Lutheran pastor completes trek across America on unicycle

Posted: Sunday, August 11, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) -- The rubber tread on the huge wheel was worn, but the humble unicycle tire took Lutheran pastor Lars Clausen across America in his effort to help the Eskimos to whom he once ministered.

''It's a great adventure and it'll make a difference for generations of Eskimos in Alaska,'' Clausen, 41, said Saturday, as he ended his trek at the Statue of Liberty. His wife and two children, both on unicycles, joined him for the final ferry ride to the statue in New York harbor.

Clausen began the 5,000-mile cross-country journey April 29 in the Whidbey Island town of Greenbank, Wash. Next week, he plans to turn around and unicycle all the way back.

His goal was to raise money for an endowment fund for the Inupiat Eskimos of the Seward Peninsula, where he had his first preaching assignment, in Nome, Alaska.

So far, $250,000 has been collected for the fund, administered by the Chicago-based Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The endowment's goal is to collect $5 million, with members of the Inupiat tribe eventually deciding how best to use the funds to preserve their culture.

''We were embraced by people who have a 12,000-year-old culture,'' Clausen said. ''They know how to live and thrive in the Arctic. You're dependent on other people for survival, so you have to get along.''

Clausen and his wife, Anne, spent 3 1/2 years with the tribe, which lives at a subsistence level, hunting whales, seals and walruses on the remote peninsula where most basic supplies must be flown in.

Anne Clausen explained that they chose to help the fund because ''this is what meant most to us. These Eskimos have been our teachers and our mentors.''

She said the Eskimos taught the couple patience, cooperation, and how to avoid conflict. ''That's what they need to survive in the Arctic, and that's what our world needs most, too,'' she said.

To make the trip, Clausen rode up to 70 miles a day on his 36-inch unicycle, taking hourly breaks to eat and drink. He would start at 5 a.m. and ride until mid-afternoon. The key to endurance was his cycle seat, made of bicycle inner tubes stuffed into a cover handsewn by his mother.

This is Clausen's trip second across the country on fewer than four wheels. Fifteen years ago, he rode coast-to-coast solo on a bicycle.

He has promised his 8-year-old daughter, Kari Anna, that when she turns 16, they'll take the cross-country unicycle trip together.

On Saturday, she and her 6-year-old brother Kai practiced cycling with their father on the brick walkway at the foot of the Statue of Liberty.


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