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Trail Magic – Part II

In April, Mike Janson bikepacked from Vancouver to San Francisco to celebrate his life and to pay homage to those who are no longer with us
Author: Matthew St. Amand
Photographer: Mike Janson
9 months ago
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Along his epic cycling adventure, Mike Janson made several nostalgia-inspired stops. One of these was Aberdeen, Washington, birthplace of Kurt Cobain, the late lead singer of the rock band Nirvana.

“I was a big fan of that era in music and listened to it all through Washington,” Mike says. “The last town in Washington I stopped in was Raymond—the town where Nirvana played their first gig in March 1987.”

Even before leaving Washington State, Mike felt great anticipation about getting to Oregon. The first of the sights he was keen to see was the massive Astoria-Megler Bridge. Spanning more than four miles above the Columbia River, the Astoria-Megler Bridge is the longest continuous truss bridge in North America. It took Mike forty minutes to cross it.

Another meaningful stop in Astoria, Oregon, was the iconic house from the 1984 movie, Goonies.

“Ever since I saw Goonies for the first time,” Mike says, “I wanted to visit that house! I had such a good day there! Just bursting at the seams with good vibes!”

Pedaling through this mountain region was no easy feat.

“It was hard, at times, but the views made it worthwhile,” Mike says. “You settle into your bike. I had to consciously take my eyes off the nav and my front tire and look at the endless blue ocean, the white caps, the massive rock formations. It’s the most stunning coastline I’ve ever seen. The smells coming off the ocean, the trees. I was high from the exercise. The blue sky seemed to give me another gear.”

Beyond the physical demands of the ride, it was difficult being away from his family for so long.

“I’m a real family guy,” Mike says. “Being away for a month was a huge undertaking—physically and emotionally.”

His family supported his journey and technology helped bridge the gap—somewhat.

Finally, the mountains of Oregon gave way to the mountains of northern California. When Mike encountered iconic landmarks—the sign for Marin County, San Quentin Prison, Alcatraz—the notion that his journey neared its end began to sink in.

“Climbing in Sausalito, I looked across the bay and saw the iconic buildings of San Francisco,” Mike says. “Seeing the Golden Gate, in the distance, for the first time was electrifying, but sad at the same time. I struggled the last five days. Every pickup truck that went past made me think about hitching a ride.”

Although his time on the road was almost done, trail magic placed two more trail angels in Mike’s path: Ralph and Annette.

“They were true flower children from the ’60s,” he says. “They invited me to their campground, and I had dinner with them. They told me everything about their experiences in San Francisco during the ’60s.”

Mike set up his tent in the camping area. That night he lay awake thinking about the ride, the next day, into San Francisco, going over in his mind all he had experienced on his journey.

The next day, Ralph and Annette offered to drive Mike to San Francisco. Mike’s fatigue and his aches and pains wanted to take them up on the generous offer, but the part of him who dreamed up this odyssey knew he had to finish it on his bike.

“I was in tears leaving them,” he recalls. “As I pedaled down the road, they passed me and honked.”

During his last two days on the road, Mike savoured the experience. All the planning, all of the pedaling, the uncertainty, being away from his family, the rain, the breathtaking vistas, the trail angels he met and would never forget—were all with him along those dwindling kilometers.

“Then, they came into view,” Mike says. “Just up ahead of me: the two big towers of the Golden Gate Bridge.”

There was a flood of emotion and exhilaration that cast the moment in a surreal light. Mike took his time crossing the bridge, snapping photographs, stopping at one of the towers, taking in its immensity.

That was not the end of the adventure.

On the other side of the bridge was a high school buddy whom Mike had not seen in 16 years, with whom he had reconnected recently on social media. As it turned out, his friend now lived in Napa Valley and Mike kept him updated about his progress on the ride.

“At the end of the trip, I hadn’t planned much beyond ‘I’m leaving on this day, and I’ve got to be back on this day,’” Mike says. “The ending was going to be the most stressful part. Once I was across the bridge, that was the end—I don’t know what I’m going to do next. I’ve got to find a bicycle shop. I’ve got to get a box and pack up my bike. Figure out if I’m going to mail it home or get it onto a plane.

“My buddy who was waiting for me, took all of those variables out of the way, and I spent the next few days with him, seeing the sights, drinking some beers, watching some playoff hockey. I didn’t plan anything, but it all worked out.”

By the time Mike spoke with The Drive Magazine, he had been home approximately one week, and though he returned to his family and his work routine, he was still processing the experience.

“I found what I was looking for, and so much more,” he says. “Every day was like Christmas in the sense that I was so excited for what was going to happen, who was I going to meet—and it was so easy to meet people. So many people gave me food, bought me beers, offered for me to stay the night with them, offered a ride. If we watch the news and look at social media, you’d think the world is falling apart, but when you get out and have an experience like this, you realize that there’s a lot of love out there, and the people out there are just fantastic.”

In case you missed it, check out Trail Magic – Part I

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