A nomadic German who’s traveled enough distance on bicycle to circle the world five times rolled through the valley last week alongside his beloved Huskies.
“This is a stretch that I had never done before,” he told The Valley Echo shortly after his arrival at the Prestige Inn in Radium Hot Springs on Friday, June 7th. “I like it very much because here at the Best Western, the Prestige gave me a complimentary room, which is crucial because I live on $10 a day.”
Westphal was prepared, carrying a binder loaded with reference letters from around the world. One of those letters was written by a Best Western executive, and it came in handy last week.
After beginning his first tour in 1987 from Colorado Springs to Alaska, Westphal is working towards completing his sixth trip around the world — but the road has been bumpy.
During that first bike trip, he discovered he had cancer, and was forced to return to Germany for surgery. More than 25 years ago, he was told that, statistically, he had six to twelve months to live.
“Nobody is a statistic,” he staunchly said. “I accept my cancer as a part of my body. It’s not until you accept things you can change them.”
After deciding to make a life out of self-propelled travel, he took his bike to the roads of Europe, North and South America, and then continued his journey. Years later, he nearly lost his cycling ability. In Argentina on October, 31st, 1996, a car rolled over him, killing his first dog and throwing his body in the ditch.
“I almost lost my left leg,” he said, pointing out his irregularly shaped left leg — a leg that would have ceased to exist had it not been for his determined friends. “I was unconscious and they wanted to amputate. When they found out I was from Germany, they called the German Embassy, who called my friends, who made sure I was in the right care that could save my leg.”
He spent years in and out of hospitals.
“And I spoke like Joe Cocker when he had two bottles of whiskey,” he said in a Joe Cocker impression.
Forty-eight operations were required to save his leg, following 28 operations from his cancer treatment years earlier.
After returning to the road, Westphal set a Guiness world record in the late 1990s during a cycling trip through Quebec and the Maritime provinces. His record came from spending 153 days of 203-day trip in sub-zero temperatures.
Through support of people everywhere, cycling with his Huskies is Westphal’s full-time job. He raises awareness about his fight against cancer, reminding those struggling not to ever give up, and that the mind is the most important part of the healing process.
“People go to the doctor and say, ‘Doctor heal me,’ but no doctor in the whole world can heal,” he said. “Doctors can do operations and treatments; everything in his or her power. But to heal, everybody has to do that on their own.”
He said he first had to accept his cancer as a part of his body before he could heal. His attitude seems to be effective so far.
“They say cats have nine lives — I’ve gone through 12 already.”
Although he has experienced many challenges, the cause of his leg injury instills the most fear in Westpal.
“I’ve encountered bears and wolves, but the most dangerous thing there is is a human behind the wheel of a car.”
Following his stay in Radium Hot Springs, Westphal will continue heading north to Whitehorse, Yukon with his dogs, Nanook and Chinook.
“Huskies are family,” he said. “They are loyal and protective, they watch my back and they don’t lie.”
While his lifestyle requires his Huskies to be closer to him than any person, Westphal says that meeting people from all over the world is what inspires him to keep riding.