Another mental barrier I hit was on day 8 to Laura with the realisation of the “not quite halfway mark” looming and with me feeling quite fatigued. I started the day slowly, mentally dragging my feet. I thought that day was going to be the day I got caught by the dreaded Sag Wagon. The sag wagon acts as the trail sweep following or picking up the slowest riders. I really needed to keep rolling but just felt like a rest so I made a call home to my beautiful girlfriend for a bit of motivation. She always knows what to say to help me out in a time of need. This worked so well that after morning tea I was fired up and managed to catch up to many other riders and even finished the day quite strong.
The following day was a great one with perfect sunny conditions and a `now perceived’ easy day, with only 60 kilometres to ride. As the day went on we got closer and closer to Mt Remarkable and to the rest day in the town of Melrose.
The rest day in Melrose was the best of the trip as I was lucky enough to have a surprise visit from the person that I most wanted to see in the world. We spent the day catching up on all that had happened over the past week while walking some of the trail network that Melrose is famous for. We also checked out the great little bike shop (Over The Edge) that has so much more to offer than just bikes. From this point on I was well rested and full of motivation to tackle the biggest days of the trip.
The morning of day 11, Quorn to Hawker, I was up super early to get a head start on the slightly scary massive day of 112 kilometres. I filled my belly with as much fuel (breakfast) as I could possibly consume then a good new friend Dave Wilcox and I hit the trail first out of the whole group. I knew that to finish this huge day we were going to need as much time as was available. Dave came all the way from Missouri in central USA, or as he called it, “one of the fly over states” just for the Outback Odyssey. Dave was also doing this epic ride tough as one of only 2 Fat Bikes on tour.
Shortly before lunch I got another new experience, my first ever flat tyre on the Uni. Luckily I had some building ruins to sit on while I dealt with the challenge in the very picturesque town that never was; Simmonston. The other plus of stopping here was Darren Wing (Adelaide Mobile Bicycle Service), the mechanic on the trip, rolled in about 5 minutes after I did and I was able to use some of his real tools instead of struggling with a multi tool.
This day did finally come to a finish with a new personal one day distance record of 115 kilometres. 9 hours and 30 minutes spent out on the trail and some of the sorest legs I have ever had. This is one record that I’m quite happy not to try and better!
With only a few more days to go, we were in the heart of the Flinders Ranges and everywhere you looked there was a beautiful landscape. The trail was more of a challenge becoming skinnier, rockier with lots more creek crossings. To tackle this on the Uni, a higher level of concentration is required and I did manage to ride through a good portion of the technical stuff with only a few UPD’s and a big smile all the way!
On day 14 I had my second and worst proper crash of the trip, having just come out of a fun dirt section and back onto the bitumen. I got about 5 meters along the road and made a bad foot adjustment that caused me to fall off, at a bit of a stumble due to the ever compounding fatigue. I ended up lying on the highway with a little bit of skin missing on my elbow and knee not to mention a bruise to the ego, as this time I had a bunch of witnesses. I gathered myself up and kept on going towards Wilpena.
The last day into Blinman started with the best bit of trail of the whole trip, with single track, lots of challenging creek crossings and lateral water ruts. The dirt trail soon came to a finish at the last lunch break, followed by a 20 kilometre bitumen cruise to the Blinman pub.
It was a massive buzz, a sense of achievement and feeling of relief rolling into town with all the faster riders on the finish line cheering me in. I had made it, after 15 days, 951 kilometres and with one really tired body.
If you’re thinking of riding the Odyssey in 2017, the whole experience comes highly recommended. I found it to be the perfect, moving meditation practice, once you find the flow zone and live in the moment. Along with raising funds for a great cause, I hope that I have inspired others to follow their goals and dreams.
I’ll finish with some wise words from the greatest mountain biker of all time and the founder of Wheels 4 Life, Hans Rey.
“Climbing the tallest mountain starts with a single step and one foot after the other, sooner or later you will reach the top”.
If you ever want to have a chat to Lindsey in person – drop into the Bike Station on South Road. The next Outback Odyssey event is in 2017. For more information go to www.bikesa.asn.au/outbackodyssey.