Pure focus and living on the road while balancing her life on one wheel with a remote job, Stephanie Dietze is rather unique
Navigating remote highlands and unexplored paths is a daunting challenge for most adventurers, a single lapse of concentration or a wrong stumble to uneven terrain could instantly put your life in jeopardy. The scenario becomes even more extreme when on a unicycle. This free spirit sport is what makes Stephanie Dietze push her body to new strengths and extremes.
Balancing her thrillseeking desire alongside technical skills and relentless levels of focus, Dietze is discovering more about her abilities after every foreign exploit. She was born into an athletic and competitive family, both her parents have represented Germany at the Olympic Games. Her father was a gymnast at the 1976 Montreal Olympics and her mother was a physical therapist at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Born in Dudenhofen, Germany, Dietze started unicycling at the age of eight. She joined a local unicycling club and performed award-winning choreography routines with her teammates. As friends fell out of love with the sport in their teenage years or pursued other interests, Dietze stayed true to unicycling, practicing more and more until she went on her first off-road unicycling trip. She was studying in Vienna at the time and explored the mountainous area around the city. Immediately hooked, she traveled to the Unicycle World Championships in New Zealand at the age of 23.
This experience cemented her desire to undertake more unicycling adventures. Unicycling has become a defining part of her personality now, Dietze uses all her vacation time to travel the world and explore new trails. From Germany to Iceland to South Korea, Dietze is chasing for ever more remote places to challenge her endurance. Her adventure driven story was featured in our The New Outsiders book, so we wanted to find out more about her personality, balancing work with her mountain-top feats, and what runs through her mind when charging down a trail on a unicycle.
Hey Stephanie, can you tell us a little bit about your childhood and what you currently do?
My childhood was good–except for that annoying little brother who kept sticking around shortly before I turned two, obviously. We had everything we needed, but at the same time, my parents never cared for any classic status symbols. They would wear their sports clothes all the time, our house was old and renovated step-by-step, and our family vacations always meant wild camping in our Volkswagen T3 camper van somewhere in Europe. As a child, I tried to convince my parents to go to Norway every year–often we did. They loved the wild nature of the country as much as I did.
I currently work as the Managing Editor for an outdoor app called Komoot. It’s a remote company, meaning I can work from wherever I choose. I am currently in Innsbruck, Austria for some ski touring, climbing, and of course, unicycling and cycling once the snow is gone.
How does one get into mountain unicycling and what made you want to explore life without handlebars?
It was a mixture of natural evolvement and simply trying to do the things that make me happy as often as I can–which feels like a good formula for anything in life now that I think about it. I moved to Austria to study and couldn’t practice in my gym all the time, at the same time off-road unicycling became a thing in the unicycling scene and so I started doing that in my spare time. But it wasn’t until a two-month road trip through New Zealand with five friends, during which we explored the country on our mountain unicycles, that I felt like really getting into it. It was the perfect adventure vehicle: small enough to pack into our camper van, slow enough to experience the landscape but fast enough to get some distance done. Our search for trails also made us look for remote areas and gave us a great reason to connect with the local mountain biking scene. We lived on the road for two months, wild camped, made fires, ate avocados, and had very fuzzy hair. It was a great time and that’s probably when I decided I needed more of that in my life.
The footage of you balancing your way down a mountain is amazing, what feelings are running through your head in these moments?
None. It’s a pure focus, otherwise, I’ll fall. Afterward, when I clean a difficult section, it’s this great feeling of having accomplished something impossible. I feel like I can do anything in the world at that moment.
Getting lost and seeing the world, what does this mean to you and is there anything better?
When I am outside riding, hiking up a trail, looking for a spot to set up camp or preparing dinner that's when I stop thinking about my place in the world when I just am who I am. I am busy with simple tasks that demand focus and I stop worrying about the past or the future and get absorbed into the moment. There are other great things in the world, too, but I am happiest when I wear a warm puffy jacket watching the stars.
Are you spontaneous or do you plan months in advance?
I never plan more than a couple of months ahead and that’s only for bigger trips. My lifestyle is very spontaneous on purpose because I do want to preserve my freedom to spontaneously go on a camping trip in the summer or waste a weekend in the sun with friends. It's so easy to fill your calendar with birthday parties, weddings, and family events, we all know it. In the last couple of summers, I have taught myself to prioritize and in return managed to do all the things in summer, that one dreams about in the winter. It’s not easy to keep weeks at a time free without plans, but it’s worth it and it will show you what’s actually important to you.
Do you have a favorite place in the world, if so, why…
Any place where I can feel rock under my feet and look over a vast landscape. Also, the top bunk in the roof of my camper van. It’s very small and cozy and warm.
Balancing the 9-5 vs. the great outdoors: What’s life like for you when you are on two feet?
My job is very flexible and I probably couldn’t work a computer job otherwise. It doesn’t make it easier when you look at photos of beautiful landscapes all day and write about great adventures. I try to get as much time outside or in the climbing gym as possible before and after work. On rest days I like to cook dinner with friends or bake sourdough bread. My life is very normal actually, many of my friends only have a slight idea of what I am doing when I am not in the city with them.
Berlin Tempelhofer Flugfeld on a summer’s night, is being on a unicycle a way for people to start a conversation with you? Do you have any interesting stories…
Funny enough, it’s not. I do know the local skaters who hang out at the same spots and people do like to sneakily take photos while walking by, thinking you don’t notice. Actually, my friend who is an artistic cyclist gets caught up in conversation more often, we think that’s because people can relate to a bicycle much better.
But when I am outside of the city and there are fewer people, my unicycle is a great conversation starter. If we show up with six people and six rough looking mountain unicycles with thick tires, lots of hikers or mountain bikers want to know more about us. A lot of them like to tell the boys they will never have children (so far they have all proven them wrong) and funnily enough, people like to tell me it’s great for my legs. We used to get a lot of, "Hey, you’ve lost a wheel" from strangers, but with more and more videos of serious riding on the internet, people do respect the sport more.
The funniest comment I ever got was during a Transalp with my friends David and Lutz. We were riding a trail and kindly asked some hikers to move to the side so we could pass them. They turned around and couldn’t believe their eyes and one said to the other, "And around the next corner, somebody will come jumping on their head."
How is life on the road with a gang of unicyclists?
It’s definitely smelly, we sweat into the same protection gear on every ride and often, when we wild camp, we don’t take showers for days. You just get used to it, though. Also, when you think of it, unicycling attracts a certain kind of person. Most of them want to be different, a lot of them want to show off, they all definitely proved a strong will when learning this skill. So imagine traveling in a van full of strong-minded individuals and trying to decide where to ride or what to cook the next day. It’s wild and unpredictable, but also very funny to be traveling with a group of strong-minded people.
On my last trip in South Korea, Maks liked to run around in speedos whenever he was not riding, three of us didn’t bring any camping gear on a week-long trip and after one particularly rainy night, I found them sleeping under a very low Korean table. But then on the trails, we push and support each other and you get to see these crazy skills that took so much perseverance to learn. And that’s the moment we are all family.