From YorkRegion News
Aurora man rides from Vancouver to Halifax
Aurora’s Armin Kluge truly believes one person can make a difference.
And that’s one of the reasons the 70-year-old Mr. Kluge is hard at work training his body to ride his bicycle from Vancouver to Halifax.
He’s hoping he can get at least $1 for every one of the approximately 7,000 kilometres he’ll be cycling as part of his campaign to raise money for the Cambodian middle school he helped build three years ago.
.“We support five kids altogether,” Mr. Kluge said. “I support two and the rest of my family supports another three and, because of our efforts, these children in Cambodia get to go to school.
“So, when I was preparing to do this, I thought, ‘Why don’t I turn my bike ride into a bit of a fundraiser and make money for the school?’”
.Sitting amongst the lush foliage in the tranquil back yard of his home, Mr. Kluge explains his idea to bike across the country didn’t start off as a philanthropic pursuit.
In between bites of crisp broccoli, a staple of his raw food/vegetarian diet, he describes how he was kayaking in the icy waters near the Arctic Circle when he happened across a fellow kayaker with a very inspiring story, Mr. Kluge said.
“Back in 1997, I was off of Ellesmere Island, way up in the Arctic, and I was with this guy who was 74 years old at that time,” he said. “That was pretty impressive to me, and I was 57 then, but he also told me that when he was 70, he rode his bike from Vancouver to Halifax.”
The tale of the epic bike ride remained with Mr. Kluge for the 13 years after that chance encounter. During that time, the story went from a motivational yarn to something Mr. Kluge really wanted to do.
“I thought, ‘I’m going to be 70 this year, so I better do it now,’” he said. “If I don’t do it now, I’m probably never going to get a chance to.”
So, since the spring, Mr. Kluge has been cycling dozens of kilometres every day to give him the stamina he’ll need to achieve his aim. When he can cycle 100 km in a single day relatively comfortably, he’ll know he’s ready, he says, adding that kind of a pace will be necessary given the brief cycling window Canada’s cli mate affords.
As a result, the ride will likely be broken up into sections, Mr. Kluge says, with the journey beginning as early as this fall with a ride from Aurora to the Ontario/Manitoba border. The cycling marathon will also likely be a solo effort, as it’s just generally easier that way, he added.
“Actually, it’s astonishing what one man can do and there’s nothing, well almost nothing, that we cannot do if we’re determined and set our minds to it,” Mr. Kluge said. “We can do so many things if we just put our minds to it. ”
To further make his point, Mr. Kluge cites numerous examples, ranging from Free the Children’s Craig Kielburger, to Central Asia Institute executive director and author Greg Mortenson.
“While some people say it can’t be done, these people say, ‘This is a challenge. I’ll try it,’” he says. “Even a seemingly impossible task can be done one step at a time.”
It’s perhaps that kind of positive attitude that lifted Mr. Kluge out of the poverty in which he grew up on the eastern side of a divided Germany. At 18, he enlisted in communist-controlled East Germany’s merchant marine and stayed there for about two years before jumping ship during a stopover at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
There he remained for several years, beginning a career in the automotive industry as an engineer with Volkswagen, marrying and having two children. He can still speak Portuguese fluently, he says.
In 1964, a coup d’etat established a military dictatorship in Brazil and so it was time to leave, Mr. Kluge said. He considered moving to the United States at one point, but with that country becoming more and more involved in Vietnam and he being of draft age, the Kluge family settled in Canada instead.
Mr. Kluge eventually found a job in the automotive industry again, first with Ford and then later with a rapidly expanding parts manufacturing firm by the name of Magna. The money was good, the hours were crazy but, all in all, it was a great company to work for, he said.
Along the way, Mr. Kluge and his wife had their third child. He retired from Magna in 2000.
Retirement gave Mr. Kluge more time to spend with his family and also to travel and get involved to a greater degree with helping others. He continues to be extremely passionate about the Cambodian school he helped build back in 2007.
Located in the shadow of Angkor Wat, the renowned world heritage site, the Angkor Peak Snang Junior High School has about 230 students in grades 7, 8 and 9 and is home to about three dozen boarding students and orphans.
The village where the school is located doesn’t have electricity or running water but, over the past three years, a lot of generosity and hard work from volunteers has seen a solar generator added to the facility and the installation of some LED lighting, Mr. Kluge said. The Angkor Peak Snang school even has a basic computer lab now.
It’s been great, Mr. Kluge said, yet more is needed. Schools in Cambodia are funded and overseen by the country’s government, but the teachers themselves are only paid the equivalent of $60 per month and are, in turn, forced to levy money from their students as their base salary isn’t enough to actually survive.
The $25 per month Mr. Kluge and others contribute each month to sponsor students pays for their attendance and some school supplies. That’s why he’s so excited at the prospect of raising $7,000 or more through his bike ride.
It would permit a greater number of children in the village and the surrounding areas to attend school, leading to more opportunity as adults.
“If I can raise this money, as many as 300 children might be able to go to the school for one year,” he said. “That would make those children who otherwise may not have been able to go to school very happy.”