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By Dena Wood
The Times 

'Welcome Back to Waitsburg'

German cyclists Ralph and Imke Lang visit Waitsburg 25 years after Ralph's last visit

 

Dena Wood

Above: German bicyclists Ralph and Imke Lang stopped to talk with The Times at Lewis and Clark Trail State Park, where they spent the night, last week. The couple recently began a two year, around-the-world bike tour. Ralph has fond memories of passing through Waitsburg with a buddy on a bike trip 25 years ago.

WAITSBURG – German bicyclist Ralph Lang said he was surprised to find himself becoming "a bit emotional" as he arrived in Waitsburg last week. Ralph, 46, said he has incredibly warm memories of traveling through Waitsburg with a college pal on a cross country bike trip 25 years ago. That experience was so positive that he wanted to share it with his wife, Imke. On August 1, the couple began a two-year, around-the-world journey together.

The self-described "passionate cyclists" have completed many bicycle tours together, throughout South America and Europe. Ralph said they decided to do something "real big" this time by cycling around the world.

Ralph said he biked from Seattle to Denver with a high school buddy in 1991 and he considers this trip his "revival tour." He recalls being especially welcomed in Waitsburg where he and his friend set up a tent in someone's backyard and were interviewed by The Times.

"I've always wanted to see the places he discovered and has told me about and I've never been to the U.S.," Imke said. The couple has been married nine years and started their tour "almost" on their anniversary, which was July 28.

Ralph and Imke both teach philosophy and religion at the Gebhard Müller School, an apprenticeship-type school for 16 to 24-year-olds in Germany. Ralph said students at the school are raising money to fund and operate a school for 50 students who essentially work as slaves in quarries in India.

The Langs have taken two years off from their teaching duties, but have incorporated their students and their charity project into the tour. Ralph said they are essentially traveling from their school in Germany to the school their students have funded in India.

They publish details of the trip on their website and hope to garner publicity to raise funds for the India school. They also Skype with their students and include them in interviews to increase cultural understanding and provide English lessons.

The Langs started their journey just this month, but said they have already been amazed at the kindnesses of strangers. Ralph said they were riding down the hot Columbia River Gorge when they realized they wouldn't be able to refill their water for 60 miles. They had passed a store, but with the strong tailwind, Ralph thought it would take an hour and a half to make it up the hill and back to the store to buy water.

As they were debating what to do, "Jack" pulled up on a motorcycle and asked if they needed water. It turns out he is an Iron Man instructor and recognized their plight. He made a quick u-turn and was back in 15 minutes with a gallon of water.

Courtesy Photo

Left: The Lang's commented on the many kindnesses they have experienced from strangers so far. Here, motorcyclist "Jack" drove to a store to bring them a gallon of water as they biked along the Columbia River Gorge in high temperatures.

A bit further down the gorge, a car had stopped and was waiting for the couple to arrive. When they did, the occupant of the car said he had seen the German flag on their bike and wanted to meet them. It turns out that he had fled the German Democratic Republic in 1960 and settled in Rhode Island. He has also bicycled coast-to-coast and just wanted to wish them well.

Ralph said the trip is harder now than when he was 21, but "we suffered then and we're suffering now, too." The couple said they hoped to reach Lolo pass and cooler weather by the weekend.

Ralph and Imke said cars and trucks here are much more respectful than elsewhere. "I have cycled in 30 nations and motorists in Washington State are the most respectful I've experienced. We want to give them a big 'Thank you'!" Ralph said.

Readers can follow Ralph and Imke's journey and learn more about their project on their website at von-hier-nach-da-de. The site is written in German but can be translated by clicking the "translate" icon.

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