July 19, 2004


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Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Earthwalker’s birthplace to be recognized

By Jan Lee Buxengard

Dave and Pete Kunst walking through Islamabad, Pakistan, in 1973 with National assembly Building in background.
David Kunst is the first person to walk around the world, an adventure that took four years, three months and 16 days. He wore out 21 pairs of shoes while walking a total of 14,450 miles across four continents and 13 countries.

David and his brother, John, started the journey. Twenty-eight months into the walk, John was killed by bandits in Afghanistan and David was wounded. After David’s recovery, another brother, Peter, joined him on the walk for one year. David completed the remainder of the journey alone.

The brothers, sons of Al and Augusta Onstad Kunst, were all born in Caledonia. Their great-grandparents, Leonard and Katherine Hill, owned a hotel with a restaurant in Caledonia.

Their grandparents, Frank and Eva Kunst, owned a harness shop that later became a shoe store, and Otto and Belle Onstad owned the Onstad Dairy in Spring Grove.

Their father worked for the H.P. Nelson Lumber Company. Their mother and her friend, Mrs. Gene Schiltz, delivered Onstad milk in Caledonia for two years.

The Kunst family moved to Waseca, Minn., in the mid-1950s.

"Honoring the Kunsts was my idea," Irma Klug of Caledonia stated. "I knew the parents. Augusta delivered milk to our house. She was our milkmaid."

A sign is being been placed in Caledonia’s North Park (North Kingston Street) to recognize the Kunsts’ connection to Caledonia’s history.

Sawyer Sign Co. of Dresbach, Minn., made the sign, which will be unveiled on Friday, June 11, at 5:30 p.m. at North Park, as part of Caledonia’s sesquicentennial celebration.

At 6:30 p.m., David and Peter will be in the lobby of the new Caledonia Middle-High School to sign their books. The daily journal David kept during the walk was made into a book, "The Man Who Walked Around the World." Peter wrote "Steps of Adventure" in 1981.

Also, Caledonia artist Jeannie Barber has painted a mural that has been mounted on the west side of the Hodges Fitness Center building on East Main Street. The mural depicts the Kunst brothers with their mule and cart.

On Saturday, Peter and David and other family members plan to walk with a mule and cart in the Sesquicentennial Grand Parade beginning at 1 p.m. and moving from Main Street to the Fairgrounds.

"The Caledonia Performing Arts Council has assisted, and the Caledonia Chamber has been good to back it," Klug said about the Kunst projects and activities.

Early walker

The seeds to attempt the historical walk adventure were planted during David’s childhood.

One summer day when he was about 9 years old, he talked two of his neighborhood friends into going with him to see his Grandma Belle in Spring Grove.

They set out walking across country trying to follow the highway toward Spring Grove. They made it about seven miles, when his mother showed up on the highway. She had spotted them out in a pasture and hollered for them to get into the car. It was a walking adventure that he never forgot.

When he is asked if there was ever anything in his background that instilled in him the desire to walk around the world, he tells the story of walking to his grandmother's.

The walk

David wrote many letters to shoe and clothing companies, but was unsuccessful in obtaining paying sponsors.

He was given the go ahead to walk for UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund), which aids children in more than 100 countries by helping to solve problems of health, hunger and education.

Because of the danger of theft, he did not collect money during his walk, but contributors gave directly to UNICEF.

With a letter from Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, $1,000, and no experience as world travelers, he and his brother, John, set out on foot from Waseca on June 20, 1970.

While walking east across the United States, a pack mule named Willie Makeit carried the brother’s five sets each of wash ‘n wear clothes, their water, sleeping gear, etc.

To document their walk, they carried a plastic scroll, which they had stamped and signed by the mayor, an official or the people they stayed the night with. People were for the most part hospitable by providing food and lodging at many of the stops.

David recalled getting a police escort through LaCrosse. It was so hot the squad cars were heating up and the police officers asked, "Can you walk any faster?"

Before leaving New York City, they touched the Atlantic Ocean and then flew across the ocean to New Lisbon, Portugal. Willie Makeit II, an Army mule, and a dog named Drifter were purchased to continue the trek.

It was very special meeting Princess Grace of Monaco, and Italy was the country they and the mule had the most fun in, David noted.

Entering Turkey was a culture shock. They had to purchase a Turkish wagon and covered it with "American" canvas. Since they would be crossing hot desert country, the water supply carried in the wagon was most essential.

Temperatures reached 125 degrees while crossing the deserts in Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan. Their travel speeds went up to 30 miles per day, at 3 miles per hour.

About 90 miles outside of Kabul, Afghanistan, six bandits came to their camp at 10 p.m. the night of Oct. 21, 1972.

John was shot to death and Dave was wounded by a bullet in the chest. He played dead until someone found him the next day and took him to an American dispensary hospital in Kabul, where he stayed 20 days.

David took a four-month break from the walk and came back to the United States to recuperate and spend time with his family.

The journey resumes

With help from the American Embassy, David made arrangements to return to the location where John was killed.

This time, he was joined by another brother Peter, who took time off from his employment to walk part of the way with David.

The pair continued across Pakistan, where a Pakistani tribal prince provided an escort through the Khyber Pass, then they continued on to Calcutta, India.

David touched the Indian Ocean and flew to Perth on the western coast of Australia. They had to leave their mule and dog in India because they couldn’t take them into Australia.

Two-thirds of Australia is desert and they were there during the fly season. In addition to coping with the abundance of thirsty flies, which were trying to get moisture from their nose, mouth and eyes, they had to traverse 250 miles of the worst road in the world.

The dirt road was very bumpy, shaking their wagon until it broke down. They were grateful to some aborigine people who repaired the wagon so they could continue on.

Willie Makeit II died of a heart attack and in this sheep country, there weren’t any mules, so they continued on.

Peter headed home, so now Dave was on his own. One day near Sydney, an Australian school teacher named Jenni Samuel came driving by in her small model white car. She offered to help.

They hooked the wagon to the car and she drove four miles per hour, pulling the wagon, while Dave walked along. They had to stop several times to let the over-heated engine cool down.

Dave touched the Pacific Ocean and flew to Los Angeles, continuing his walk from Newport.

In Colorado, David had to get special permission to go through the Eisenhower Memorial Tunnel of the Rocky Mountains since no one had ever been allowed to walk it before. This 1.7 mile long stretch west of Denver is the highest motor-traffic tunnel in the world.

On Oct. 5, 1974, the walk ended when David reached his home at Waseca.

"You learn to be a survivor," David stated. "There’s two reasons I didn’t die – I’m too stubborn and I was in great shape."

"The greatest danger was traffic, and the number one problem was the language barrier."

How could they stand all that walking? Walking 15 miles every day produced sore leg muscles and blisters and calluses on his feet. Sooner or later he knew they’d get toughened up.

Food was not a problem along the walk as they carried a lot of foodstuffs and water on their pack mule. Also, people were hospitable to their needs along the way.

Only once they got sick with dysentery. From European Turkey to Asian Turkey, they drank some water from a water bag made of goat skin. "We were sick for 10 days, but we kept going." While going through the desert, there was a period of 22 days that he hadn’t taken a shower.

The time David was the most scared was one night in Turkey when they saw dark shadows and dogs were barking. "We slept with two knives – a knife in each hand."

David admitted they were naïve. Some of the newspaper pictures of them with their mule were embarrassing. But in the long run, "publicity was very important to help us make the walk."

David’s photo has appeared in the Guinness Book of World Records, and his walk earned a spot on Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

The daily journal he kept, which got to be over 30 feet long, was made into a book, "The Man Who Walked Around the World," co-authored by Clinton Trowbridge. The walk is recorded with the Minnesota Historical Society. Peter also wrote a book "Steps of Adventure".

David was honored as a Community Hero and was given the opportunity to carry the torch for the 1996 Olympics.

For David, the walk around the world was an adventure into new territory, and, that Australian schoolteacher who helped him across Australia, has since become his wife.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, June 03, 2004
Article comment by: Millie Butler

Dave & Pete are great friends. I knew them well when they were in Perth, Western Australia. They did a grand job and are wonderful ambassadors for their country. Well done, Dave and Pete! Best wishes to Al and Augusta, too.

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