Backpedal­ing

Leg­endary Al­bert Martz

Pedal Magazine - - Uci Mtb World Cup 2017 - BY WIL­LIAM HUM­BER

Adis­tinc­tive han­dle­bar mous­tache, a sim­ple base­ball cap and a won­der­ful out­look on life were the true call­ing cards of leg­endary Ni­a­gara long-dis­tance cy­clist Al­bert Martz. No won­der more than 300 well-wish­ers at­tended his fu­neral in March of this year. He touched so many peo­ple, from co­work­ers in busi­ness to those he might have seen briefly and then never again, on his cross-coun­try cy­cles.

Daugh­ter Conny Her­melink shared th­ese and other mem­o­ries of her fa­ther, a man born in 1936 in West Prus­sia.

“His fam­ily, par­ents and their 10 chil­dren were sep­a­rated through the trauma of war, but even­tu­ally re­united and moved to north­ern Ger­many,” she told me re­cently. “Af­ter com­plet­ing a black­smith ap­pren­tice­ship as a young man, 18-yearold Al­bert and an older brother boarded a ship to Canada. With only a few dol­lars in his pocket and a will­ing­ness to work hard, he held sev­eral jobs un­til he com­pleted his tin­smith re­quire­ments. He be­came well known through­out the Ni­a­gara Re­gion as the owner and op­er­a­tor of a heat­ing and air­con­di­tion­ing com­pany for al­most 20 years, be­fore tran­si­tion­ing into a suc­cess­ful real es­tate agent. His rep­u­ta­tion was al­ways of one who worked hard, treated peo­ple hon­estly and loved to laugh.”

It was cy­cling, how­ever, which would claim his en­thu­si­asm as a man in his for­ties.

“He suf­fered from in­som­nia all his life,” Conny re­called. “So early each morn­ing, it was off to Tim Hor­tons for cof­fee, a jour­ney he quickly up­graded by means of a bi­cy­cle. Most of us might have stopped there but not my dad. At the age of 55, he went out to south­ern Cal­i­for­nia and cy­cled across the Amer­i­can pan­han­dle to north­ern Florida over a pe­riod of 27 days.”

For the rest of his life, long-dis­tance cy­cling was just some­thing he took for granted. His wife El­iz­a­beth, who pre­de­ceased him by seven years, kept am­ple records from their home base.

“Re­gard­less of where he was rid­ing, he’d call her ev­ery night with the de­tails of how many kilo­me­tres he’d rid­den and where he was stay­ing. She kept co­pi­ous notes which I’m so for­tu­nate to have.”

The most mem­o­rable of th­ese long jour­neys was no doubt his solo cross-Canada tour in 2007 at the age of 71. Start­ing out from Van­cou­ver and rid­ing 160km a day

(or 00 miles, the clas­sic cen­tury) he reached Hal­i­fax 41 days later, never fail­ing to call home with up­dates. It meant find­ing a phone booth, be­cause he never had a cell­phone.

“Ev­ery year he’d do an around-the-lake ride,” re­calls Conny. “Lake Erie one year, Lake On­tario the next. And on the sum­mer sol­stice, the year’s long­est day of sun­light, he’d see how far he could go, but 400km was his av­er­age. He cy­cled for the sheer en­joy­ment. While Al­bert was a long­stand­ing mem­ber of the Ni­a­gara Free­wheel­ers, he was not in­ter­ested in rac­ing or com­pet­ing but of­ten took part in fund-rais­ing events, like the TD Five Boro Bike Tour in New York or the Big Move Can­cer ride.”

Per­haps his great­est ac­com­plish­ment, how­ever, was his neigh­bour­hood prowl­ing for empty liquor bot­tles and beer cans, which could be turned in for a few dol­lars at the liquor store. Rid­ing in the early morn­ing he’d find th­ese dis­carded items, store them in a safe, some­what hid­den place along the road and then re­turn later in his car to pick them up. The money he’d earn in a year could range from $3,000 to $5,000 and it went to a wor­thy cause. Al­bert do­nated this money to a spe­cial pro­gram for pas­tors in Cuba to buy bi­cy­cles to make their way among their of­ten dis­persed con­gre­ga­tion.

It might even have got to the point that lo­cals in Ni­a­gara would leave a few ex­tra bot­tles by the way­side to sup­port Al­bert’s tire­less quest to help oth­ers.

Time and ill­ness fi­nally caught up with Al­bert in his last year. His mem­ory was fad­ing and he also had an un­di­ag­nosed med­i­cal is­sue which would claim his life.

“I fi­nally had to take his bike away last Oc­to­ber (2016),” Conny says. “He was hav­ing trou­ble re­mem­ber­ing where he was and of­ten had to ask for help in get­ting home on his bike. Nev­er­the­less, he’d of­ten re­fer to me as the per­son who took away his bike. It’s been cal­cu­lated, how­ever, that over his life­time he went nearly 350,000km, or enough to get him to the moon and be­yond!”

For Al­bert Martz, cy­cling was a means of re­ju­ve­nat­ing and restor­ing him­self. In the process he made friends and re­newed ac­quain­tances with the long-dis­tance cy­cling fra­ter­nity. His cheer­ful at­ti­tude and zest for life left oth­ers with en­coun­ters for which he might not even have known the de­light he had brought. It was an out­stand­ing way this one man lived his life!

Ni­a­gara long-dis­tance cy­clist Al­bert Martz logged nearly 350,000km in his life­time.

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