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In October, extreme athlete Guido Kunze biked across Germany, visiting all 16 states. Covering 1,450 miles and 110,000 feet of altitude, he collected donations for thirty bikes for World Bicycle Relief. And he didn’t let anything stand in his way — not even hurricane Ignatz.

If Tamara Zieschang had known extreme athlete Guido Kunze, she probably would have been prepared for what was about to come. The Interior Minister for Saxony-Anhalt was waiting outside Magdeburg Cathedral, and the moment Kunze came around the corner heavy rain started to fall, which — together with strong gusts of wind — battered the politician’s hair. Luckily, Kunze was being accompanied by his family and a motorhome, which provided a warm and dry refuge for the two of them to talk.

Laughing, Guido Kunze tells the politician how much he is drawn to bad weather, although he actually prefers the sun and warmth, and how this is now his sixth day pedaling in the cold, rain, and storms. He started in Munich, passing through all the federal states and visiting each state chancellery, and finishing in Erfurt. His mission: To promote cycling and collect donations for World Bicycle Relief, an organization that helps people in developing countries to gain access to mobility through donated bicycles.

1,450 miles and 110,000 feet of altitude lie ahead of the extreme athlete as Jörg Hölsch from the Bavarian Ministry of Finance and Juana Gräter from World Bicycle Relief send him on his way at 8 o’clock on Sunday morning. His journey will take him through Stuttgart, Saarbrücken, Mainz, Wiesbaden, Düsseldorf, Hanover, Bremen, Hamburg, Kiel, Schwerin, Berlin, Potsdam, Magdeburg, and Dresden to Erfurt.

 

This is what autumn break looks like for the family of an extreme athlete: their Thuringia home is swapped for a motorhome, and life is confined to 25 by 8 feet for a week. Guido’s wife, Gaby, patiently steers the “ship” even to the remotest of corners, and takes care of all organizational tasks and the catering. Son Marvin gets on his bike every now and then to keep his dad company. And Marvin’s little brother, Melvin, passes the time in the back of the motorhome with all kinds of electronic companions.

It feels like a wonderfully exciting adventure for all involved — until the German Meteorological Service announces the inbound hurricane Ignatz, that is. The rain starts as early as Mainz, the winds grow ever stronger, the conditions move farther and farther away from what would make a golden October, and the journey feels more and more like trial than an adventure. But Guido doesn’t let it get him down. He’s already ridden the Race Across America. 3,400 miles across the United States. Over a week with practically no sleep. Or running against an escalator for 24 hours. More than 60,000 steps. “Whether you can stick it out depends purely on your mental strength,” he says.  Even when it’s growing increasingly miserable outside, he is motivated by the fact that he’ll be receiving the same prestigious reception in North Rhine-Westphalia from Economics Minister, Andreas Pinkwart, as he will from Interior Minister, Sabine Sütterlin-Waack, in Kiel. Despite the hardships, Guido never lets his spirits be dampened, always has a smile on his face, and carries his unshakable sense of humor in his heart:

“At least I have the wind at my back,” he says of the storm, which has had a massive impact on rail travel for the last day. But it hasn’t affected Guido’s “Extreme Tour of Germany”.

While things are getting steadily more uncomfortable in the motorhome, Guido continues to stoically work through his schedule outside. His drenched clothes slowly dry on clotheslines while the storm continues to rage. Guido reaches the capital just as the rain finally lets up. The Red City Hall, Federal Chancellery, Reichstag building, and Brandenburg Gate form the imposing backdrop for his visit to Berlin. Bundestag Vice President, Wolfgang Kubicki, and party leader of the Free Democratic Party, Christian Lindner were both expected to be in attendance—but they have to cancel at short notice. Their duty to form a new government doesn’t allow them the freedom to be there. Instead, Guido receives many an astonished look from the participants of the Fridays for Future demonstration, who are currently gathering at the Brandenburg Gate.

“I don’t know what’s better: rain and a tailwind, or cold and a headwind,” says Guido, who is now staying mostly dry but struggling along woefully long straights toward Potsdam and Dresden, sometimes at speeds of less than 12 miles per hour. At least there’s an instant pasta meal in the motorhome for sustenance and a restful night’s sleep in Dresden as — against all the odds — Guido is still making good time. And in the morning — what a luxury — breakfast with his family in a restaurant for the first time in six days.

On the home stretch toward Erfurt, Guido rides into a picturesque sunset. The fall suddenly reveals itself in all its colorful glory, as if to pay its respects to the extreme athlete’s achievement. Guido rolls casually toward Thuringia’s capital. At the state chancellery, he is welcomed by a host of friends, a television crew from MDR, and Laura Wahl, a member of the state parliament from the Greens. Wahl has a donation check for one of a total of 30 donated bicycles in her bag, the TV people are following the action with interest on the camera, and young Theo hands Guido a homemade medal that says: “World Champion Guido. You’re a star.” The only question now is how everything will turn out next year, as Guido Kunze is planning to cycle the same route again in one go — and thus set a record for the Guinness Book of Records. The likelihood that he will accomplish this feat is probably as great as it raining cats and dogs as he does so.

 

Would you like to support Guido in his project? Find out more about the campaign here.

Text and photos: Jens Vögele

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