German adds peninsula to world tour destinations

Posted: Friday, August 13, 2004

Fritz Kratzeisen was in Soldotna this week for a stop on his world tour.

No, you've probably never heard of him, and, no, he wasn't putting on a show.

The 65-year-old German man was, at long last, fulfilling a dream he's had since he was 16: He's touring the world from the seat of his bicycle.

The retired teacher and coach started his tour nine months ago, after years of hoarding away information from travel magazines and brochures.

In less than a year, he's hit the Caribbean, parts of South and Latin America, the western United States and now Alaska logging more than 10,000 miles on his bike wheels. In all, he plans to be away from home about four years and still is looking forward to trips to South America, Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Asia and the Middle East.

While he planned all along to visit Alaska on the trip, the stop in Soldotna came about after Kratzeisen met a man at a Las Vegas McDonald's restaurant whose parents live in the area.

"Robert gave him our phone number and he called from Seward and said when he'd be coming," said Renska Vinke, a Holland-born dog breeder who hosted Kratzeisen at her home off Funny River Road.

Though Vinke speaks Dutch and her husband is an Italian who works for ConocoPhillips, she was able to communicate in limited German with Kratz-eisen who speaks little English and help him tell his story.

The trip started in Kratz-eisen's home country, Germany, and he flew with his bicycle and about 140 pounds of supplies to the Caribbean. He biked through Cuba and Trinidad and made a quick venture by boat to Venezuela before flying on to Mexico City. He rode 5,000 miles through the country of Mexico, enjoying what he said were the best roads he's encountered so far and a quite friendly population. He saw the ancient pyramids, the ruins in Chiapas, the mountains of San Christobal and the seaside vistas of Alcapulco and Cancun.

From there, he headed to the United States, starting out in San Diego, where his daughter one of four children met him for a 14-day stay. Aboard his U.S.-made bicycle, Kratzeisen hit the national parks of the American West, visiting Joshua Tree, the Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce Canyon.

Las Vegas, he said, was fun, though not exactly what he was looking for, and he returned to California's Death Valley and Yosemite National Park before going on to San Francisco.

Then, he biked up Highway 101, following the coastline through Northern California, Oregon and Washington.

In Seattle, he took side trips to Bellingham, Wash., and Whidbey Island where he met his first real roadblock on the journey. While he has visited some friends, old and new, Kratzeisen isn't staying in hotels on the trip, so many of his nights are spent outside. One day on Whidbey Island, thinking he was alone, Kratzeisen apparently borrowed a garden hose to take a quick "shower," only to be reported by a concerned neighbor and spend an hour handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser.

"That happens to foreigners more often than you would think," Vinke said.

Once free of the law, Kratzeisen boarded a ship for Alaska, stopping off in Juneau before landing in Seward. He picked up his bicycle and set out to visit the Vinke family and the Kenai Peninsula, per a stranger's suggestion.

"He helped yesterday with some sanding and he's been fishing on the water," Vinke said.

So far, Kratzeisen said, the trip has been "beautiful" one English word he uses without hesitation. In particular, he said, he enjoyed the desert (though he noted biking in the desert was extremely hot and requires a lot of water). And, he's enjoying the scenery of Alaska, he said, giving a thumbs-up signal.

The tour is far from over, though. After his two-day rest, Kratzeisen left Soldotna on Wednesday for Moose Pass, before traveling on to Anchorage then up to Fairbanks, where he hopes to meet up with some men from his hometown and try his hand at gold panning.

After the Alaska leg of his journey, he'll cut through Canada on his way to the southern United States, where he's especially excited to visit Memphis.

Kratzeisen said he's been a fan of Elvis since the King visited Frankfurt in 1958. Even then, Kratzeisen was an avid biker, riding his two-wheeler 140 miles from the Black Forest region to see the concert.

After the South, Kratzeisen will fly to Africa, where he's anxious to visit the home of Nelson Mandela, former apartheid-era political prisoner and later president. Also in South Africa, Kratzeisen's wife will join him for a long overdue visit.

His wife, Kratzeisen said, is supportive of the trip, though understandably a bit concerned for her older husband, despite his years of preparation as a soldier, physical education teacher and coach.

While in Africa, Kratzeisen plans to tour Namibia and Madagascar before flying on to New Zealand then Australia. From "the land down under," Kratzeisen will head north to Vietnam, Cambodia, China and Mongolia. From Mongolia, he plans to follow the "Silk Road" through Iran, Iraq and Turkey before ending up back home.

When all finished, Kratz-eisen said he plans to use journals and the thousands of photographs he's snapping to put together a book.

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