BANGOR, Maine — Cancer didn’t take out Randolph Westphal. Neither did 28 surgeries to remove it. Neither did a hit-and run crash in Argentina that knocked him off his bike and severed a portion of his lower leg — though that came close.
Westphal, 56, will be out and about Monday, biking around Bangor, and he wants you to say hi if you see him.
Westphal, a bearded German with a “family” of two huskies, named Nanook and Chinook, has been cycling across the globe, country by country, for more than two decades. His goal: spread cancer awareness and the message that those fighting the disease should never give up hope.
He was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 1987. Doctors gave him six months to a year to live. Two years later, he had finished his treatments and decided to bike — more than 2,000 miles through Europe in 7 weeks. He wanted to prove he could survive, he said.
In 1990, he brought his bike to the United States and biked from New York, through New England and into Quebec. While in Quebec, he was asked to speak at a hospital to a room filled with cancer patients. They took to his story and found it inspiring, he said, so he decided he wanted to continue traveling the globe spreading a message of support.
In the decades since, Westphal estimates he has biked some 132,000 miles, or the equivalent of more than five trips around the equator.
Westphal has had to ease off his cycling in the past year. Last August he collapsed on the side of a road in British Columbia, he said. Doctors said an infection in his heart was the cause. His physician advised him that he shouldn’t continue pedaling a heavy bike long distances while laden with gear and a cart that he pulls behind to carry his dogs at times.
In September, after recovering in a hospital, he bought an old Ford Expedition with Utah plates at an auction, set up a cot in the back and began using that to travel the long stretches between stops. After arriving in a town or city, he’ll pull out his bike and go for a shorter, less strenuous ride in the area.
His journey brought him to Bangor once before, in 1990. Both times, he has stopped in Bangor as part of a route that took him through the Northeast and into the Canadian Maritime provinces.
“No doctor in the world can heal a person,” Westphal said. Doctors treat symptoms and cure illness, but it’s up to the individual to heal their body and spirit from illness, he argues.
In 1996, Westphal survived a serious crash while biking in Argentina when a motorist struck him and left him for dead in a ditch. The lower portion of his leg had to be reattached before he was sent to a hospital in Germany to recover.
Westphal is staying Sunday night and Monday in a complimentary room at the Fireside Inn on Main Street in Bangor and welcomed people to come speak with him about his journey and share experiences with cancer or life in general.
On Monday morning he plans on biking around Bangor to see the sights and talk to people. He said anyone is welcome to stop him to chat and welcomed donations to help him cover the cost of his gas, food and supplies for the trip.
His bike will be the one with a sign that reads “Never give up. Fight cancer” on the back and likely will have a couple sledding dogs attached. He should be out in the morning, because the dogs prefer to run when its cool.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter @nmccrea213