Biking the world to beat cancer

Randolph Westphal has been attacked by bears and wolves. But it’s humans he’s afraid of. “The worst animal is a human because…

Randolph Westphal has been attacked by bears and wolves.

But it’s humans he’s afraid of.

“The worst animal is a human because they kill me,” he said on Monday.

Westphal is a familiar sight.

“That biking guy with the dogs is back,” someone said on the street on Monday.

Towing a trailer decorated with signs, Westphal and his three huskies are about to finish their fourth trip around the world.

Two years ago, when the German passed through Whitehorse, he was just starting it.

Since then he was once again, attacked by humans.

In Oregon an RV hit Westphal and sent him careening into the ditch.

The driver didn’t stop.

With broken ribs and a broken trailer, Westphal counts himself lucky.

His dogs made it unscathed.

Ten years ago, it was a different story.

While biking through Argentina he was hit by a truck.

The accident took his memory, his sled dog Shir Khan and he almost lost his leg.

“Something happens when people get in cars,” said Westphal.

“They are usually so friendly, then they get in a car and there’s this switch in their brain — they get aggressive.”

Westphal has been risking his life on the road for 15 years.

But it’s worth it.

In 1988, Westphal was diagnosed with skin cancer and told he had six months to live.

“But after one year I was not dead, so I got on my bike and rode across the Alps — 3,500 kilometres in seven weeks — just to prove I’m not sick. I just have cancer.”

After crossing Europe, Westphal headed to New York biking up the coast all the way to Newfoundland, living off donations and the kindness of strangers.

Still needing check-ups every three months, Westphal ended up in a Quebec hospital.

After hearing his story, the doctor asked if Westphal would talk about his experiences to cancer patients.

“But I didn’t know what to say,” said Westphal.

“I just like to live.”

Tell them that, said the doctor.

In exchange for talking, the doctor offered Westphal a free exam.

Walking into a room full of patients, Westphal was greeted by radio, newspaper and television reporters.

“I almost had a heart attack,” he said.

“Then I started talking and people started to cry.”

At first Westphal thought it was his bad English, but soon realized it was the hope he was offering.

It became his calling.

And he’s been biking the world ever since.

“I help cancer patients find hope,” he said.

“I tell people you have to do what you like to do.

“And if you don’t like your job, change it or do something else.”

Money stops people, said Westphal.

But it shouldn’t.

While in Whitehorse Westphal had his rooms, meals and dog food donated.

That’s how he gets by.

And he’s never had much trouble.

When he rolls into town, Westphal always tries to find somewhere to talk.

But Canadians are too slow, he said.

By the time something is set up he’s already on the way out of town.

So Westphal frequents coffee shops.

With his bike and three dogs parked outside, it’s hard to miss the tall German.

Tuesday morning he was holding court at Starbucks, sharing his story.

“Everyone has cancer in their body,” he said.

“Sometimes it comes out and sometimes it doesn’t.”

For Westphal, our health is closely connected to the environment.

“What we do wrong with nature comes back to us,” he said.

Leaving vehicles idling, polluting the planet, it all affects human health.

“If deer eat garbage, then a hunter eats the deer and gets cancers, that’s related,” said Westphal.

“It’s the circle of life, and nature warns us.

“But people always treat the symptoms and never ask why we have them.”

This week, Westphal is heading north to Inuvik, then plans to bike to Dawson and load all his gear into a canoe.

He managed to get the bike and one dog in a canoe last time, but this year he has three huskies.

“We’ll see,” he said with a grin.

From Dawson he hopes to paddle to Circle, then bike to Fairbanks en route to Anchorage, where his world tour will finish.

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