While most his age are settling down, 25-year-old Jake Wilcox is setting out for the adventure of his lifetime to celebrate his 26th birthday.
On Tuesday, the Puyallup native started swimming the length of Hells Canyon and the lower Snake River, starting near Boise and ending near the Tri-Cities.
Wilcox’s latest adventure is all part of what he calls Venture 500, a worldwide quest to complete 50 non-motorized/human kindness journeys of at least 500 miles. Prior to becoming a professional adventurer, Wilcox was in the Navy for a little more than two years. The brief stint got him hooked on traveling.
“It taught me survival and what not,” he said about his time serving his country.
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Once he left the Navy, he started working at a brewery, but it didn’t take long for his desire for travel and adventure to kick in.
“I wasn’t really happy there so I bought a one-way ticket to Hawaii,” he said. “I slept on the beach for a month, but got a job in the first three days. I sold most of my stuff and just went. I loved it. I surfed, and lived life. I ended up getting my own place and stayed there for two years. That made me test myself and get out of my comfort zone a little bit.”
After soaking up the laid back lifestyle in Hawaii, Wilcox eventually came back to Washington. Once again, it didn’t take long for his adventurous side to kick in.
“I came back home and was visiting family and got that stir crazy thing again. I wanted to hit the road so I took a backpack full of clothes and hitch hiked down the West Coast, all the way east to Dallas, where I looped back around,” he said. “On that trip, I started blogging about it on Facebook to show people what I’m doing with pictures and updates, and I got really good responses from it.
The Puyallup native did a couple more trips and then went back to Hawaii. He was even living off grid in an abandoned beach shack for a while. He then turned his interest to cycling two years ago, when he rode the Columbia River Gorge, a trek of about 500 miles. Following his cycling trip through the Columbia River Gorge, Wilcox decided to cycle from Puyallup all the way to Washington D.C.
“It took me 60 days, but I ended up completing it,” he said. “There were definitely times — because the weather was really bad — I had to walk. White Pass was brutal to walk, but it taught me a lot about myself, and it opened up Pandora’s Box that I could accomplish these big tasks, and so that got me to head down the right direction.
“I had a lot of time to think being on the bicycle for days on end.”
On that journey, with plenty of time to think, Wilcox formed a bucket list and Venture 500 started to take shape.
Following his cycling trip to the East Coast, he wasn’t ready to come home just yet, so Wilcox gave away his bike to the local children’s hospital, grabbed his backpack and started walking down the East Coast.
“I ended up walking 586 miles, and went around the Outer Banks to North Carolina, and ended my trip in Myrtle Beach,” he said. “That took me three weeks.”
Now, Wilcox has built on the momentum of completing his adventures, and is now really pushing himself to the limits.
“You get this momentum building of thinking, ‘I did that, I did that, what else can I do?’” he said. “Someone told me one time that you have 30,000 days on this earth and you don’t want to waste your days. I don’t want to look back on life and say I wish I could have done more with my potential. It’s my way to get out there and see what I’m capable of and see the world.”
Wilcox’s next journey starts exactly one year from his last epic adventure. He will swim 500 miles on the lower Snake River, going through the remote and dangerous Hells Canyon.
“If I do complete it, I will be the first person to swim Hells Canyon, which is America’s deepest River Gorge,” he said.
Wilcox will camp along the river for his entire trip. While swimming, he will have a life vest and an inflatable nylon boogie board to keep him afloat. His 40-pound waterproof backpack he is taking has everything he will need for the trip.
“I have food and a bunch of basic survival gear,” he said. “I’ll have a couple resupply posts along the way at post offices. In Hells Canyon, there’s 150 miles of nothing so I really need to be self-sufficient and maybe live off of the river. I am bringing a fishing pole with me.”
Wilcox expects to finish his trip by the first of June, equating to roughly a month spent on the river. Then, on June 11, he will leave for Alaska for a 750-mile cycling trip from Anchorage to the Arctic Circle, and then back down to Fairbanks. Following that trip, Wilcox will fly to Barcelona, Spain on Oct. 17, and will walk from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, a 750-mile walking trip across Spain.
When not traveling, Wilcox is working as a bartender at Ricky J’s to support his adventures.
“They’ve been really supportive,” he said.
Wilcox’s mother, Tammy, says Jake hasn’t always been this adventurous, but after graduating from Columbia High School in Burbank (Walla Walla County) his adventurous side kicked in.
“He always wanted to just get out of (the) town,” she said.
Of course, as his mother, she worries about him on these adventures — especially swimming through Hells Canyon.
“I’m scared about the Hells Canyon deal with those rapids,” she said. “I told him to promise me he wouldn’t go through those.”
While she is scared about his adventures, like any mother, she is extremely proud of her son.
“I love that he does this,” she said. “I mean, who does this kind of stuff? I don’t know anyone who does stuff like this. I love that he does it, but it’s still scary.”