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Trail Magic – Part I

Author: Matthew St. Amand
10 months ago
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On Easter Monday morning, bikepacking cyclist Mike Janson, left the back door of his friend’s house in Vancouver and embarked on a twenty-two-day journey that took him more than 2,200 kilometers to San Francisco, California. Packed with equipment, including a tent, rain gear, and food, Mike’s Priority 600 bicycle weighed one-hundred-thirty-five pounds. Not only was this a bone-crushing trek to cycle, but Mike’s route took him through the mountainous Pacific Northwest, which is by turns breath-takingly beautiful and heart-stoppingly treacherous. The elevation gains Mike faced were equivalent to climbing Mount Whistler forty-two times.

What would possess an otherwise sane man to leave his wife, Danielle, and children—Jack, seventeen and Piper, fifteen—for a month on a solo bike trip that would, at times, push him to the outer limits of his physical and mental endurance?

“I’m one of those guys who values the simple things in life,” Mike says. “I love my family, I love my friends, and I realized that life is short. Recently, I had three close friends experience sudden and profound losses.”

Ten years ago, Mike lost his father, and his mother passed away exactly a year before the start-day of his monumental ride.

“I wanted to celebrate life,” he continues. “I wanted to celebrate my life and to pay homage to my friends and family who aren’t here anymore. To do something like this, you really must fulfill the ‘Why?’ For me—I don’t want to be the guy who dies with the sailboat sitting in the driveway. I don’t want to wait until I’m retired to experience the greatest adventure of my life.”

On April 7, Mike flew from Hamilton to Vancouver and spent Easter Weekend with old friends. On the morning of April 10, he embarked on his journey. Within hours, Mike crossed from White Rock B.C. into Blaine, Washington.

“The first day on the road, I logged only seventy-five kilometers,” Mike recalls. “I had hoped to do a lot more than that, but the amount of climbing, on a fully loaded bike, wind in my face, rain pouring… it was miserable.”

He persevered, passing through Ferndale and Bellingham. His plan was to reach Oak Harbour and catch a ferry. Along the way, however, he passed Larrabee State Park.

“Those are my spots where I wanted to stay,” he explains. “It’s five dollars for hiker/bikers to camp.”

Mike pulled into the state park and found shelter. He set up his tent and attempted to regroup. Not long after he lay down to sleep, the ground beneath him began to shake. As it turned out, he was forty feet from an Amtrak train line where trains roared by every two hours—all night long.

Unable to sleep, Mike looked at his map. His original plan was to go up and around the peninsula. He now considered skipping that and heading right for Seattle, cutting five hundred kilometers off the trip. He scrapped the idea almost as quickly as it came to mind. Mike didn’t embark on this adventure to take the easy way out.

“So, I lay there in my tent and told myself: ‘You knew this was the rain season. It would be hard. Suck it up. Tomorrow is a new day. Get on your bike and ride and you’ll feel better,’” Mike remembers. “‘Get the worst day out of the way first.’”

Any cyclist will tell you: there is something intangible and therapeutic in the simple act of pedaling a bicycle. The next morning, Mike scraped himself together, did a lousy job of packing his gear, and set out once more on his bicycle.

“As soon as I got pedaling, I felt better,” he says. “Three hours into my day, I stopped at a café, crushed about three sandwiches, charged my lights, nav and gadgets, and had some coffee. When I got back on the road, the sun was out, the sky was blue, there was nothing but mountains. In an instant, it was like someone had switched on a whole different day for me. I was on a high for the next five hours.”

After ten hours of riding, Mike found the next state park. He planned to camp there and then catch the ferry the following day at Coupeville crossing Puget Sound to Port Townsend.

Hikers, cyclists, and outdoor people have a concept known as “trail magic.” Hiking blog, The-hungry-hiker.com, explains: “Trail Magic is when someone does something really nice for you, unexpectedly, out on the trail, usually without expecting anything in return. Trail Magic can come from someone you know or most of the time, a complete stranger. We call people who provide Trail Magic, Trail Angels.”

On his way to the state park, Mike encountered his first experience with trail magic on this cycling trip. As he pedaled, an older couple waved at him, trying to get his attention. He pedaled over to them.

“Are you going to the campground?” they asked. “It’s back up the hill you just came down.”

After a few minutes of conversation, explaining his adventure, the couple introduced themselves as Mike and Pam Wilson. They said to Mike: “Would you like to spend the night at our house?”

“Before I left on this trip, I read an article that suggested being more open about accepting kindness others want to give you,” Mike says. “I went into this experience with an open mind.”

He accepted the Wilsons’ offer and spent the night at their home.

“They had a beautiful house on a hill overlooking the water,” Mike says. “When we got there, Mike asked me: ‘Do you like beer?’ and I said: ‘Does a one-legged duck swim in a circle?’ Right there—I went from the sh*thouse to the penthouse.”

The following morning, these trail angels had the coffee brewing, made a stack of blueberry pancakes for Mike, and biked with him down to the ferry in Coupeville to ensure he found his way.

“After that,” Mike reflects. “I knew I was going to be OK.”

Read about the rest of Mike Janson’s adventure, cycling to San Francisco, in the next issue of The Drive Magazine. Part II available here

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