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Go with the flow
Abe Clark ran and biked across the country in two personal challenges of endurance, strength and good will

By AMY SIEWERT

August 22, 2012

Abe Clarkís first running goal was set back in fifth grade. A twinge of sibling rivalry turned into a passion when Clark was determined to beat big brother Benís new mile record at Gillett Middle School in Gillett. His mother, willing to aid in his endeavour, drove him to the high school every afternoon when he was in fifth and sixth grade so he could train with the high school cross country team. The time to beat ó 5 minutes, 18 seconds.

After two years of training with the cross country team and many mile sprints on the old railroad bed, he accomplished his mission and crossed the finish line with his friend, Jason, at 5 minutes, 7 seconds.

Four years later, Clarkís younger brother, Josh, crushed the record at 4 minutes, 56 seconds.

You could say it set the pace for Clarkís lifestyle. He focuses on a task and works hard to complete it.

"Itís about the journey and having a goal," he says. "The goal is to put you on the right road leading to something."

Clark, who lives in Milwaukee, is a quiet guy with a zest for adventure. The 6-foot, 2-inch athlete has a runnerís body, and an easygoing attitude. He takes things in stride. His personality and determination were key factors in allowing him to be the 15th member of the elite club to run across the United States solo ó without a support crew.

"I wondered what it would be like to start running and never have to turn around," he says.

Clarkís 2,960-mile run across America started on the Pacific shore in Oceanside, Calif., on Feb. 15, 2010, and ended at the Atlantic Ocean at Atlantic City, N.J., on June 30, 2010. It took him 136 days and five pairs of Asics.

The dream to run across the country was fueled by a passion to help those in need. He decided to make the experience a fundraiser and succeeded in raising $90,000 for Living Water International. The money was targeted to supply Haitians with clean drinking water following the 2010 earthquake.

"Ninety-eight cents will give a person clean water for a year," says Clark. "I had the first thought while I was sailing on Lake Michigan. I was floating on all this water and thinking about those people who are looking for drinking water. Water is the basic of life. Itís a survival instinct."

He started doing some research, found Living Water International and planned to make the nonprofit the beneficiary of his fundraising efforts.

It took nearly four months to plan for his journey, which he completed with one running partner: Ruby, his baby jogging stroller that was loaded with 70 pounds of supplies.

Many people would have no desire to run an unfamiliar terrain for days on end ó alone ó but thatís how Clark wanted it.

"Itís easier and more simple that way. The bottom line is I was on a shoestring budget," he says, with a smile. "I like that side of it ó adventurous and alone."

To top it off, Clark ran sans music, except for three days in Oklahoma when the wind was getting the better of him. "Itís a state of mind you reach and you stay there all day. It frees your mind," he says. "You find yourself in this zone and youíre focused on what your body is doing."

While Clark was busy transversing the country, his fiancťe, Kate Kopp, was home waiting for calls on his progress. The couple married shortly after he completed the cross-country trek.

Kopp is an independent woman. The two met in the summer of 2008, when they were both leaders at the Fort Wilderness Ministries Camp in northern Wisconsin. They quickly fell in love.

"Heís an old soul with extreme ideas," she says.

And she knew what she was getting into from the get go. "We had a conversation very early on and he told me what he wanted to do," she says. "It really didnít surprise me one-and-a-half years later when he started planning it. He wanted to push himself to the extreme and see if he could do it, but he wanted to do it for a greater purpose."

The couple had only been engaged a few months when Clarkís started his journey. "I struggled with it for a while, but I was very proud of him," she says.

Knowing he had Koppís support along with family and friends helped propel Clark onward through the unknown terrain. He averaged 25 miles a day. "The body is amazing because it adapts to whatever we put it through." And that self discovery came with plenty of adventure along the way, from surviving a blizzard in the Rocky Mountain wilderness to waking in the forest during the night to the sounds of mountain lions purring nearby.

The first month was the most painful on his body as it adjusted to the mileage. "I would collapse at the side of the road for a bit," he says. "Those times are when you find out what you are really made of."

As the miles and states slipped by, Clark discovered a change in himself after sitting on the edge of his bed in a motel room in New Mexico.

"The adrenaline left and it began to feel like a lifestyle," he says. "It didnít feel like a big event anymore. To handle a long journey like that you have to look at it that way."

His favorite part about his journey was seeing the country on foot and meeting the people along the way. "My relationships were 12 hours long and I was passing through, peeking into peopleís lives," he says. "It was America who took care of me through the whole journey. I was pretty vulnerable and they would give me a place to sleep or eat."

His vulnerable state was never more prevalent than when he was running through a mountain pass in northern New Mexico and a blizzard set in. Running in nothing more than running tights, a long-sleeve shirt and lightweight running jacket, Clark quickly realized he needed to take shelter ó and fast ó before he froze to death.

He was in the middle of the wilderness with no cell phone reception, so his survival instincts set in. He quickly dug a snow cave, put on the five shirts and pair of jeans he had and hunkered down in his sleeping bag. He spent 16 hours buried under 6 feet of snow. When he emerged from the cave, the sun was out and a snowplow had gone through leaving him with one lane to run the 30 miles out of the mountains. He walked most of the day due to leg cramps as a result of lying in his snow cave, but he made it to Taos, N.M., where he was picked up by a park ranger. "Humans have a desire to live and fight for life. The will to survive. For a while, I didnít want to sleep outside any more because I was so afraid of freezing," he says.

"When he was in New Mexico was the scariest time. It was four or five days I didnít hear from him. I didnít know if he was dead or alive," Kopp says.

But he made it, and his journey continued. By the second half of his trip, Clark says he was in really good shape and could pluck off 20 to 25 miles a day without injuries.

Different challenges set in, including more populated areas and not-so-friendly people. From kids harassing him in the middle of the night to a pastor refusing to help, Clark held steadfast on reaching his goal, but the mental and emotional challenges were mounting. Kopp sensed Clark was struggling, so she drove to Ohio and surprised him one day as he was running down the trail. "The second half of the trip he was very lonely and struggling, so I felt more needed," she says. The trip to Ohio was perfect timing so she could encourage him to go on, she says.

After running across 15 states, he reached Atlantic City, where Kopp and his family were waiting.

But that was not the end of his American journey and quest to help others in need.

One year later, a group of four people from Texas, inspired by Clarkís run, decided to bike the perimeter of the United States to raise money for Living Water International. Clark made the decision to join them a week before they left. He bought a bike, a plane ticket to Texas and headed out on the road once again on June 15, 2011. The adventure took him more than 9,000 miles around the perimeter of the United States, which the group completed in 146 days. Clark embarked on the challenge with no prior training on the bike. As a matter of fact, the farthest he had ever biked was 50 miles. He met the task, and the group averaged 80 miles a day.

"I wanted to be a part of the bike ride so I could watch it (the desire to help) grow," he says.

Sometimes itís frustrating for Kopp when their relationship becomes about Clarkís latest adventure, but she takes it in stride. "I never would want a normal life. Iím drawn to him for that reason, so Iím supportive of it," she says.

After completing his two expeditions, Clark came home and wrote a book, "Running Water," about his day-to-day journey across the country. He also does motivational speaking and recently took a job at Door Countyís Adventure Center.

Clark doesnít plan to transverse the country again on foot or bike ó heís checked those off the bucket list ≠ó but he plans to continue working with Living Water International. Besides running and biking, Clark is an avid sailor. He would like to spotlight the fresh water crisis by sailing to underdeveloped countries in need of fresh water and film a documentary for viewers to see where there is a need.

"Iím setting up my life where I can continue to have adventures and help people," he says.

"Whatever he does, heíll do well," says Kopp. "He needs to be in an environment where it is limitless."

To read more about Clarkís run across America, check out "Running Water" at http://abrahamlouis.com/runningwater/, amazon.com or http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5412873.Abraham Louis Clark. m

 


This story ran in the June 2012 issue of: