Let Us Now Praise Crazy Mofos

Heinz Stücke: Pedaling the Planet

Jun 1, 2004
Outside Magazine

Heinz Stucke: Pedaling the Planet
IN 1962, 22-YEAR-OLD tool and die maker Heinz Stücke rode out of Hövelhof, Germany, on a three-speed bicycle, with $300 in his pocket and a plan to see the world. After 42 years and 300,000 miles, there's still more he wants to see. Sometime in the early eighties, after two decades with no fixed address, Stücke decided to extend his trip to every country on the globe.

"It was clear that I wasn't going to stop," he says. "One day I said, 'I am going to drop dead on my bicycle.' " So in 1996, when he notched his last country—the Seychelles—he just kept going.

At first, he pedaled simply to "see around the next corner." But as the years piled up, he was driven as much by not wanting to return home, citing "the fear of going back to the factory, and to the very small-minded people in my village."

Stücke, a compact man with a friendly smile, says he averages 68 miles a day, lugging 80-plus pounds of gear. He's spent around $130,000 in all, funding his travels with sales of an autobiographical booklet and photographs, and occasional donations—including, in 1963, $500 from Ethiopia's emperor at the time, Haile Selassie. Along the way, he's been hit by a truck in Chile's Atacama Desert, chased by an angry Haitian mob, beaten unconscious by Egyptian soldiers, detained by Cameroon's military for "slandering the state" ("I have no idea what I did wrong," says Stücke), and attacked by bees while bathing in a river in Mozambique. But even when Zimbabwean rebels shot him in the foot, in 1980, Stücke never considered quitting. "In the middle of Africa, you don't have a choice, anyway," he says. "You don't go to the nearest airport and fly home."

Now 64, Stücke has set up temporary shop in Paris to sort through souvenirs, photos, and letters he accumulated during his days on the road. Since 2001, finances have limited his travels to half the year, but he's chasing the 22 or so remaining territories—like Greenland and Christmas Island—that he needs to capture the title of world's most traveled person.

"It is not my real ambition, but it is something to keep your eyes on," he says of the record. "Which is what we all need, isn't it?"

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