‘Gogga’ – A Unicycle Adventure Film

Jono’s Downhill Descent of Kilimanjaro

By Jonathan Benjamin

Mount Kilimanjaro isn’t a physically demanding mountain but still isn’t an ‘easy’ mountain to conquer. Even though it isn’t too high, altitude still plays a major role in peoples’ success. People under estimate it’s height (and travel companies “rush” one up and down so that they can get more business in).

Mount Kilimanjaro

Even before arriving in Tanzania one thing I noticed about TANAPA (Tanzanian National Park) is that they don’t like doing anything out of the ordinary (or adapting their services too much). I came to realise this after spending month’s upon month’s trying to secure a permit to ride down the mountain on a unicycle. Eventually (cutting it really fine with regards to our climbing dates), I received an email confirming everything. That was such a relief! Even convincing them to allow me to ride down the Marangu Route after ascending the Umbwe was a big ask as this is not normally done.

Throughout this entire trip and the build up to it, there were many daunting challenges that had to be faced. Summiting and descending the mounting was one thing, but the planning and the preparing turned out to be in many ways harder.

Thinking weight was going to be my only issue with packing and transporting the unicycle to the top (which was an issue) another one hit me. Space. I could barely get anything to fit into my bag let alone the unicycle. When Kevin Gaynor from Quiver found out about this problem that I was having, he surprised me by making a hardy attractive custom made bag! This was in addition to a generous sponsorship of clothing for both Ben and I. We found his clothing comfortable, hard wearing, light and attractive. His entire range of outdoor clothing is definitely worth looking at and considering when needing anything for the outdoors.

Quiver's Unicycle Bag

On the hike one’s weight is also limited. If going on a ‘normal’ hike up and down the mountain 15kg should be more than enough, but when adding a unicycle, spares, repairs and cycling equipment, one is only left with about 5 kg of weight. This 5kg was for all my clothes, extra food (power bar) and sleeping bag (although it only weighs 1.5kg )! The sleeping bags were sponsored by K-Way and these ensured that no matter how low the temp (at times it went down to -15C ) we were warm and comfortable. Similarly we enjoyed the comfort and practicality of the K-Way raincoats and day backpacks. So one has to pack extremely lightly and cut down on weight with food, stocking up only on power bars and their shakes as they are high in protein and energy,  yet are very small and light.

And suddenly the preparation came to an end and we were on our way…  bags packed, wheel pumped up, we were off and climbing. For the next five days the words ‘pole pole’ (slow slow) were the most commonly occurring words coming from our guides as we scaled the slopes of the mountain. The entire time one was supposed to be saving energy for the next day and so on,  so that we could get to the top. In addition, we have to conserve energy for the descent.

Getting to the top was a relief. There were a few points where I started to doubt myself. However I was lucky to summit with plenty of energy left, and it was time to show Julius and Babu (our two guides) what this ‘thing’ is and how it works!! But first we posed proudly at the summit with our guides and porter displaying the banner with the names of our sponsors depicted thereon, printed by Wizards. And with the Unicycle!!

Kili 2 by 1 Summit

Jumping on the unicycle, the ride started, but I was stopped after only a few short meters as it posed a threat to the other climbers. And so the unicycle had to be ported down the very upper slopes until we got to the the scree slope.

Alighting again, I continued riding, but those few hundred meters of riding were probably the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done. Wanting to get down faster, we pushed on. The further we descended, the easier everything became: breathing, thinking, balancing and therefore riding.

Getting down to Hurombo huts was a huge relief. All were needing a break, both physically and mentally. This was greatly needed as the following day began with an uphill battle. I mean this literally and figuratively! Even though we ascended to ‘only’ about 4000m we were still oxygen deprived and unicycling uphill for that short distance was not easy. A few painful falls accompanied me on the downhill!! If it weren’t for the brilliant quality shin pads generously supplied by OddWheel Unicycles, I imagine part of my shins would still be on the mountain!!

Jonathan Descending

Orms (the one stop camera shop) loaned us a GoPro and lens which was used with my dad’s camera. Both Ben and I captured footage during the ascent and he skillfully captured a good sample of the unicycle descent.

There were multiple special moments, and therefore we are left with special memories. It is impossible to put these moments or memories into words. Most were simply experiences, sights, emotions… but the two that stand out for me are the feeling of accomplishment at having summit-ed; and the beauty of the the sunrise on the morning of our summit. That  will stay with me forever!

Kill Summit Sunrise

Kilimanjaro 2 by 1

Kilimanjaro-2-by-1-Logo6 Years. 6 Year’s of what? Being involved in the development of unicycling on the tip of the African continent. OddWheel has been approached a few times by numerous riders wanting to mark their names down in the history books for large-scale unicycle adventures. Desiring to be the first, to tackle whatever they choose, on a unicycle. I’ll always cock an ear to listen to all the ‘wonderbaar’ expeditions that could potentially excite myself and the community. Often is the case that these adventures don’t see more than the creation of a Facebook page and a sponsorship enquiry with OddWheel.

One day at one of our Park Play Sessions. Casually going about the play-to-play activities of an OddWheeler, I was in conversation with Jonathan Benjamin when he dropped the adventure on me.

He is going to attempt the highest descent on a unicycle. We all know that Lutz Eichholz rode down Mount Damavand in Iran and recently set the world record. The total descent was 5671m. Lutz faced challenges with high altitude (of course), team injuries and weather fluctuations between 40˚ and -7˚ Celsius. It is quite a feat that Lutz has accomplished. I’d be so proud of myself if I were he! Although Lutz’ trip is billed as a height record the actual highest mountain descent was attempted by Kris Holm on a volcano in Bolivia in 2006. The height of Licancabur is 5920m. Apparently riders have gone higher than Kris’ attempt but not as a mountain descent.

Where does Jono intend breaking the world record? It’s on the African continent and the only unicyclist I know that has been up there is Dave Walters. Funny one; Dave actually carried a 12” to the top of this peak with the intention of taking a photo of himself unicycling on top of the highest peak in Africa. Unfortunately Dave’s camera froze so there is no photographic proof that he did it. Bummer! I’ve walked the Annapurna Circuit and up to Everest Base Camp in Nepal and it’s flippen cold at those heights. Altitude sickness is no joke either, especially when it’s happening to you up there. Lot’s of garlic soup I say.

Kilimanjaro is 5895m high. That’s only 224m higher than Lutz just did… at altitude. Eish wena! Luckily for Jono he has a trusty sidekick, Ben Carlyle. Ben is more than a sidekick. Ben has been handling a lot of the logistics around preparing for the adventure and will be documenting the actual trip. They are a team and they call themselves ‘Kilimanjaro 2 by 1’. Why not hop onto their Facebook page to show your support –

A classic formula for adventuring is to choose a cause to raise awareness and funds for. Jono and Ben have chosen Inclusive Education South Africa (IESA). They are an NPO that works with parents, teachers and school communities to provide support for children who have learning difficulties and learning barriers to overcome – They have setup a campaign on the crowd funding platform Back-a-buddy. If you’d like to donate to IESA or even show your admiration for this adventure then click here. I’m sure you’ll put a smile on Jono and Ben’s faces.

Let’s talk a little about Jono’s unicycling experience over the years. He is a damn good rider! What I like the most is that he is super sincere, humble and polite. Legend has it that Jono started riding at the age of 13. He pretty much got the basics and hit Tokai Forest. In 2012 he rode the Cape Cycle Tour and came first in the Uni category with a sub 7 finish. He is the youngest person to have completed the Cape Cycle Tour on a Uni. He was 15 at the time. After Argus Jono took a break from unicycling because of a knee injury. In January this year myself, Jono, Brent and Shaun Engelbrecht did the Oak Valley 24 Hour MTB Relay race. We were the only team on unicycles and surprisingly didn’t come last. Besides being well accomplished in Muni and Road he is still the only unicyclist in SA that can ride on a slackline. He also reminded me of his Trials skills at one of our Park Play Sessions. As you can see he is a well-rounded unicyclist.

Jono Uni Slackline

Ben is a 19-year-old high school friend of Jono’s who apparently has a knack of persuading Jono to do crazy things. Being adventure buddies is familiar for the duo, as they have worked as river guides on the Orange River in Namibia. It was Ben’s original suggestion of a trip up Kilimanjaro that inspired Jono to undertake an attempt to ride down the mountain on a unicycle. Ben’s job on the mountain will be to support Jono and whisper words of encouragement in his ear. The parts that we are interested in are the photos and video footage, which Ben will undertake. Lugging the camera gear and hauling it out for those perfect shots.

The 2 by 1 duo has secured sponsorships with Wizardz Print & Design and Quiver Outdoor Gear. Obviously OddWheel is on board to ensure Jono has everything he needs for his descent of Kilimanjaro. Sir Ranulph Fiennes is backing the duo by “lending his name” to their venture and sending them a personal message.

It would be wonderful to see another SA Unicycle endeavor go down in the history books like Alan Read and Johnny Cronje’s Muni tour along the Freedom Challenge route.

Kilimanjaro 2 by 1

I wish Jono and Ben all the best for this legal / illegal / official / unofficial world record attempt! They will be hopping on a plane to Kilimanjaro on the 2nd of September.  That’s 7 days away!




Fine Line