Jorg Richter, a former firefighter from Germany, has been riding his bike across America since early-April in an effort to raise awareness for children fighting rare childhood diseases. His epic journey began in San Francisco and is scheduled to finish in mid-September in Connecticut.
During his journey Richter will be stopping at numerous children’s hospitals where he’ll hand out teddy bears from the Care-for-Rare Foundation – an international organization based in Germany created to help children with rare diseases.
The Care-for-Rare Foundation primarily funds research for children with rare diseases so they can gain more efficient access to cutting edge genetic diagnoses and innovative therapeutic methods.
Richter’s ride has a two-fold mission. One, raise awareness for the rare childhood diseases, and two, bring some cheer to the victims of the diseases. Richter gives a teddy bear to each child he meets at the hospitals he visits.
Richter’s ride took him through Page last week. Besides making stops at children’s hospitals Richter has also scheduled in time to visit some of America’s favorite attractions. He visited Zion National Park while passing through St. George, and he visited Horseshoe Bend while visiting Page.
Richter says the favorite part of his trip is America’s wide-open vistas, which to him seem unbelievable.
“America’s wide open, empty horizon are most impressive,” he said. “We don’t have anything like that in Germany. While riding from Milford [Utah] to Delta [Utah] it was just me, an open road and wide open country from horizon to horizon.
“Riding Long Canyon on the Burr Trail was equally impressive. In Germany, if we had uch a road they’d have an entrance fee we’d have to pay to ride through it once.”
While spreading his message of love and hope across America, Richter has been the recipient of a good deal of hospitality and good will himself, most of which has come from firefighters who house him for the night when he passes through their town. The practice started his first night out in Gilroy, Calif., a day’s bike ride from San Francisco
Richter worked as a firefighter in the 90s, and he knew firefighters were a brotherhood, at least in Germany, and he suspected they were in America too.
“I thought if things went wrong during my travels l could always show up at a fire station and ask them for help,” he said.
His first day’s ride brought him to Gilroy, Calif. and there he called up some firefighters and invited them for a cup of coffee. Over coffee he asked if they knew of a safe place where he could pitch his tent.
They told him, “Forget the tent, you’re staying with us tonight.”
The next morning the firefighters asked him how far he’d be traveling that day and then they called ahead to that city’s fire station and made a reservation for him.
“And that’s how it’s been pretty much ever since,” said Richter. “Whatever fire station I stay at for the night calls ahead to the next one for me. And not just that, they feed me as well. It’s quite incredible to me that it happens at all. In Germany, for me to stay overnight at a fire station would require paper work, and officials involved.”
While in Page, Richter stayed with Leslie and Ray Holsten.
From Page, Richter rode to Kayenta, then up to Durango where he was held up from traveling because his route was over-run from a forest fire. Richter says he’s honored to ride for the Care-for-Rare Foundation. They let him just be himself.
“Sometimes I arrive at the hospital stinky and sweaty, but the kids don’t care. My main idea is to show up as colorful as possible and distribute the teddy bears to the kids and spread awareness of these rare childhood diseases like a little avalanche.”
He has wanted to do a long-distance bike ride ever since he was a kid.
“I got a book from my grandma back then about a guy who cycled the world from 1965 to ’67, which was quite an adventure back then,” Richter said. “So back then I said, ‘well, if I am grown up, I will do something like that sometime.'”
But the dream of an epic bike ride got put on the back burner while he finished school, started a career and family.
But a few years ago, three of Richter’s good friends died, all around the same time.
They were all near the same age as Richter, and their deaths served as a wake up call.
“It was time to get serious about my bucket list,” he said.
And now that he’s doing it he finds that it’s even bigger, grander and more fulfilling than he ever imagined it would be. Every day is filled with new vistas, new friends and new stories.
Richter’s ride has been a very emotional experience. When his own rich, life-affirming life is juxtaposed against the lives the kids he visits with rare diseases it’s a startling juxtaposition.
And his long hours alone on a bike gives him lots of time to contemplate it.
“A lot of these kids know they’ll never leave the hospital,” he said. “We are the lucky ones. We can wake up every morning with no big health issues and live our lives. We can walk out the door and do what we feel like today. We’re free to pursue our dreams.”