The Jacksonville Fire Department hosted a special guest Thursday night. Jörg Richter, a retired firefighter from Würzburg, Germany, is making his third cross-country bicycle tour of the U.S. in an effort to support children with rare diseases.
Richter’s trek through Illinois brought him to the Jacksonville Fire Department on Thursday for some rest and refreshment before he pushes onward Friday afternoon.
Richter says he was inspired as an eight-year-old boy by a book written by a man who cycled the globe to one day make his own adventures. He says later in life after three close friends died in quick succession, he decided he was not putting anything off any longer.
Richter is in the middle of his quest to bike from San Francisco to New York City. He says the brotherhood of both professional and mostly volunteer departments, help him along the way, allowing him to stay overnight at the stations during his trip.
“I’m at about 420, or 425 stations that supported me, the cause, the kids, that offered me just a place to crash with the mattress. Sleeping down in working benches or below boats or trailers. Here in Jacksonville, it’s once again a bunk in the dorm so it’s already a three-star luxury version.”
Richter says when he decided to make his first bicycle trip across America, he didn’t want to do it just for himself but wanted it to have a greater purpose. He says he has a friend with a child that has a rare disease and that led him to discover Care-for-Rare America, a nonprofit organization that helps children with rare diseases find treatment and most importantly, answers.
Richter says it’s hard to say how much money he raises on each ride, as many people donate directly to Care-for-Rare America without linking their donation to him. He says it’s the emotional footprint from his rides that means more in the long run than a few more or less dollars while on the ride.
In previous trips, Richter visited hospitals along the way to visit sick children aided by Care-for-Rare America. He says boxes filled with German Teddy Bear Company bears would be sent ahead to the various hospitals so he had something to give the kids when he arrived.
He says this time, due to Covid he can’t visit the hospitals like he used to, but does visit some of his young friends at their homes whenever possible during his journey.
““I met with a few families already on the way that I know from 2015 and 2018, and where I knew the kids were desperately waiting for me. With words like, “I’m not going to die before my friend from Germany shows up once again.” So these kids are really longing for the the stinky, sweaty colorful one to come back.
That’s what one of the kids said, “you’re the stinky, sweaty, colorful clown who’s going to come to visit us today”, and that’s what makes their day. It’s always fascinating how kids hang on for a special moment like that, even if they are deathly ill.””
This is Richter’s third cross-country ride, but also his eighth time riding in the U.S., and says he still has a hard time getting used to the huge difference between long-distance riding in America and in Europe.
“The biggest thing for me is still how wide the sky can be. Which really makes me squeeze a few tears sometimes still. I’m not getting used to that. If you see the sign behind a small town in the southwest or the middle west that says next service eighty miles, and all that sky and all these clouds in between and the endlessness, that’s still what blows my mind. Even more than the natural wonders like the national parks, Grand Canyon, or whatever, it’s the sky that makes it worth it.”
Richter’s ride for Care-for-Rare America will take him 25 weeks to travel through more than half of the 50 states where he will end his ride at the Central Park Fire Station in New York City. Like the Jacksonville Fire Station, Richter also visited the Central Park Station on his last trip in 2018. Both were eager to have him visit again.
To make a donation to Care-for-Rare America, go to: care-for-rare-america.org/jorg