Mainstreams: Driven to Fight Cancer

Managing Editor

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.

Mike Garland in a signature orange shirt he wore on his hiking trip from Mexico to Canada.

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.”

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Elk River Relay for Life volunteers greeted Mike Garland when he made his way through Elk River on the Mississippi River. He is on his way to the Gulf of Mexico, but his wife will pick him up in Guttenberg, Iowa, to bring him back to speak in Elk River at the annual Relay for Life on Saturday, Aug. 5, at Lion John Weicht Park.

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.

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Mike Garland was greeted by family, friends and supporters, including a contingent from the Elk River Relay for Life at Snuffy’s Landing and Scenic Outlook on Day 15 of his canoe trip. He made it 48 miles that day, which is the most so far. He even gave grandkids a ride for a short bit.

“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.”

Submitted map
Mike Garland suspects his canoe trip down the Mississippi River to raise awareness about the services offered by the American Cancer Society as well as its research efforts will take about 75 days. It will depend on how many Relays for Life he stops at to speak.

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 ( 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.

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Mike Garland was given a grand send-off before his big bicycle trek to Oregon by his grandchildren, including the two baby grandchildren he is holding.

“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.

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Mike Garland was photographed in Yellowstone National Park. It’s not visible, but in the background there is a cannon that is fired to set off man-made avalanches to avoid ones set off unexpectedly when a slab of snow breaks loose.

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.”

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Mike Garland’s first trek was a bicycle trip from his home in Becker to Oregon and back on a nearly 3,800-mile mission. Here he is shown in Yellowstone National Park.
Submitted photo
Mike Garland’s hike from Mexico to Canada started here at the southern terminus at the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail in 2016.
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Mike Garland has received a hero’s welcome home by 400-500 people on his return from each of his first two journeys. He said both were very emotional for him.