by Jim Boyle
Mike Garland has been going out of his way for three years to raise awareness of the American Cancer Association about the services it offers and to raise money for the research it does in hopes of ridding the world of cancer.
In 2015 he biked nearly 3,800 miles from Becker to the state of Oregon and back.
In 2016 he hiked from the Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail 2,650 miles.
And this year this he is canoeing about 2,350 miles from the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.
The 59-year-old Becker man left earlier this summer in his aluminum canoe and expects the adventure to take about 75 days, but exactly how long depends on how busy he gets on spreading a message of hope and how many invitations he gets to Relay for Life events along the way.
He told the Star News on Wednesday, while paddling through lily pads about 10 miles south of the Lansing, Minnesota, that he expected his wife to pick him up on Aug. 4 in Guttenberg, Iowa. The couple will spend the night and drive back up to Elk River to speak at the Sherburne County Area Relay for Life. (See story here)
He plans to talk about his adventures and why he does it.
“I never write anything,” said Garland, a retired heavy equipment operator for the Sherco Plant in Becker. “I’m not a natural speaker. I just tell what’s on my heart and let them know about my adventures, and let them know there are people working hard for them in this fight.”
Garland didn’t always share about his adventures, but he found that’s what people want to hear about, and it can be quite inspiring to some.
“I talk about the bears, the coyotes and the cougars and mix in some of the people I meet,” he said.
Making his way through the pond-like portion of the Mississippi River has been his toughest battle so far, aside from the pain in his wrist he has been dealing on his trip.
“I trust there are more challenging stretches and obstacles to overcome yet,” Garland said.
There were a number of challenging encounters on his first two adventures.
“They really wear and tear on your body,” said Garland, who remembers a snowstorm in Buffalo, Montana, during which his water froze solid. “It was 36 miles up a mountain in adverse conditions.”
On his hike from Mexico to Canada he endured a stomach virus that took him out four days after he got some bad water. He had medicine on hand from a doctor for just this kind of ailment that lasts eight to 10 days. He got back at it before the virus had fully run its course, battling 120-degree heat in the Mojave Desert. He ultimately lost 50 pounds on the 133-day hike. He says, sadly, he gained 60 pounds back over the winter.
He lost 30 pounds on the bike ride in 2015 but also gained all of that back.
In his latest voyage, he saw a bull snake try to join him in his canoe, but thankfully it didn’t.
“I see a lot of deer and lots of eagles,” he said. “I saw five today (Aug. 2).
“I suspect there will be more excitement down south.”
Garland follows the system buoys to traverse the river. Occasionally, he needs his GPS, like when the buoys are removed, Garland said.
More than raising money
Garland, who served his country as a young man in the 101st Airbourne Division, has more hope now than when he started his missions.
He said the cancer rates are often trending down, which is good. But he’s interested in carrying a message of what the American Cancer Society does beyond research.
He thinks of the psychological help they offer people, many who don’t have families.
He shares the organization’s website (cancer.org) and its cancer helpline (800-227-2345) to anyone who might need it.
He’s also met nurses and doctors of oncology from California who treat patients as well as a researcher from New Jersey whose work is partially funding by the cancer society.
“It’s quite motivating,” Garland said.
He has 1,000-2,000 people following him on his Facebook site and Twitter, and at peak times it has been up at 6,000-8,000 people.
His Facebook page can be found at Mike+You=Cure.
His Twitter account is @Mike_You_Cure.
Garland was raising money for the Becker Relay for Life when he decided on his bike ride out west as a way to get people’s attention. He figured he needed something drastic.
His send-off included a photo session with all of his grandchildren, including the infants.
Along the way, he shared with people about the Becker Relay for Life and how they could donate to it or they could raise money in their own communities. He even spoke at a few venues in Oregon.
Garland was inspired by the loved ones he has lost to cancer and those that are still fighting it. He lost his dad to bladder cancer about 20 years ago, and he lost his grandfather prior to that to prostate cancer.
Seven years ago he lost an uncle to leukemia and a niece has since been diagnosed with breast cancer and a grand-niece has also gotten a cancer diagnosis that he can’t spell or pronounce.
He has 11 grandchildren total, one great-grandchild and another grandchild on the way. Garland would like to see the chances of his grandchildren getting cancer go way down or away.
He knows he’s doing his part, but not sure entirely of the impact.
“You don’t the impact of what a person does,” Garland said.
What he knows for sure, however, is the reception he has gotten after his first two trips has been amazing. He has been led back to his hometown by the Becker Police, Fire and Ambulance to a crowd of 400-500 people.
“It was quite emotional for me,” he said. “To know that many people have been following me and that many people care is wonderful. It sure wasn’t expected.”