Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

German cyclist riding across US stops at Belen fire station

Retired German firefighter and cyclist Jorg Richter, pictured center, is surrounded by his brothers at the Belen Fire Department. Richter is cycling across America and staying at as many firehouses as possible. (Clara Garcia/Valencia County News Bulletin)

BELEN – Jörg Richter has cycled across America over and over again to raise money for a children’s charity, but this time he’s including his brothers: fellow firefighters.

Richter, a retired German firefighter, stopped for a friendly visit and stayed overnight at the Belen fire station last week as he continued on his journey. The 62-year-old cyclist is on a mission – to raise funds for Care-for-Rare, a nonprofit organization that helps children with rare diseases.

Starting off in Oakland, California, in March, Richter is on his way to New York City by way of a bicycle and the friendly hospitality of strangers. His inspiration for the long and arduous journey is children with terminal diseases.

“I’ve always dreamed about cycling the US since I was a kid,” Richter said. “I postponed, postponed, postponed. I always wanted to cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge, and when my three best friends died in 2013 – more or less in a row – I said I wasn’t going to postpone anything any more.”

Richter said he decided to do it not only for his personal pleasure, but also for children who can’t fulfill their own dreams because they’re too ill. That’s when he found Care-for-Rare, which connects the best doctors and hospitals.

In 2015, Richter cycled from Seattle to New York City in 3½ months. In 2016, he rode from San Francisco to NYC and, in 2018, he made the same trip in half a year.

Every trip is different in terms of the amount of money he raises for Care-for-Rare. He said the best day was when German actor Heino Fersch donated 50,000 euros for the organization. On average, on the road, he raises about $1,200 to $2,000 per trip.

“I’m taking the same path this year that I did four years ago because there are so many volunteer firefighter stations along the way,” Richter said.

It will be in Kansas City, Missouri, that Richter makes his decision whether he’ll take the southern or the northern route. There, he’ll make a special stop to visit with a terminally ill 15-year-old girl he met in 2011 who has an incurable nerve and muscle disorder, and who believe they won’t live to see another birthday.

“For me, personally, the emotional footprint is more urgent for the kids,” he said. “The energy from the kids is unbelievable.”

Richter’s ride from Tucson, Arizona, into Silver City and over the Black Range to Truth or Consequences was the longest stretch he’s accomplished—90 miles and 6,000 feet of elevation. He made a stop in Socorro before riding into the Hub City last Thursday. He’s also flying the Ukraine flag in honor of the country.

While Richter says riding on the interstate might sound dangerous to Americans, it’s nothing in comparison to German roads.

“It’s the safest stuff ever, with the small exception of all that (trash) on the shoulder,” he said. “I had two flats yesterday. It’s definitely no fun changing the tube on the shoulder, but otherwise it’s uncomplicated.”

So far, Richter has had to fix six flat tires during his first 1,400 miles of his trip – thanks to the roads in Arizona and New Mexico.

As he continues his ride across the country, Richter has been greeted by the friendliest of firefighters, including in Belen.

“They’ve been so gracious,” Richter said of the Belen firefighters. “They welcomed me and are great people.

“I chose New Mexico on purpose. I wanted to see the desert and, more or less, the boring nothing,” Richter said. “But it’s beautiful.”

After leaving Belen, he headed to Albuquerque, then to Santa Fe and Colorado.

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