A sculptor and a circus performer from New York are pedaling unicycles 106 miles along the Florida Keys Overseas Highway and its 42 bridges over water as a six-day performance art project.
The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail Unicycle Tour pairs Brooklyn residents Robert Hickman, who specializes in creating art for transportation systems, and Keith Nelson, a variety artist who co-founded a national traveling theater–based circus.
Hickman and Nelson, whose other projects include a continuing quest to cross New York City’s more than 2,000 bridges over water and land on unicycles, began their Florida Keys journey earlier in the week in Key Largo. They are scheduled to finish Sunday afternoon in Key West, riding to the southernmost point in the continental United States and then on to Fort Zachary Taylor.
Keys officials, including Monroe County Undersheriff Rick Ramsay, say it’s the first time they’ve ever heard of a person traversing the Overseas Highway on a unicycle.
Pedaling across bridges over the Atlantic Ocean, Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, they are following the path of the century-old Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad that evolved into the contemporary Overseas Highway. Their journey celebrates the recent centennial of the railroad’s debut and the ongoing creation of the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail.
“We crossed a lot of historical bridges in New York, and this is the centennial of the Over-Sea Railway,” said Hickman. “We want to come down and commemorate the 100 years of the Flagler railroad bridges and the brand-new Heritage Trail system.”
The unique trek is a facet of Sculpture Key West, an open-air exhibition of large-scale art at two Civil War–era forts. Hickman, who participated in two previous exhibitions, is creating a sculpture as he pedals his unicycle by dragging a small rock along the road behind him to create the artwork. The two unicyclists are to be honored at the ride’s conclusion at a Sculpture Key West reception at Fort Zachary Taylor.
“When you’re riding a unicycle, whether it’s across a basketball court or across 100 miles, the fact you have one point of contact on the earth means you have a whole new level of balance that most people aren’t even accustomed to,” Nelson said. “There’s no coasting. We’re pedaling all 106 miles—uphill, downhill—there’s no moment that, when we’re on this, we can say, ‘I’m just going to relax and let it take me,’ where (on) a bicycle you can kick back a little more than you can on a unicycle.”