He’s cycled a massive 600,000km by bicycle over the last half century – enough to go around the world 15 times.
Along the way he’s been attacked by bees, shot at by rebels and hit by cars. He ran out of water in the Sahara Desert and had his bike stolen 6 times. Every time he got it back.
Now, 70 years old and still touring on the same bike he started with, Heinz Stücke could be forgiven for slowing down a bit. Not at all. This world nomad is still going strong. In fact, he’s cycling more than ever. All of his last 10 years have made it into his ‘top 20’ in terms of distance. Sometimes he rides for up to 16 hours a day. And in 2008, Stücke covered 22,000km – his biggest year yet.
“The reason is that I like more and more those lonely stretches in the desert and in the forest so I can do more cycling. In the olden days it was like more living: going into the city, staying 3-4 weeks, participating in the culture of the country, which is also interesting. But as I’m getting older somehow it seems more a daily rhythm of progress, of camping, of independence, of nobody bothering you,” he says.
If Stücke’s style has changed over the decades, two things haven’t: he still rides the same 3-speed bike he started out with (although he sometimes uses folding bikes for convenience) and his passion for cycling is still firmly intact. There are no plans for the world’s longest bike tour to stop anytime soon.
“I have found my Shangri-la,” he says, brushing aside the suggestion that he take even a little time away from cycling to write a book. There are still too many parts of the world left to explore.
“While my legs hold out and while there are new places, and there seems to be always new places, it doesn’t matter how old and long I travel…”
Stücke never finishes the sentence. Instead, his mind jumps to the most recent places he visited in Japan and the adventures yet to come: Canada’s north this summer and, if he can raise the money, the remaining far-flung islands needed to complete his quest to visit every country in the world.
Money may not be exactly easy to come by but it’s certainly easier for Stücke now than when he started. He spent his first years scraping by on as little as 50 cents a day and has even resorted to fixing his own teeth with superglue, rather than go to the dentist.
“It was shoestring travel in the first 20 years. You don’t spend any money. You just wait until somebody invites you and then you eat like a camel. You eat 3 kilograms of meat so for the next 3 days you don’t need to eat. It was always like that and no transport was ever paid for.”
“Now I have a bit of a name and money suddenly comes from all kinds of sources and I can even play a bit of a rich guy. I even sponsor other cyclists a little bit because I feel I had such a hard time in the beginning and people gave me so much all the time that it’s about time to give something back.”
To hear the full interview with Heinz Stucke, listen to Episode 34 of the TravellingTwo Bike Touring Podcast.