Florida Keys News
Monday, December 10, 2012
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One by one, 2 unicyclists make journey for art's sake

Pedaling along U.S. 1 from Key Largo to Key West is challenging enough for many bicyclists, but imagine making the trek on one wheel.

That is exactly what Keith Nelson and Robert Hickman did this week during their Unibridge Tour.

The New Yorkers started the unicycle trip on Tuesday in Key Largo as part of Sculpture Key West's 17th annual exhibition and ended it at 4:30 p.m. in Key West. The show is running through March 2013 at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park and West Martello Tower.

They traveled around 20 miles per day, staying mostly at host houses along the way.

Nelson and Hickman said they saw the chain of islands called the Keys in a very different light. They got to see clear blue water, Mother Nature at its best and the Gulf of Mexico on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other, at 6 mph instead of 45-50 in a car.

At times they rode on bike paths, out of harm's way. Often the road was uneven and hard to navigate.

Along the way there was a tire blow out, changing of tubes on both unicycles and a tumble for one of the pair. Hickman turned to look at where his partner was and it threw his body out of alignment and over he went. With no handlebars to guide the unicycle, the body is the main steering mechanism, he explained.

When asked what the most challenging part of the tour was, both agreed the road quality was the worst in the last six to seven miles.

But the scariest part of the trip: the Seven Mile Bridge in Marathon.

"You are sitting up higher than the railing and cars are traveling 55 mph on your side and it was raining," Hickman said as he wiped the sweat from his brow. "If we went flying, it would have been into the water. In all, there were about 30 miles that were difficult."

Hickman, a sculpture/art professor from New York, said he had previously participated in the art show in 2004 and 2008, and his last exhibit was road signs. So this time around, he wanted to hit the road and provide art in a non-traditional way -- a rock sculptured by the highway.

"I started the ride pulling a rock behind the unicycle, but it built up friction on my tire, made it hot and it exploded," Hickman said minutes after arriving at Fort Zachary Sunday afternoon. "It made it to Mile Marker 30 and I had to cut it loose."

The cyclists saw iguanas, crossed many bridges on both the Gulf and Atlantic side and took lots of pictures. Nelson had a camera mounted to his helmet recording the journey.

For Nelson, a clown who swallows swords and juggles for a living and co-founder of Bindlestiff Family Circus in New York, the trip was his first.

The pair have been cycling for nearly five years together, so they are comfortable with being a team.

"It has been fun," he said with a big smile. "Now we have to go back to work."

sfrederick@keysnews.com

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