I didn’t mean to do it. It’s just one of those things that happens, I guess. I certainly didn’t wake up that morning planning to ride a unicycle backwards across a high wire. But there I was, balanced precariously above the people walking obliviously beneath me, with nothing between us but two stories of space and a thin net. Not bad for my first unicycle ride.
We were on our way out of Canada after the balloon festival, having checked out of our hotel, and decided to stop at the science museum in Montreal because it was free with our ECHO membership. It also was on the way home, since our hotel was on the far side of the city. As an aside, let me tell you that being in a foreign country with no smart phone access is quite a shock. We are so used to being able to access information at a moment’s notice, so trying to navigate our way through the city, finding a place to eat, and locating the museum had to be done the old fashioned way: in advance. Which we did not do. So it was another adventure just getting there.
Once there we spent most of our time in the little kids’ room, where we could dance in front of a crazy green screen, turn steering wheels and gears, and build a house with foam blocks. This was a lot of fun (for the children), but before we left we wanted to at least check out one other thing, so we headed to the science room. This was a lot of fun too. We got to talk to each across a loud room via large curved dishes. We got to experiment with density and weight. And then we saw the high wire.
“Ruby, do you want to try out that thing?” I asked, assuming that everything in this place was for kids.
“Oh, I’m sorry sir. Not for too small. You must be of a size.” The French-speaking guide informed us that six-year-olds are not able to ride out onto the high wire on the unicycle. Oh well. Guess we’ll just leave and go home. “You would like to try?” she asked me. Wait, what? Me?
Well, I’m never one to pass up an adventure that starts after 10 am, so I decided that since my daughter could not do it, I would do it for her and show everyone how it worked. So I climbed up the metal steps onto the platform and asked the docent how this was going to go down. And hopefully not literally.
“Is it safe?” I asked nervously, looking down through the hole in the floor to the lower levels, and the museum-goers passing by underneath. “Am I going to fall?”
“Well sir, I will tell you this, in all the years of this, no one has ever succeeded.”
Ummmm. WHAT?! No one has ever succeeded?! So I am going to go out on the wire and then fall into the net? AHHHHHHH! And this was approximately what I said to the young woman.
“Yes, many try to fall, but no one will succeed.”
“Wait, so no one succeeds at falling?”
Man, that was not clear at all. I need to learn French. But she explained the science to me. There is a 450 pound weight under the unicycle that holds me on the wire and lowers the center of gravity, etc. etc., so there is no way, according to science, that I can fall off of the thing. Yeah, but then why do they have the net if they are so sure of this science stuff? WHY DO THEY HAVE THE NET?!
Ok, calm down, just strap yourself into the harness Tenor Dad, and then…wait a second, why am I sitting on this thing backwards?
“Yes, you will be going backwards,” the woman cheerfully informed me. “When you want to come back, give me a wave and I will open the gate again.” Wait, open the gate? You are going to close some sort of gate and trap me out there? I don’t know if this is such a…
And then she released the brake and away I went, quickly cycling backwards to the center of the wire due to the heavy weights pulling me down. I held on tightly to myself and tried not to fall. I saw my family over to the side, waving and laughing and taking pictures. I smiled and waved at them with my mind. Slowly I tried pedaling the unicycle back and forth. Wow. It was hard to move those pedals with all the weight under me. No wonder kids can’t do this.
After a minute or two I started getting more comfortable out there and I was pedaling back and forth faster and faster. I let go of myself and stuck my arms out to the side, looking down at the net and the innocent civilians, and rocked back and forth, unable to get very far in either direction. I was like a Weeble. I wobbled, but I didn’t fall down. And actually, this was fun!
Luckily I am in terrible shape, or I might have stayed out there all day. As it happened, my legs got tired pretty quickly, so after about 3 minutes I gave the wave and the gate was re-opened. I got a running start and pedaled as hard as I could up the wire to the platform. I almost made it. The docent only had to pull me up the last
three feet metre.
So having heard in theory that I couldn’t fall, I trusted in faith and learned that the same was true in practice. And I showed my kids that doing scary things is okay and fun sometimes. Which I hope they will remember in situations that I deem appropriate and totally forget in other situations that their future teenage friends tell them about. But I suppose teaching bravery and confidence is overall a good thing. And if we ever go back I’m totally riding it again.