“Pedals for Medals” journey passes through Valdez
Klaus Luttgen is a man on a mission. As a boy in Cologne, Germany, Luttgen always dreamed of the Far North. It had a macho appeal. As an older and wiser man, he set out on a tour to heal old wounds.
In late August that mission brought Luttgen, aged 52, to Valdez. Having pedaled some 4400 kilometers through Canada, crossing into Alaska the Top of the World highway, and down the Richardson, Luttgen has been reconnecting with his father, who died before the two reconciled an estrangement that lasted decades.
“Me and my father had problems,” he said. “I think it’s not good when you can’t talk with your parents.”
His mother died when he was young and by the age of 15, he’d left home to live his life by his own terms, away from what he felt was his father’s rigid, inflexible influence.
Decades passed, and his father died in 2008, leaving Luttgen with much regret.
But his father also left him a legacy, a collection of over 20,000 pins – he calls them medals – from the Cologne Carnival. The medals are mostly made of tin and are created each year for the carnival by various groups and clubs participating.
Then in a year’s time he lost his job and then ended up hospitalized. He regained his health and realized it was now or never. He would fulfill his lifetime dream to tour Alaska and use the time to reconcile with his dead father.
“This was my last inspiration to do my tour now,” he said.
So he refurbished a 30-year-old woman’s bicycle, bought a discount bike trailer and camping gear and flew to British Columbia. He planned to give away his father’s carnival medals to people he met along the way, especially those that help him in some way.
And that is exactly what he has done.
Through bluebird days and cold, rainy nights, Luttgen has pedaled by day, and given away the medals. Luttgen says the act of giving away the medals is helping him heal old wounds, and reconciling the differences he had with his father. He said he speaks with his late father, and finds it soothing. He believes his father would have approved of the trek and what he is doing.
“I will clear it up before I get older,” he said.
Luttgen left Valdez on the ferry, heading toward Anchorage and beyond before trekking back to Canada. He is slated to return to Germany October, 9.
By the time Luttgen rolled into Valdez, he’d encountered 41 bears, endured all kinds of weather, mechanical breakdowns and a number of hardships, but was always welcomed by the people. First Nations people, other tourists, immigrants and regular Alaskans and Canadians.
“I’ve never met so many friendly people as in the north,” he said. “It’s my inspiration to come back”