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Cancer survivor begins sixth world cycling tour – with his dogs

Cyclist Randolph Westphal of Germany stopped in Abbotsford overnight on Wednesday, with dogs Chinook (left) and Nanook, as part of a 40,000 km trip to inspire people battling cancer.  - Vikki Hopes
Cyclist Randolph Westphal of Germany stopped in Abbotsford overnight on Wednesday, with dogs Chinook (left) and Nanook, as part of a 40,000 km trip to inspire people battling cancer.
— image credit: Vikki Hopes

Randolph Westphal has survived 28 cancer surgeries – four of them life-threatening – and a five-year hospital stay following a near-fatal crash on his bicycle.

But the 55-year-old from Germany keeps on pedalling.

Westphal began his sixth "world" bicycle tour on May 4, after arriving in Vancouver from Frankfurt. He is accompanied by his beloved Alaskan malamutes Nanook and her son Chinook.

The trio have since cycled through communities such as Richmond, Burnaby, New Westminster, Surrey and Langley, with an overnight stay in Abbotsford on Wednesday, May 8.

Westphal proceeds today (Thursday) to Chilliwack, then to Hope and, eventually, to Alaska and back south to the Olympic Peninsula and Vancouver Island.

In all, he plans to tally 40,000 km on his Raleigh Dover Lite Premium electrical bike over the next six months. By the end of the journey, he will have accumulated about 250,000 km among all six trips.

His dogs sit comfortably and happily on a cart pulled by the bike, bringing the total weight – including gear – to 240 kilograms. On the back of his seat is a sign stating, "Never give up. Fight cancer."

"I'm biking around to show people what you can do when you have cancer. I want to inspire – never give up," he said during an interview in his hotel room at the Best Western Bakerview Inn in Abbotsford.

Westphal and his dogs travel alone, unlike the large entourages sometimes accompanying similar projects, and depend on the kind hearts of strangers.

The Best Western hotel chain, for example, provides free accommodation for Westphal in Canada, helping him to stick to his budget of $10 to $12 a day.

Along the way, Westphal is a motivational speaker for groups such as university students, cancer support groups and hospital workers. His is a story about survival and perseverance.

When he was first diagnosed with malignant melanoma (skin cancer) in 1987, he was given six months to a year to live.

That year, he completed a 73,000 km trip from Colorado Springs to Alaska and back, setting a Guinness World Record for the longest bicycle trip with dogs.

In 1996, during another one of his cycling tours, he almost died when he was struck by a hit-and-run driver and thrown into a ditch in Argentina. His dog Shir Khan – the great-grandfather of Chinook – died at the scene.

He still bears the long, thick scars on his left leg where doctors reattached his nearly severed foot. Westphal also suffered a major brain injury and spent five years recovering, including one year in a wheelchair. The doctors never thought he would walk again.

His love of adventure, and support from people around the world who know his story, drew him back on the road.

His favourite places to travel are B.C. and the Yukon because of their natural beauty and a climate that is suitable for his dogs. He has not ruled out another tour after this one.

"I think I have a sickness called travelling," he laughed.

For more information, visit Westphal's website randolph-westphal.de

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