2017-04-13 / Community
Elder unicyclist rules the trail
It was 1966. And after weeks of passing by the Redondo Beach, Calif., bike shop and begging his parents, the 10-year-old became the proud owner of his very first unicycle.
Teaching himself, he quickly learned to spin around in circles, ride with one foot off, go down steps and ride backwards.
But after a year or so, the boy lost interest and his single-wheel contraption went straight to the shelf.
It wasn’t until 40 years later, in 2006, that Peterson came across a video that reignited his childhood passion. It featured Kris Holm, the pioneer of a sport called mountain unicycling, riding along the Great Wall of China and performing daring stunts. Peterson, a professional piano tuner, said he’d been looking for something physical to do to lose his “spare tire.”
“I ordered a unicycle, put it together and tried it out in my backyard because I didn’t want anyone to see me fall on my face,” Peterson, now 61, said. “I hadn’t ridden since 1967 and I started pedaling the very first time. I just couldn’t believe it. It was just like riding a bike—you never forget.”
Now the “UniGeezer,” as he calls himself, spends six days a week wheeling around the many trails winding through Simi Valley and Agoura Hills, as well as a handful in Santa Barbara.
Although he lives in Lomita, roughly 60 miles away, he said his favorite trails to ride are in Simi, particularly the Santa Susana, Chumash and Hummingbird trails.
“Sometimes people out on the trail make funny comments. Some are shocked at my age and then you get some that are like, ‘What the heck. Did I just see that, Mabel?’” Peterson said.
“I’ve always been a Type A person, but I’m sure some people out there on the trails might think a 61-year-old like myself is a Model A,” he continued, jokingly referring to the Ford Model A car from the 1920s. “But I say no to that, because for most of us who ride unicycles, it’s as close to an actual fountain of youth as we’re ever going to find because it keeps us young, fit, healthy, and it’s fun.”
‘Not an age thing’
Mountain unicycling consists of navigating rough terrain on unicycles with specially designed wheels, pedals and rugged frames.
Since picking up the sport nearly 11 years ago, Peterson said, he’s lost his “30-pound spare tire” and has greatly increased his stamina.
“The first time I took my unicycle out on the trail, I made it maybe 100 feet and then was huffing and puffing. Now I could go for miles,” he said.
Since 2010, he’s participated in 10 uni-centuries, which are 100-mile unicycle rides. The events are often tied to fundraisers for charities and organizations like the American Cancer Society or Make-A-Wish Foundation.
In 2013, the unicycler participated in a 120-mile ride for City of Hope in honor of his brother, Gary, who has leukemia. All donations for the day went to leukemia research. He said he’s also ridden in autism-awareness events.
On April 20, Peterson plans to participate in his 11th ride in honor of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
He said his ultimate long-term goal is to be the first 100-year-old to complete a uni-century ride, at which time he’ll have been participating in the sport for 50 years.
Should he meet that goal, it won’t be the first “first” for the UniGeezer, who holds the title as the first and oldest unicyclist to make the over-500-foot, 33-percent-grade climb to the top of Fargo Street in Echo Park.
The annual event has been taking place since the 1970s, but Peterson was the first unicyclist to complete the climb in 2011. He’s done so dozens of times since then.
He said his feats have inspired people around the world who’ve sent letters to the UniGeezer, thanking him for encouraging them to try something new when they thought they were too old.
“Unicycling is not an age thing. I sometimes look back and try not to regret giving up unicycling, but I had no inkling of what it would become and how much I would love it,” he said.
“Now I feel like I’m a steward for the sport, and I want to show people that you shouldn’t be afraid to try things.”