On Sunday, eastbound drivers on I-40 between Santa Rosa and Tucumcari were treated to the sight of a man pedaling a unicycle along the side of Interstate 40.
He reached Tucumcari at around 7 p.m. and found his way to McDonald’s and a place to sleep and get a shower.
He goes by Kikenji, but his real name is Hirotaki Kenji. He’s Japanese, a resident of Hokkaido, the northernmost island of the island nation. His English is serviceable but less than fluent.
His business card identifies him as “Sometimes Unicycle traveler.” He works at a factory where they dry grain crops raised in the fields of Hokkaido, which lies north of everything else in Japan, so not too many people want to live there, he says in broken English. Since Hokkaido has four clear seasons, Kikenji doesn’t have work for about three pleasant months out of the year. That’s when he does his marathon unicycling.
In the past he has unicycled the entire north-to-south length of Japan, except the parts where he had to ferry from one island to the next. He has also driven his single wheel across Cuba and Iceland. His business card has an inset photo of him riding his one-wheeler on a glacier.
Now, however, he’s headed from Los Angeles to Orlando, Fla. He plans to visit his girlfriend in Orlando before heading back to Hokkaido and the daily grind.
The hardest part in the U.S. has been the loneley, wide-open spaces. There are a lot of those in the Mojave Desert of California, Arizona between Kingman and Flagstaff, and in New Mexico. In the Mojave, he said, the worst part of long, long ride between Barstow and Needles, Calif., was having to carry two gallons of water in order to get through a day of dry, lonely pedaling. Where possible, he said, he has ridden on sections of old Route 66, just because there is not a lot of traffic on these roads. In Arizona, he said, he rode from Kingman to Seligman on old Route 66 and had to rely on some help from kind strangers.
Between Santa Rosa and Tucumcari, though, he rode along I-40 in a very stiff wind, assailed at all times by semi trucks. He’d be fighting the wind and then find himself wobbling in the wash of a passing semi truck.
“Very dangerous,” he said.
He started his one-man, one-wheel journey in Los Angeles on April 26, he said.
He would not venture a guess on when he’ll arrive in Orlando, but said, “I have 90 days.”