ENOSBURGH — Ferdinand Lauffer says that on Sundays during the 1960s most everyone in his small German hometown of Dauchingen took a walk.
“It was forbidden to work. Sunday was a day of rest,” Lauffer said Thursday. “There was no mowing the law or anything, so you go on trips. You go on a bicycle trip or go hiking.”
Lauffer’s father would take him on long walks and hikes. Not climbing, though: “My dad was an amputee from the war,” said Lauffer.
Of the long, “endless,” walks, he added: “I grew to like them.” Lauffer said his father would often encourage him to explore, climbing up and along logs on or near the trail.
Though his childhood in post-war Germany is many years and miles away, Lauffer, now 63, has continued the tradition of walking, biking or hiking for most of his life.
He said, “That just kind of became ingrained.”
After meeting his wife and the current Sheldon School librarian, Lyn, through a German exchange program in 1975, the couple married in 1977. Lyn – a Middlebury-native – and Ferdinand had their first child, Elizabeth, and shortly moved to America in 1982.
Here, Lauffer found his job as a math teacher at Missisquoi Valley Union. And that’s when he resumed his homegrown tradition.
“I sort of started, slowly… again,” said Lauffer. He and Lyn would ski and hike together, and when their second daughter, Emily, was born, Lauffer would strap her into a child’s seat on the back of his bicycle.
“She never cried in [that] seat,” he said.
As reported in previous Messenger stories, in the late 1990s, Lauffer began making his 17.5-mile commute between West Berkshire and his job … on his bike.
“The first day was not one of my most glorious days,” he said. “I was a little shaky. I was just exhausted.”
And then, in 2000, Lauffer received what he called a “curve ball” – he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“That was kind of a wake up call,” he said. While he may have been planning for many things in the future – travel, new experiences – all of a sudden, life didn’t seem long enough to wait for the right time.
“You’ll basically die before you get to any of your dreams,” he said of his realization then. And while Lauffer didn’t die, he did take that message to heart, and carried it forward.
“I’m not going to say, ‘I wish I had.’ I’m going to just do,” he said.
And he did. In 2004, he and Lyn traveled to Spain to bike 500 miles over a 10-day period, and that was just the beginning.
“I really got the bug there for the longer distances,” he said.
While Lyn didn’t necessarily do them with her husband, Lauffer began doing the 100-plus mile century rides, and then, the long-distance biking riding called randonneuring. He did rides measuring 100, 200, 300, 400, 600 and even 1,000 kilometers.
During his longest single bike effort, a 1,200-kilometer (just under 750 miles) ride in France that had to be completed in 90 days, Lauffer said he rode almost constantly between a Sunday evening and Friday morning in 2006. He got about five hours sleep total throughout the entire thing, and by Thursday, his neck muscles stopped working, so he couldn’t lift his head.
“There are whole sections of the French countryside I went through at night that I don’t remember,” he said.
Lauffer finished, however. “I actually managed to do it in [about] 89 and a half hours,” he said.
Just prior to that competition, he looked to achieve a different kind of goal.
“In 2006, I decided to ride across country,” he said. The Messenger covered the Washington-to-Maine event at the time, which Lauffer successfully completed the trip in about six weeks.
In the years since, Lauffer has continued these long distance rides, often traveling to Europe to do so. He especially likes long-distance touring, he said, which he can now do after retiring from his 30-year MVU teaching career in 2012.
Lauffer still teaches statistics and calculus part time at the Community College of Vermont, but he now has more adventurous cycling trips planned.
“I’m kind of planning to do this epic ride,” he said, adding that next year, he and Lyn will travel to Europe for a tour, and then Lauffer will go on by himself to New Dehli, India, and will ride along the world’s highest pass in the Himalayas. He’ll ride hundreds of miles between Manali and Leh, riding at 17,000 feet elevation at one point.
“I need to experience what it feels like to be at that high,” he said.
In addition to biking, Lauffer has also competed in the 100-mile, two-day Canadian Ski Marathon each February for more than a decade. He hiked sections of the Appalachian Trail over a 12-year period until he completed it, and he’s done the entire Long Trail in Vermont, too.
Lauffer actually maintains a 10-mile section of the Long Trail for the Green Mountain Club – he was recently honored as one of GMC’s volunteers for his work in maintaining the trail, cleaning it of fallen trees, clearing any trash and keeping up the two huts in his northern section.
He helps take care of the Catamount Trail, a ski-trail that runs somewhat parallel to the Long Trail between Canada and Massachusetts. That, of course, he has also skied and completed.
Lauffer has his eye on new challenges and adventures. “There’s so many other beautiful things,” he said. He wants to complete the Great Divide Trail, a wilderness hike following the Canadian Rockies. He also wants to ride from Alaska to Mexico along the western coast.
“At this point, I feel like I’m running out of time,” said Lauffer.
In his ever-continuing love for endurance sports, Lauffer looks back to his German childhood of stopping work on Sundays and getting outdoors. During his interview at Hard’ack Recreation Area yesterday, Lauffer looking perfectly at home sitting and chatting in the grass as well as wandering through the Aldis Hill trails, and even balancing on top of (and luckily not falling off ) a fallen tree.
By comparison, he said, America – which he happily calls his home – has trouble stopping and enjoying the moment and getting out, which he so loves to do.
“What I wish over here is that people would take more time for ourselves,” Lauffer said. “People forget that you need time to recharge when you’re on vacation, when you’re away from your desk.”
And as summer is just ending and everyone is heading back to their busy school and work years, Lauffer said he’d like to see people approach life a little differently, and not hold out for the right circumstances to pursue one’s dreams, but to just do.
“If you wait until you have enough money, you’ll never get there,” he said. “There’s so much world out there.”