Honoring Traditional Wisdom
The Inupiat Eskimo people Lars Clausen rode in support of are people who have a hunter-gatherer tradition dating back 12,000 years on the Seward Peninsula of Alaska (where the Bering Sea land bridge once was.) The Inupiat graciously accepted the Clausen family during the three and a half years he served Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Nome as their pastor. “Our family experienced hospitality and traditional values in ways that we had never imagined. We developed a strong commitment to honoring the traditional wisdom of the people, and we also saw how often and how seriously impacted they were by outsiders coming in and forcing changes in everything from diet to language, livelihood to education.” Clausen supports an endowment fund that gives full authority to the local people to make their own decisions. At the beginning of their adventure, the Clausens returned to Nome to celebrate and to receive a blessing from the people there as the unicycle ride began on the ice of the Bering Sea. Thanks in part to Clausen, the endowment has already reached $500,000.
Lars Clausen's Long, Inspiring Road
Author/Publisher Pedals and Promotes His Way Across AmericaLars Clausen is a very persistent man.
Simply learning to ride and feel comfortable on a unicycle must take a lot of persistence – but to ride one for 9,000 miles back and forth across the country through every state in the U.S.? That kind of persistence is almost unfathomable.
But Lars is a hard-core cyclist, having soloed cross-country on a two-wheeler in 1987. Accomplishing the ride would be one thing; writing and successfully publishing a book about it would be another. This would require a whole different level of persistence…
During his ’87 trip, Clausen journaled every day in spiral notebooks, and later turned his notes into a manuscript. He had it edited, made eight Xerox copies, and mailed them out to publishers -- all were rejected. He knew nothing about the writing/publishing business at the time, and chalked it up as one of life’s tough breaks.
This time, 15 years older and wiser, Clausen would be much better prepared. During his training for unicycling across America, he included a whole different kind of preparation: he attended the Whidbey Island Writer's Conference; he went to Dan Poynter's self-publishing workshop; he even went through publishing a book, after having the flash inspiration that needed to self-publish something before the ride (which at that time was only 6 weeks away.)
“I would have been willing to create a blank book, just to see if we could get through the self-publishing process,” says Clausen. Instead, his wife Anne, a watercolor artist, created paintings, and together they created a decorated journal with their cross-country route and daily schedule. They took delivery of 500 books just a week before the start of the ride. “It was a major learning step,” he says.
Entitled Ride Tracker Journal, the book described the ride and its fund-raising purpose, with a page for each day including location and the planned mileage to be covered. Adorned with quotations and Anne’s watercolors of traditional Eskimo scenes, a copy was given to each church they visited along the way, and others went for $9.95 to pay for a few gallons of gas. “We had half the books left at the end of the trip, but the process taught us a lot,” says Clausen.
With Clausen’s varied education (U.S. Air Force Academy and the University of California/Berkeley), multiple interests (master's degrees in both mechanical engineering and theology) and varied resume (designing windmills in Denmark and preaching to Inupiat Eskimos of Alaska’s Seward Peninsula), a cross-county unicycle excursion may not seem so strange. But recognizing his love and compassion for people would be an even bigger clue: It was the Alaskan Eskimos he dedicated his ride to, bringing attention to their need for money and resources.
Although he pedaled alone, his wife and children agreed they would do the adventure as a family, providing support from an antique motor home. (The Clausens previously honeymooned throughout Europe via tandem bicycle.) KariAnna (now 9) and Kai (now 7), are also unicyclists who dream of someday breaking their dad's long-distance Guinness World Record.
Clausen would also share his ride with over 500 people around the country, through e-mail postings and website updates from start to finish. He had originally hoped to make daily updates, but soon realized that the ride consumed so much time and energy that he occasionally went a whole week before putting the experiences to paper.
“I always relished those times, sometimes writing until midnight, knowing that I'd be getting up at 4:30 the next morning to beat the heat of the day. Instead of using a tape recorder, I ran stories through my mind, over and over, editing them internally and always looking forward to the time that I could get them written down. The initial episode in the book (an encounter with police) was an instance where I could hardly wait to finish the ride, I was concentrating so hard on remembering the dialogue verbatim. What a gift that pullover was!”
Before the ride, Clausen did have a dream of being ready to publish the book as soon as he reached New York. Two editor friends had been willing to edit as the ride progressed, but he soon realized how naive he was about getting the book written at the same pace as the ride. The delay became a blessing in disguise.
“The ride, rich in its own right, has become even richer during the experience of writing the story down, of creating language to capture experiences as varied as subtle hospitality, hurricane weather, Rocky Mountain passes, encounters with strangers, and life with family along the way.
Throughout the trip the media, including CNN, CBS-TV's "Early Show", and the Associated Press (three times), featured the fulfillment of the dream and the effort to achieve it. Clausen established the longest distance traveled by unicycle in a 24-hour period (202.78 miles) in South Dakota on June 6, 2002, and broke the distance record by traveling 9,136 miles through 48-contiguous U.S. states from Tillamook, OR to Santa Monica, CA between April 22, 2002 and November 12, 2002.
Now he’s ready to ride some more.
During the summer of 2004, Clausen will be back on the unicycle and promoting his book by riding the entire West Coast from Canada to Mexico. On April 22, 2004, the two-year anniversary of the beginning of his historic ride, he will launch the book tour at the Sultan Elementary School in Sultan, WA, where 100 of the 600 students belong to the Unicycle Club.
It’s not your typical book tour -- but Clausen isn’t your typical author.
“My marketing and sales goals are simple,” he says. “I want to sell enough books to afford to care for our family and to be a rider/writer/speaker for a couple of future rides. I’m grateful beyond words that I have fallen into good, professional hands, every step of the way: from Dan Poynter, to editors, typesetter, printer, and distributor. For marketing and sales, I have been so fortunate to have found Alice Acheson. She's the best. I have been extremely fortunate, especially since this is my first time down the publishing road.”
He hopes being noticed on the road this spring and summer will bring momentum the book tour. “On a unicycle, with my head eight feet above the ground, I always attracted attention. Since I rode for a cause, the head-turning served a good purpose. I hope for the same effect as I ride the book tour down the West Coast.”
“All across the country on the way to the Statue of Liberty, people would comment on what persistence I showed to do this ride. There were some days that I did feel persistent, but mostly I just felt lucky to be on the road, regardless of how much I was sweating. In the midst of all the pre-publication efforts for the book I constantly reminded myself that no matter what the outcome, this whole experience from ride to write to publishing, has been a huge adventure, with an intrinsic worth that is independent of the sales results.”
“I know that the ONE WHEEL - MANY SPOKES ride inspired lots and lots of people. This summer is one more opportunity to spread that inspiration around and to be encouraged by the people and the stories that I’ll encounter along the way. I ride, in part, because there's no place I'd rather be, experiencing whatever is around the next bend in the road. It lifts my spirit, and I hope the ride and the book will lift the spirits of some others as well.”