Putting pedals to the medals
Mike Thomas/Yukon News
Since he was a boy, Klaus Luttgen has dreamed of coming to the Yukon.
For the last two months the 52-year-old German has been living his dream.
When he was laid off from his job as an auto worker last year, he saw an opportunity.
He sold most of his possessions and bought a ticket for Vancouver.
“It’s the tour of a lifetime,” he said.
At the beginning of June, Luttgen set out from Vancouver on a 30-year-old ladies Dutch bicycle, with a small trailer in tow.
This trip isn’t just about personal gratification, it’s a journey of reconciliation, said Luttgen.
Three years ago, his father died.
They had been estranged for years.
Luttgen left home at the age of 15, dropped out of school and adopted a bohemian lifestyle.
That didn’t sit well with his father, a meticulous and proper man.
Luttgen reformed his wild ways years ago, but never patched things up with his father.
“That was absolutely horrible for me,” he said.
His father was an avid collector of Cologne Carnival medals.
He had amassed more than 20,000 of the commemorative charms over the years, all of which he left to his son.
The majority of the collection Luttgen donated to his the Cologne museum, but he kept about 200 for himself.
He’s passing them out to people he meets on the road.
“I’m giving them to people that help me on the way, with a place to stay, a small meal, a coffee or nothing but friendship,” he said.
By doing this he’s hoping to “clear things up,” with his father.
“Now that I’m older, I understand the problems with my father better and I know now that he wasn’t a bad man,” he said.
It was bicycle tours of the German countryside with his father that first started him in cycling.
In a way he’s still with him on this trip.
“I speak to him on tour,” said Luttgen.
When he left Vancouver, he only had a handful of his father’s medals.
The rest he mailed to himself, but they were delayed by postal strike.
A friend had to relay them to Whitehorse.
“I’m so happy to have my medals finally,” he said patting a package wrapped in brown paper. “Now my tour can continue.”
He plans to travel from Whitehorse to Dawson City, then it’s on to Alaska.
He’s most excited about seeing Valdez.
“In my dreams I often stay in this town,” he said.
He’ll then turn back south for Skagway where he plans to take a boat to Prince Rupert, ending up back in Vancouver by October.
The entire four-month trip will be about 6,000 kilometres.
He’s documenting the whole thing on video, and writing about it for a German newspaper and on his website, http://www.rocktheroads.de.
Pedaling an old bicycle thousands of kilometres over mountains, through the rain and the cold can be difficult, but it’s all worth it, he said.
“I think the hardest things are the best things.”
The hospitality of the Canadians has helped a lot, said Luttgen.
“I’ve met so many people here that have helped me on my tour,” he said. “Everyone has been so friendly.”
Once he finishes this trip, he plans on coming back with his girlfriend to show her some of the places he has been.
Her love and support helped make the trip happen, he said.
“I’m so happy she’s a little crazy just like me.”
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