Cycling Across America

German cyclist lives his dream by crossing U.S. to raise awareness for rare diseases.

Jorg Richter takes a break from his 8,000 mile journey across the U.S. for a picture on a lonely road leading to Utah’s Monument Valley. (Photo courtesy of Jorg Richter)
Jorg Richter takes a break from his 8,000 mile journey across the U.S. for a picture on a lonely road leading to Utah’s Monument Valley. (Photo courtesy of Jorg Richter)

Jorg Richter pedals with a purpose. The 58-year-old cyclist from Wurzburg, Germany, is on a mind boggling 8,000-mile trek from San Francisco to New York by way of Toronto that marks his fourth major bike ride to raise awareness for rare diseases through a partnership with the Munich-based Care-For-Rare Foundation. Like he has on his past journeys, Richter is stopping at children’s hospitals along the way to share a little inspiration. His journey began on April 4th at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford and is scheduled to wrap-up in New York in September at the headquarters of the Jeffrey Modell Foundation, which has an ongoing partnership with CSL Behring.

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Though he’s cycling for a serious cause, Richter is having lots of fun along the way. His Facebook page reads like a travelogue of America with shots of himself and newfound friends taken in California’s unforgiving Death Valley, Utah’s stunning Monument Valley and the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. We chatted with Richter while he was resting for a few days in Minneapolis, where he took in his first baseball game.

Editor's Note: Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Vita: This is far from your first long bike ride, but it may be your biggest challenge yet. What made you want to do this?

Jorg Richter: I've been a cyclist since I was 14, so I've been on the bike in New Zealand, Israel, all over Europe. This is my fourth ride for the Care-For-Rare Foundation.  In 2015 it was the short stint from Seattle to New York with four children's hospitals in between and then in 2016 it was from San Francisco to Las Vegas, the loneliest road in Nevada.  I was always dreaming about that, so I fulfilled that dream. Last year it was Munich to Madrid on European soil. And this year it's the big one as I quit my job on April 1st and said, "Well, life's too short to die behind an office desk. And let's do something with a purpose, with passion, with emotions, with kids," and, well, here I am halfway through.

Map of Jorg Richter's journey across U.S.

Jorg Richter’s planned route across the United States and Canada.

Vita: What keeps bringing you back to the United States?

Jorg RichterWell that goes at least as far back to my childhood days. Back in 1965, when I was 8, I got a book about a guy who cycled the world. And I said to myself, "I'm going to do something like that once." I always thought the U.S. was such a great country with all of these different states. I think it’s fulfilling a dream.

Richter poses with his fully-loaded ride while passing through the Rocky Mountains in Loveland Pass, Colorado. (Photo courtesy of Jorg Richter)

Jorg Richter poses with his fully-loaded ride while passing through the Rocky Mountains in Loveland Pass, Colorado. (Photo courtesy of Jorg Richter)

Vita: Why have you chosen rare disease awareness for your cause?

Jorg Richter: Four years ago, three good friends of mine died more or less in a row and that was the main motivation to have a look at my own bucket list. I always worked with kids, so I decided to do something for them and contacted the Care-for-Rare Foundation.  I'm not employed, I don't get any money, I do it for the sheer fun of it all. They are happy to have that colorful clown who's open minded about meeting people and showing up and being spontaneous. So we fit perfectly well together.

Vita: So what's been the biggest challenge so far on this trip? Is it the physical effort required to make the journey?

Jorg Richter: It's a challenge but not an exhausting one. It's not torture. At least I'm living the dream. So even if there are bad headwind days in between, I always say, "Well, I'm able to do stuff like that." Whereas the kids in the hospitals, they would be happy to only have one day of headwinds. So, it’s a challenge, but it's more sort of a joyful adventure.

Vita: What kind of training regimen do you have to get ready for something like this?

Jorg Richter: During the winter months in Germany I spent hours and hours on a stationary bike in front of the TV. You can’t just show up and say, "Well, the fitness is going to develop on the way." I think you could do short stints like that; but not across county and the U.S.

Vita: Do you ever take a rest?

Jorg Richter: From Denver to Moorhead, Minnesota, that was 14 days in a row without a break. Normally I looked at six, eight days of cycling and then a day off. There are breaks in between that are a little bit longer. It's not the race across America, it's the ride across America and I'm interested in meeting people, talking, sharing ideas, visions and dreams. The main target is awareness and I think that's what I'm made for. I'm the colorful, stinky, sweaty, crazy clown.