By Katie Demeria
WOODSTOCK -- Two dogs sat quietly on a cart, ignoring passersby. But when Randolph Westphal approached, they perked up, wagging their tails. They knew him well -- they have traveled thousands of miles with him.
Westphal is a 56-year-old man from Nidderau, Germany. Since 1987, he has traveled 132,000 miles by bicycle with his dogs. This week, he will be in the Shenandoah Valley, traveling between Woodstock on Friday and Front Royal Sunday.
Over the years, Westphal has ridden through South America, North America and Europe. He moves from city to city, responding to requests from groups who wish him to speak about his story.
And he does all this because he was diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer in 1987.
"It was malignant melanoma," he said. "They told me I had six to 12 months to live. Now I have thousands of miles behind me.
"I travel and I tell people, especially with cancer, to never give up," he continued.
Westphal lives his life by that message, he added. It is even displayed on the back of his bike: "Never give up, fight cancer."
When asked how many times he has been told he will die, Westphal said he stopped counting after 12.
"Cats have nine lives, they say," he added. "I think I have a lot more than that."
In 1996, a truck in Argentina ran over him and he spent five years in a German hospital. In that accident, he lost one of his dogs and 93 percent of his memories.
"I had traveled 73,000 miles, and I forgot all about it," he said.
Though told he would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, Westphal recovered and returned to his bicycle.
Since making his decision to start traveling, Westphal has had to deal with a variety of ailments, but not one, he said, stopped him from continuing to spread his message.
In Argentina he picked up an infection in his leg from which he still suffers, and in 1992 he had to have a tumor in his arm removed in North Carolina.
"They call me a living legend in the United States," he said. "I raise awareness, not money. I show people how I have survived, and that they can survive too."
Westphal's dogs are his companions during his travels. Nanook, a female Siberian husky, and Chinook, a male Alaskan Malamute, work with Westphal to get him from one destination to the next
The two sit on the cart behind Westphal's bike when he is going downhill, and help pull the load when he goes uphill.
"They are my family, they are my children," Westphal said.
Traveling with Nanook and Chinook, Westphal said he has developed a strong connection with the natural world. The most beautiful places he has seen include Alaska, Utah, and Yukon, Canada.
"Nature is everything," he said. "The environment matters so much, and it is destroyed every day. I want people to see what I see. Everything we do wrong with mother nature comes back to us."
Westphal tries to encourage the individuals he meets to be environmentally conscious, though he says he has had a more difficult time reaching people in recent months.
"I think people are becoming robots and zombies," he said. "They only stare at their phones and they do not talk to each other anymore."
Westphal said he tends to view this as just another speed bump, though -- it will not deter him from continuing to spread his message. He said he wants only to inspire people to continue fighting and to live the best lives they can.
"When you enjoy your life, you free your mind," he said. "When you free your mind, you free your body. And when you free your body, cancer cannot survive."
Those interested in learning more about Westphal can go to his website at http://www.randolph-westphal.de.
Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org