Life Member Profile: Michael Prest

From Bikecentennial to life member

“Nothing I did had more impact on my life. If Adventure Cycling wouldn’t have been there, I wouldn’t have had the guts to try something like that.”

“Quitting crossed my mind virtually every mile,” said Michael Prest about his 1976 Bikecentennial ride, and that was just during his drive from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to the starting point in Virginia. “But having invested over 500 bucks in this thing, having over 1000 dollars pledged for leukemia, and knowing I could never look myself in the eye again if I quit before even starting convinced me not to.” 

Two years earlier, Michael had read an article in a local Sunday paper that said, “For those young bicyclist who feel strong enough, the first cross-country bicycle route from Oregon to Virginia will open in 1976.”

“I nonchalantly tore the article out, thinking it’s nice to dream about, but I knew I’d never actually do it,” he said. 

Yet in February of 1976, after months of agonizing debate, Michael signed up to ride from Yorktown, Virginia, to Carbondale, Illinois, due in part to his father, a man he’d never met. When Michael’s father was 33, he went in for a routine medical checkup and came out with a diagnosis of leukemia. Five days later, Michael’s mother, who was three months pregnant with Michael, became a widow.

“There is no guarantee that you’re going to be around tomorrow, so you’ve got to enjoy what you’ve got,” said Michael, now 65. Two years after his Bikecentennial ride, he quit his job at an engineering firm and went back to Carbondale to complete the TransAm, this time by himself. A week in, he met Oregon cyclists Lance and Terry and shared a jail cell with them in Chanute, Kansas. With the forecast calling for tornados, they were desperate for a roof and solid walls. Michael convinced them to “turn themselves over” to the police in exchange for a safe, if crowded, night in a 6x9-foot jail cell. In Idaho he met Don, a meteorologist, and together they finished the TransAm in Reedsport, Oregon. “I love when you can just bump into somebody on the road,” said Michael. “I love the flexibility.” Instead of packing up and going home, he followed the coastline south, ending his cross-country trip by riding across the Golden Gate Bridge.

“Nothing I did had more impact on my life,” said Michael. “If Adventure Cycling wouldn’t have been there, I wouldn’t have had the guts to try something like that.”

This summer, Michael will travel to Washington State to complete his goal of riding in all 50 states. “I can plod with the best of them,” he said. Another 18,000 miles and Michael will have plodded his way to a grand total of 100,000 miles. “I don’t know what I’ll do after Washington; I guess I’ll go around a second time.” 

For all the vast country he has seen by bike, he never gets tired of stepping out his back door in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to take a spin on the Capital Area Green Belt. That’s where you’ll find him most weekend mornings, biking to breakfast with his wife, Jeannie. Semi-retired, he works two days a week at a local Harrisburg golf course. “I’m a simple grass mower,” Michael said. “I’ve been perfectly content with my lot in life.” Whether he’s cycling the Green Belt or some distant highway, he’s always willing to stop and chat with fellow cyclists. “I wax poetically about bicycling, so it’s neat when you meet other people who love cycling too.” 

Story by: April Cypher is Adventure Cycling’s development coordinator. She knows biking fully loaded across the Golden Gate Bridge on a sunny weekend is a true test of bike-handling skills.

Join as a Life Member and help support Adventure Cycling into the future, while gaining the benefits of membership for life! We have a special premium if you join as a life member now. In addition to the embroidered Life jacket, we'll send you a copy of the 40th Anniversary book about the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail created by long-time staff members Mac McCoy & Greg Siple.

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