We just drove back yesterday from Michigan, the site of this year's North American unicycle convention. It was one of the best ones I've been to.
We had to arrive a day after the fun events started on account of my stint at the fire academy. I finished up on a Friday afternoon, drove back that evening, and packed the car full of unicycles. The next day, we headed to Michigan.
Shirra had checked the route on randmcnally.com, but the GPS in the car had us going north rather than south. Geography isn't my strong suit, and Shirra, a great map-reader, drew a blank when I mentioned that we'd be heading up route 87 rather than down. After all, the GPS hasn't steered us wrong so far. Looking at the map on the small screen, I wondered what the blip of land was between upstate NY and Michigan. It turns out that this was Canada.
I remembered that our government had been talking about the use of passports between the USA and Canada, but I wasn't sure when that was supposed to kick in. Luckily we only needed our driver's licenses, especially since the kids look just like us (we didn't happen to have their birth certs with us). The delay for immigration took a lot less time that the Rand McNally route, saving us many hours. The drive thru Canada was pretty dull, tho.
BEST (?) WESTERN
We stayed at a cheap hotel that had many rooms saved for conventioneers. At $59/night, it would be hard to do better. The hotel had once been pretty nice, but by now, it was falling slowly into decrepitude. Our air conditioning didn't work, first in one room, and then in both. The breakfasts were as abysmal as they are in most motels, with styrofoam cups for juice and crappy cereal options (along with some pretty tasty muffins). Rungs were breaking on the pool ladders, and one of the doorknobs from the stairs to the lobby was lying on the floor by the door. A cigaret butt lay in the same position on the stairs for the 5 days we stayed at the hotel.
But I really can't complain about the hotel. After all, it was cheap, and there were two pools, a free (and almost edible) breakfast, decent TVs, and so on. The kids loved playing Marco Polo with their friends in the pool, and on the last night, we joined a party downstairs that the beneficent Darren Bedford (of Canada) threw for his friends on both sides of the border. His suite had a jacuzzi, a kitchenette, an empty library, and three rooms.
Our first full day in Michigan, we took a few hours to visit Shirra's cousins in a nearby suburb of Detroit. The kids had a great time, and then we headed back to the convention in time for the Public Show.
Every year, these shows combine a few performances from the expert riders in the artistic competition as well as some outside talent. This year, the hosts had a duo from the world of Frisbees and Hacky Sacks (or 'discs' and 'footbags' to the trademark-less society of those sports). They were outstanding, and if you haven't seen someone excel in the world of footbags, you haven't seen the mundane elevated to the superior. At the end of the show, I hosted the annual raffle, where Darren won a nice unicycle and my son won some juggling sacks.
The next two days were dominated by track and field. Because we span so many age groups, my family had to be at the track for most of the day, starting at 8am, with no ostensible break for lunch. Shirra hadn't had breakfast and soon found herself getting woozy. I happened to find a snack place nearby, and soon she and the kids were back to normal.
The third race of the day was Emmett's. Since he hadn't mastered riding a 20" wheel, he was relegated to his 16-incher for the whole competition. This meant that he had to pedal really fast just to keep up with the slower kids in the races. He managed to beat one kid in the half-mile, and later he did pretty well in the quarter-mile and the 100m races. When he gets the right-sized uni, he's going to be zooming! Fiona isn't a racer -- she likes to ride, but she doesn't seem to have the fast-twitch muscles that racers need. She was proud that she managed to finish all of her races, and she even beat someone's time in the obstacle course. As for me, I found the track (or the hot, muggy conditions) to be slow; no one managed to set any kinds of racing records at this convention. But I managed to do well compared with my competition and finished first in most of the races in my age group (1500m, 400m, and the 10k). I also found myself among the top 5 male competitors of any age in four races (my best was 3rd over all in the 10k), earning myself an 'expert' t-shirt for the third year in a row. My only disappointment was not qualifying for the expert heat of the 100m race. I was proudest of my finish in the 10k because the competition was tough and I beat a lot of younger guys over the course of 25 grueling minutes.
The 10k was just around the corner from a great water park. It's a city park, so the admission price was really cheap (at least by NY standards). For $8 each, the kids and Shirra got to have a great afternoon of water slides, a 'lazy river,' and a scary wave pool.
There were muni events, a street competition, and uphill and downhill 'races,' too. There were also the usual unicycle hockey and uni basketball, but I didn't compete (or even watch) any of those. I didn't even get to see most of the artistic competition (or the parade competition, or the group performance competition), but I'm sure it was amazing.
The drive back from Michigan was fine, and we got in yesterday at about 11 pm. I was buzzing for almost an hour after getting out of the car; it felt like I was sitting on a clothes dryer. We were glad to be home, but it was a great convention, and we look forward to the club this Sunday.