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Flowery Branch man travels from Seattle to San Francisco — by unicycle
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Bill Mueller of Flowery Branch riding his unicycle in downtown Gainesville. - photo by Austin Steele

William Mueller was taught to “do what you can where you are with what you have,” he said. And Mueller has a unicycle.

Astride his unicycle, the Flowery Branch resident crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco Aug. 23, finishing the first phase of a mission to ride his one wheel across the United States.

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Bill Mueller. - photo by Austin Steele

Mueller, 52, started his journey on Independence Day in Seattle. He drove cross-country from Gainesville a few days before. Mueller spoke to The Times about the plans for his trip in June and caught up in August after the first leg was completed.

Mueller is also looking for donations to help fund his trip, which is intended to raise money for two charities. He said he’s not looking to collect any donations himself and serve as a middle man for the two charities, but instead to direct people directly to the funds themselves.

His goal: To raise funds and awareness for two charities close to his heart: Disabled American Veterans and the International Association of Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund.

“I just feel like that cause encompasses so many different needs,” Mueller said of DAV in June. “We’ve got veterans from Vietnam who are living under bridges in Atlanta — PTSD, they can’t keep a normal job sometimes … there’s no easy answer to any of that. I just feel I want to call attention to it.”

But Mueller, no relation to Robert, is particularly invested in helping firefighters. His late brother, Gary Mueller, was a 20-year firefighter in Florida when he fell from a second-story deck, breaking his back and severing his spinal cord. The injury left him paralyzed from the chest down. 

The former mortgage broker, restaurant manager and Amazon employee has ridden unicycles for most of his life, and he’s made news in Gainesville before. In 2010, Mueller rode 100 miles in one day to raise money for his brother Gary as part of his “One Wheel, One Day, One Hundred Miles” event.

The fundraiser was a success, and Mueller used the money to help pay for an accessible van for his brother. But in a tragic turn, Gary Mueller died only a few months after the van was purchased.

Since then, his brother has wanted to turn that 2010 fundraiser into an achievement of a lifetime: Riding a unicycle from Seattle to the Florida Keys.

He picked up the talent by happenstance from his other brother, Dennis Mueller, a retired fire chief in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Dennis taught him how to ride a unicycle when William was just 12 years old.

“We’re about 8 or 9 years apart, so when he was already an adult and moved out of the house, I found his dusty, cobwebby unicycle in the closet and started playing around with it,” Mueller said. “He helped me, and within a few months I learned how to ride.”

Dennis also learned to ride at about 12 years old, he said.

Beginning July 4, the Flowery Branch resident launched his cross-country trip from Seattle, documenting the journey on Facebook and Instagram. For most of the journey, he wore a 60-plus-pound pack and either camped out nights or slept in cheap motels along the route into California.

The trip through the Pacific Northwest has been grueling — Mueller found himself climbing up hills that cut down his miles covered each day, even given the unexpected advantages of a unicycle over a bike.

“When you’re on a unicycle, all your weight is over the one axle. You can actually climb a pretty steep hill — sometimes I pass bicycles,” Mueller said. “They’ll be a low gear and spinning and slowly climbing and I’ll crank by them. They’ll always pass me downhill, of course.”

At the outset, Mueller aimed to complete the journey in one trip in one attempt that would have spanned more than four months. But the effort has had a financial toll to match the physical toll, and with his personal funds running short, he said on Friday that he’s had to put a pin in the rest of his effort while he returns to Hall County to recover.

“The financial aspect just got me,” Mueller said in a phone interview from California, where he was born. “I don’t care if it took me eight months.”

He was hoping to leverage social media and the attention from his ride to help pay for the ride, but with bills racking up he had to call the adventure quits.

For now.

Mueller said he plans to return to the cross-country trip — a personal task he felt personally and spiritually called to overcome. The evangelical Christian and member of Free Chapel in Gainesville said, 

“After my brother Dennis proposed the idea it just kind of took root. And then I started to feel led to do it, like this is something I need to do,” Mueller said. “And then some interesting little coincidences happened. I guess people could call them coincidences but to me it felt like kind of a sign.”

Mueller described being presented with small opportunities for acts of service — including one big discount on food at the grocery store that led him to hand it out to the homeless in Atlanta — and having people cross his path who nudged him toward the trip.

“There was this lady from Tokyo in Centennial Park, and all of a sudden I thought, ‘You know what, I’m going to stop and talk to this lady,’” Mueller said, noting the woman was in Atlanta on business. “She walks over … and says, ‘You know, I told myself that if you stopped, I would talk to you.’”

Mueller told her about the mission he hoped to take and the causes he hoped to support.

“The next thing out of her mouth — and I wasn’t asking for anything, I didn’t have a donation jar — she said, ‘Can I give you money?’” he said.

She handed him a $100 bill to help fund the trip, and his will to take his trip was solidified.

In the journey, he blogged and recorded his trip on social media, he talked with strangers and told them about what he was riding for, but, most of all, he prayed and developed a connection with God over the miles of his ride.

On a good day, he covered about 30 miles, giving him time to himself to think and to pray.

And on Aug. 23, he rolled across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, marking the end of what he’s calling the first phase of his trip. 

View this post on Instagram

Wow, what a great way to finish the 1st 1,000 miles! Rode across the Golden Gate Bridge yesterday, and had a lot of fun helping a bunch of various people sit on Bambi 😀 After going through Sausalito, the last climb up to bridge level was crazy! I would love to be able to continue riding, right now, all the way to Key West, but because I can't financially afford it, I have to call this 1st 1,000 miles the completion of phase one. I have to keep my phone turned on, etc. It is costing twice what I thought, and taking twice as long. So, my plan is to finish this mission April-June, 2020. I will be working on sponsorships, and working two jobs to make this happen. I want to thank everyone that helped me to get this far, especially my brother Dennis that just spent the last week supporting me financially and with his time and energy. Also, John Gustav, for your generosity early in my ride. A big thanks to my girlfriend Elizabeth (and sister Lori), for care packages and help. I am thankful for my health, family, and friends, and I'm sorry I can't mention everyone here, but please know that I greatly appreciate all the help and love. I'll be back! #davhq #iaffburnfoundation #onegodonewheelonecountry #unipacking #unicycledotcomusa #seattle #oregon #california #lovestruckstop #fgcu #fgcugrad #todayshow #3rdhourtoday #spinthewheel #foxtv

A post shared by William Rhino Mueller (@rhinoventures) on

It was frustrating to run out of the funding he needed to complete the trip in one go, he said, but he’ll be back on the road in April no matter what.

And — just as when he started his journey — he’s leaning on God to help him through it.

“I’m hoping I’ll have a little grace on my side,” Mueller said.