Taylor Stark took his first pedals atop a unicycle when he was 10-years-old.
While attending a friend’s birthday party in his hometown of Canmore, Alta., Stark says he was distracted from taking in the planned celebration by an older sibling’s unicycle perched in the backyard.
From there, he was immediately pulled in by the challenge, which held his complete attention for the rest of the afternoon.
“Instead of interacting with any of the other kids, I spent three hours desperately trying to ride more than a meter,” Stark recalls. “I didn’t that day, but my dad, when he came to pick me up, saw how intensely focused I was on it, so he came home a week later with a unicycle to give to me.”
Thirteen years later, Stark is looking to travel quite a bit further than the initial meter goal, stretching his distance to over 6,500 kilometers as he attempts to be the first unicyclist to travel coast-to-coast across Canada.
Stark, now 23, began his journey across the world’s second largest land mass on May 7, dipping the tire of his Kris Holm brand unicycle in the Pacific Ocean before departing from Vancouver towards his destination of Sydney, Nova Scotia.
The trip originated from a joke cracked by a friend surrounding how Stark could spend his summer before heading back to school to begin his master’s degree in the fall.
“I was talking with a friend two years ago, almost to the dot, and we were kind of joking and they offered up, ‘why don’t you just unicycle across Canada with that summer?’ And it was like, ‘Ha! That’s funny… Wait a minute,’” Stark says of the trip’s origins. “And we talked for a while and it’s actually possible, so I decided to do that.”
Stark’s not the first to traverse Canada’s diverse landscape on a unicycle, but would be the first to span from coast-to-coast.
In 2014, activist Joseph Boutilier traveled from Victoria to Ottawa in order to raise awareness of climate change before the 2015 federal election. Unicyclist Dave Cox planned a trip similar to Stark’s in 2009, but ended his ride in Alberta.
Though the across Canada title offers a convenient shorthand for the trip, Stark says his choice to bookend the ride with the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans didn’t originate from a desire to travel across the nation.
“The conception of the trip was never ‘let’s go across Canada.’ It’s ‘let’s unicycle a great distance and Canada might as well be it,’” says Stark.
When completely loaded with all of his supplies, which includes a tent, sleeping bag, cooking equipment, electronics, books, clothing and repair equipment among other miscellaneous items, Stark’s unicycle weighs approximately 60 pounds (27 kg). The bulk of his equipment sits in pannier bags affixed to a homemade aluminum frame.
|Taylor Stark takes a running start at his fully loaded unicycle, which weighs approximately 60 pounds when packed with equipment. Stark describes the mounting process as a “leap of faith” which has to be made when starting the cycle. (Nathan Kunz/Revelstoke Review)|
On average, Stark figures he travels about 17 km/h on the fully loaded cycle. As the unicycle does not have gears, he is reliant on the large 36 inch wheel to help climb hills along the shoulder of highways.
Throughout his ride, Stark is raising money for the Canadian Mental Health Association, a cause he decided to support due to direct connection between mental health and people close to him.
“I’ve just seen a lot of people my age struggle with mental health. I feel like any benefit we can add to programs that increase resources and increase support for that is good to do,” says Stark.
In his own life, Stark says unicycling has offered therapeutic qualities in terms of his personal mental health through the required focus riding offers.
“It’s all about just you and that tire. You can’t think about anything else or you’re going down,” explains Stark. “So it’s a really good exercises for mental clarity, if I’m going through a stressful period or an anxious period, riding a unicycle will dispel that right away, because I can’t afford to be ruminating or thinking about stuff like that when I’m riding.”
Through his first 565 kilometers from Vancouver to Revelstoke, Stark says he has been consistently greeted by extremely enthusiastic support. Whether it be through offers of accommodations to allow for breaks between camping excursions or general curiosity, Stark says people have been eager to learn more and offer support for his trip.
“I definitely get a lot of honking. In towns I get a lot of people leaning out the windows and stuff. And especially when I stop – when I’ve got my unicycle leaning against somewhere, everyone just walks up to me and starts up a conversation,” says Stark. “If I’m beat at the end of the day and still have ten kilometers to go and someone walks up to me and is so enthusiastic about it, that energizes me as well.”
Looking back at the first completed section of his trip, Stark says his favourite moments have been when he can step back and take in his surroundings, offering an opportunity to reflect on the grand scale journey he’s embarked on atop his one-wheeled vehicle of choice.
“I think it’s probably just the sense of joy that I get every once and a while when I’m riding a section of road, the sun’s out, the birds are out and there’s just this wave of contentment and joy that kind of washes over you and you’re just like ‘wow, I’m doing this,’” says Stark of his favourite moments. “And that evaporates as soon as you hit a hill, and suddenly you’re swearing.”
To learn more about Stark’s trip and how you can help, visit onetiredcandian.com.