One Wheel Many Spokes

Lars Clausen

Read August 2005

Lars Clausen is a Lutheran minister. For a variety of reasons he decides to cycle across the United States—and back. As you might imagine, his title is therefore metaphorical. But it is also literal, because he does this entire ride on a unicycle!

Clausen is an interesting customer. He is distinctly on the liberal side of his flock, and indeed frequently expresses a deep skepticism about his very beliefs, a level of inquiry one doesn't normally expect of men of cloth. Indeed, one sometimes feels the Church is more a vehicle for his desire to act than an expression of his actual beliefs. He can compare Huck Finn to Jesus Christ without wondering whether such a comparison would be heretical.

Huck is very much at the heart of Clausen's experience. Clausen is as much a disciple of Twain as of Christ, and one senses Twain's skepticism and distrust of authority filtering into Clausen's life. It is perhaps telling that every chapter has a Twain epigraph rather than a Gospel quote. Every one of these quotations is chosen well, suggesting Clausen's acquaintance with Twain's writings runs quite deep.

The book contains several interesting vignettes. The most touching demonstrate Clausen's deep empathy with the First Peoples of America, a bond enriched by his time ministering in Alaska. Though the prose is not extraordinary, it's perfectly competent and Clausen's experiences, both past and on this trip, make up for any deficiencies.

As a liberal and a cyclist, Clausen feels (and experiences) America's many problems with the automobile. Indeed, it is interesting to sense the differences in his reception as he crosses the country, with his most hostile receptions being in the most car-conscious parts of the land (such as Detroit). Of course, there is the irony of Clausen's family riding in a support vehicle behind him the entire trip—an irony he recognizes but only briefly comments upon.

The book becomes desultory when Clausen decides to pedal back to the West Coast; I found this part nearly superfluous. He should have truncated it while he was ahead. Nevertheless, it was an entertaining, sometimes moving book, and I can only wish Clausen and his efforts the very best.