Five years after his last stop in Creston, German cancer survivor Randolph Westphal arrived in town on Sunday on his sixth trip around the world.
He has one less dog and is now riding an electrically assisted bike, but he remains the picture of health for a man who, at 55, has had more surgeries than most people have had doctors’ appointments.
Westphal was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 1987. His lymph nodes were removed and he was given six months to a year to live.
“I have 28 cancer surgeries behind me, but only four of them found more malignancies,” he smiled during his stopover, during which he was hosted at the Downtowner Motor Inn.
Determined not to let skin cancer end his life, Westphal embarked on his first journey around the world, a bike tour that led to his amassing a current total of more than 205,000 kilometres of riding distance.
In 1996 he learned that cancer wouldn’t be the only challenge to threaten his life. A collision with an 18-wheel truck in Argentina led to a five-year stay in hospitals and rehab facilities. A severed leg was reattached and he lost his memory and sense of smell. Part of Westphal’s rehab program involved reading his diaries to help him piece together memories of his past. His injuries required another 30 surgeries.
“Doctors told me I would never get out of the wheelchair,” he recalled. “Two years later, I was out of the wheelchair.”
Eventually, he recovered sufficiently to get back on his bicycle and start riding again.
“I like to show people I am an example of hope,” he said.
Westphal gets no financial help from cancer agencies — he’s not on the road to collect money. He accepts, but does not solicit, donations to help cover his living costs.
On this leg of his sixth world tour, which he said will be his last by bicycle (“The next time you see me I’ll be on a motorcycle!”), he loaded his beloved huskies, the mother-and-son team of Chinook and Nanook, onto his bike trailer and set off from Vancouver. With the dogs on the trailer, Westphal is towing a weight of about 270 kilograms.
“I started a couple of weeks ago and it was amazing how hot it was for this time of year,” he said. “Then there were three days of rain.”
The 60-kilometre climb from Hope to Manning Park Lodge on Highway 3 still has him shaking his head.
“That’s the longest hill I have ever done, anywhere in the world.”
Westphal left Highway 3 and went to Kelowna and then Revelstoke before heading back south through Creston. Battling the flu, he nevertheless set back out on Monday to head for Alberta, then to ride north to Alaska.
“I’m 55 but I feel like I’m 100 right now,” he said. “But I like to motivate. A lot of people find hope in my story.”