Mapping a Life on Two Wheels

Oct 5th, 2021

Donna Sakson navigates life on two wheels. Her routes change to fit the times and mark the milestones. She’s mapped her way through college, career, marriage, and family. In every phase, cycling has kept her grounded while moving forward.

“Cycling has been with me through every stage of my life,” said Sakson. “What has meant the most to me is that bicycles are a vehicle for changing hearts, minds, and lives. Get on a bike and it will change your view of the world.”

Not a fan of cars in her younger years, Sakson found freedom on a bike. At the University of Washington in Seattle, cycling was a necessity. When Sakson read an article about RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa), her imagination for cycling grew bigger. She found Bikecentennial. She rode her first Seattle-to-Portland (STP) in 1982. Sakson went on to complete the STP event 14 times, including a one-day ride of 206 miles.

As an insatiable bike enthusiast, even love had to hop on two wheels to catch up with Sakson. She met her late husband, Jonathan Mark, one fateful Valentine’s Day. He was a smart man and bought a bike the very next day.

“Jonathan’s famous for saying, ‘Yes, I knew I would need it,’” she said, laughing.

Everyone’s a cyclist if you are on a bike.

In 1992, Sakson’s career took off and was cramping her cycling adventures. As the founding CEO of Sakson and Taylor, Inc., one of the largest women-owned high-tech communications firms, getting away was understandably harder. She found help in an article by Peter Lagerwey, called “The Best Rides under 60 Miles.”

“That captivated me. Back then we called them Sub-24s. It was a fun way to stretch the weekend,” said Sakson. The couple loved the shorter trips. They began gathering Adventure Cycling maps. They set out on rides down the Pacific Coast, to Glacier National Park, and even made the pilgrimage to Adventure Cycling headquarters in Missoula.

Donna stands in her cycling gear next to the Adventure Cycling headquarters sign in Missoula, Montana
Donna and Jonathan made it to Adventure Cycling headquarters in Missoula, Montana.
Donna Sakson

As an Adventure Cycling Life Member, Sakson supports the focus on Bike Overnights. “Not everyone has the luxury to take off for long periods of time,” she explained. “Our roots are Bikecentennial and epic tours. But sometimes inspiration starts small, and it can grow, and it includes families. My hope is that we no longer think about who’s a cyclist. Everyone’s a cyclist if you are on a bike.”

After her daughter Irene was born, the routes changed once again and included a tandem. Rides were shorter as a family of three. Sakson joined women-led tours with friends while Jonathan stayed home. Time rushed by. Irene left for college, Sakson sold her business, and bigger tours together resumed.

Sakson and her husband began to dedicate time and resources to support their passions. They established two endowment scholarships at the University of Washington, including the Sakson Diversity Scholarship fund. Sakson serves on the UW College of Engineering Visiting Committee and Foundation Board.

Jonathan was diagnosed with glioblastoma in 2018 and died in June 2020. Sakson continues to lean on cycling to connect with the joys of the past and the future. She now finds herself riding with friends, including her daughter Irene.

“Cycling is something you enjoy for life. It’s something we enjoyed together and it’s something I’ll continue to enjoy,” she said.

Donna and Jonathan stand in front of a snow-covered Crater Lake.
Donna and Jonathan at Crater Lake
Donna Sakson

Memories of Jonathan and friends on rides dot the landscape of Sakson’s life. She will tell you that trails are her great hope of keeping people riding longer.

“If you stay cooped up, you can grow cynical. Whereas if you get on a bike, you connect to communities, cultures, landscapes, and adventure,” said Sakson.

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