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Klaus Kohle rides his bike around the world – yikes!

 Well this is a story on Klaus and Doris Kohle riding their bikes around the world. He is an Ironman Hawaii World Champs veteran which brings in the triathlon angle we all love.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com
German couple has 32,000 miles on their bikes around the globe
BY ETHAN J. SKOLNICK

South Florida Sun-Sentinel
April 21, 2008

HALLANDALE BEACH
In the living room of an American home, behind the couch and beside the stairs, a German adventurer’s Dutch bicycle finally rested.

After roughly 32,158 miles. After 3,171 hours. After spinning its wheels in nearly 40 countries on five continents, through overstuffed cities and what master pedaler Klaus Hohle calls “forgotten worlds.”

After Hohle, a Christian man, and his wife, Doris, slept in Buddhist temples in Cambodia and Koran schools in Iran. After he dined on iguana with Aborigines, and after he drank dirty water and checked into a hospital near the Taj Mahal. After, in Indonesia, he found scorpions lurking in his ratty Velcro shoes and ants streaming across his makeshift bed. After he scaled mountains, and crossed the world’s largest dry salt lake (Salar de Uyuni) in Bolivia. After he narrowly missed a wreck with a reckless Mexican driver, and created a traffic-stopping commotion in an Indian underpass as he fixed his wife’s punctured tire.

That bike couldn’t rest long.

That’s because Hohle, 68, never does.

“The world is so fantastic, and full of adventures, you cannot stop,” said the veteran of eight Ironman Triathlon championships.

So he won’t. This evening, after a 10-day respite at the South Florida house of friend Babette Kulka, Hohle and that bike will board a plane to Casablanca, Morocco. There, he will resume a grand sports adventure that began 25 months ago, and should conclude in late July after another 3,100 miles or so. At some point, perhaps in Spain, Doris, 56, will rejoin him. She returned to Germany after breaking her left arm in Austin, Texas, halfway through the trek across America from Southern California.

“Maybe I finish, and I have no accident, and so we [become] the oldest married people in the history of the world to go around the world with a bike,” Hohle said.

Don’t the Hohles quarrel? When weary? Hungry? Cranky?

“No, no, no,” Hohle said. “I have a really, really wonderful wife, and we have no time for fighting. We have so many very interesting places. Cambodia. The Taj Mahal. Machu Picchu. So many historic places.”

The history of this journey traces back half a century, to the town of Erlangen, Germany, where Hohle was an 18-year-old high school graduate. He decided that he wanted to bike around the world, starting with Italy. Seven friends promised to join him. None did. After nearly three months on the road, Hohle wanted to continue, but his mother wanted him home, so he returned after reaching the Yugoslavian border.

He finished his studies, became a civil engineer, married Doris, fathered two boys, adopted dogs, planted trees, built a house.

“My time is running,” he thought.

Then he hit 50. Midlife crisis time.

“Some people are looking for a young wife, but I had it,” Hohle said. “After I retire, I can sit at home and wait for my death, or make a big travel.”

After reading about a man who biked from Vancouver to Tijuana, he told his boss he needed three months off. They made it to Tijuana in two. So they spent the last month biking around Hawaii.

“We come to the Big Island,” Hohle said. “I saw many, many crazy people, what are they doing here? They [are] swimming, running, biking. For me, it was a big fascination.”

It was the Ironman Triathlon.

That began what he calls his “fantastic sporting time.” He saw an Ironman qualifier in Germany and began training. On his first try, he finished third in his age group and qualified for the championship in Kailua-Kona.

In 2005, after becoming a repeat world champion duathlete, and placing as high as third in Ironman in his age group, he needed a new challenge.

“I remembered my dream with the bikes around the world,” Hohle said.

So he began tracking the weather, so they could avoid biking through snow or in a monsoon somewhere.

Yes, “they.” His wife was coming, too.

“Doris is a crazy woman,” he said. “She does all what I am doing.”

He took her suggestion to paint their Koga-Miyata bicycles black, even taping over insignias to make them less appealing to potential robbers. They packed light. Even with a gas stove, tent and tools, his bike weighed less than 100 pounds. Hers? Around 80.

They worked out a two-passport system with an official in Germany. Whenever he got settled for a few days, Hohle would e-mail or call with his upcoming itinerary, and send back one passport so the man could ship the next set of visas.

They couldn’t prepare for everything, naturally.

Often, they couldn’t find hotels, so they would sleep in tents, paying campground costs. Or they would sleep in the bush. Or they would sleep in jails. Officers, whether police or army, would often tout those as the safest places.

Frequently, they found themselves in what Hohle calls “lucky situations.”

Such as during their trip from Darwin, in northernmost Australia, down the underdeveloped heart of the continent, where rest stop water tanks are sometimes broken or empty. They met an RV driver who provided water, and radioed to other drivers along the journey to do the same.

After biking through Iran and reaching the Pakistan border, at a desert road near Afghanistan, they were warned by the German Embassy to stop.

“It is very, very dangerous from the Taliban,” Hohle said.

Yet Hohle did not feel much danger. The Hohles had taken great care not to insult or provoke anyone during their travels, with Doris even covering her arms and legs whenever they entered an Iranian town for meals.

Hohle met a Pakistani general. They bonded over beer. The general gave him eight soldiers with two jeeps with machine guns, to protect and feed the Hohles as they took a week to cross the 400 treacherous miles near the Afghan border.

“One part is the people and one part is the politics in each country,” Hohle said. “And this is totally different. The police helped me, the army helped me, the people helped me, everybody helped us around the world. I have now, around the world, so many people, I hope that come to Germany to visit me. This is my biggest dream, that these people that I meet come to Germany.”

Including Kulka, 64. She is an Ironman competitor also. When they met in Hawaii in 2003, he revealed his desire to bike around the world, and she invited him to stay with her if he did. Now he has invited her to do the same, when she trains for another Ironman in 2009.

“Better to train in the hills of Bavaria than on the Key Biscayne bridge,” Kulka said.

Before he returns home, however, he has ground to cover: Morocco, Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland. His sons, ages 37 and 27, think they have crazy parents.

Crazy parents about to complete a life’s dream.

“If I come home, what do I do next?” Hohle said. “It is a real problem. But I know what I do next. I start in the age group of 70 for the Ironman.”

Ethan J. Skolnick can be reached at eskolnick@sun-sentinel.com. He can be heard weekdays from 6-9 a.m. on 640-AM WFTL-Fox Sports.

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April 22, 2008 at 9:30 am
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