Aggie Profiles: Martin Krieg

CHARLES MIIN / AGGIE

The story behind the man with the giant-wheeled bike

Nearly five feet off the ground atop a high-wheel bicycle, clad with fingerless cycling gloves, brightly tinted sunglasses and a bike helmet, is the epitomic image of Martin Krieg. As an iconic figure in Davis, Krieg is someone whose presence is instantly noted by students, faculty and residents alike.

Though his high-wheel bicycle is one of his major identifying features around town, Krieg is better known elsewhere as a man who recovered from clinical death, a seven-week coma and paralysis, and then proceeded to cross the United States on his bicycle — twice.

“I’ve been a cyclist all my life,” Krieg said. “For me, cycling [is] emancipative. You know how it feels — the air rolling through your hair, [and] all of a sudden you just feel great.”

As a child, Krieg had a deep interest in bicycles. In Hayward, Calif., Krieg started his journey on a prized Schwinn varsity tenspeed when he was 11 years old.

CHARLES MIIN / AGGIE

“[My mother and I] were in a bike shop,” Krieg said. “She said […] ‘If you got all A’s on your report card, I’d buy you it.’ She didn’t think there was any way I could do it. Well, I buckled down. I stopped watching TV. I just went ballistic […] and sure enough, I produced an all A’s report card. She was in disbelief.”

From there, Krieg began to ride his bicycle all over the region, from Hayward to the peaks of the Santa Cruz mountains. He maintained this passion while in college at California State University, Hayward and went on to pursue a career as an accountant after graduation. Krieg continued cycling until 1977, when he got into the car accident that left him temporarily paralyzed.

“All of a sudden I was so low,” Krieg said. “I was as low as a person could go. My friend […] Bobby came over. He knew I was into bicycles, so he showed me his new one he’d gotten. Against his better judgment, he let me ride it, [and] I found a way I could do things again and not […] be in so much pain. It was so amazing. From that point on, I resolved to get […] back on the bike.”

Traveling by bike rather than foot took away much of the pain from his accident, so Krieg returned to cycling. He started out with local rides and worked his way up to rides through multiple states. Eventually, Krieg took his first trip across the country in 1979, only about a year after the accident. The ride from Portland, Ore. to Washington, D.C. took Krieg 43 days to complete on a fifteen-speed bicycle that he purchased after trading in his Honda Accord.

“I was goofing around, going on a little sight seeing tour, until I got to […] Yellowstone,” Krieg said. “I ran into some guys I’d passed, and they made fun of me. They said, ‘Gee, we thought you were gonna be gone by now. You’ve got this […] state of the art […] bicycle. We thought we’d never see you again.’”

The jesting from the group of cyclists angered Krieg. Motivated to stop his sight-seeing and finish the journey, Krieg powered through the last 15 days of the ride.

“I got fired up […], hammering 100 plus miles a day,” Krieg said. “The last day I rode 200 […] miles nonstop. I was possessed.”

According to Krieg, upon arriving in Washington, D.C., he was regarded as a “total pariah” because of the scarcity of cyclists at the time.

“I felt real self-conscious of myself,” Krieg said. “I was kind of embarrassed I’d done something like this. It was after that experience that I made my mind up: ‘I’m gonna come back, and I’m gonna come back big, and I’m gonna make it such that cyclists were celebrated, […] not looked upon as […] pariahs.”

Krieg thus decided to make a more publicity-centered journey a second time in 1986 with the National Head Injury Foundation, as a pre-publication tour for his book “Awake Again.” This time, the ride took over three months, including stops for campaign work.

“[The ride] helped me finally get my book published,” Krieg said. “I learned as a writer. I reached 40 million people with newspapers, radio talk shows and TV.”

In 1994, after his recovery and both cross-country rides, Krieg published “Awake Again,” a book describing his post-accident experiences. He also began to spread awareness for the National Bicycle Greenway, a nonprofit organization encouraging coast-to-coast cycling on the Greenway route that stretches from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. While campaigning for the Greenway and promoting his book in Ireland, Krieg married and had his son, Cayo.

Krieg plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his first cross-country bike ride by making the journey with his son in 2029. Krieg also has future plans for the Greenway to incorporate bike boulevards, celebrated bike paths and bicycle signage.

CHARLES MIIN / AGGIE

“I love getting up in the morning and knowing that I’m going to be doing things with my mind that are making a difference instead of just passing time,” Krieg said.

Krieg has lived in Davis for a year and half and is currently planning the 15th annual National Mayor’s Ride, which will kick off in Central Park and hit cities such as Reno, Salt Lake City, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Through his accident, recovery and cycling accomplishments, Krieg has learned countless life lessons that he is enthusiastic to share with the Davis community.

“I want people to realize that when you commit to something, you don’t lose anything,” Krieg said. “I committed to being a success, to prove my life is worth saving. Don’t be afraid to be a success. Being able to live the life I live right now didn’t come from thinking small and accepting prescriptions made for me. It came from willing to be different.”

Indeed, one cannot help but admire Krieg’s will to be different as he nails the running jump onto his high wheel and rides away, a distinct figure even as he merges into the crowd.
Written by: Allyson Tsuji — features@theaggie.org

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