Rowing the Mississippi River. Bagging Mount Rainier for the 500th time. Winning the Mountain Running world championship. Kayaking from Alaska to Washington.
South Sound residents pulled off some impressive adventures in 2016. And some visitors to the area also recorded some inspiring accomplishments. Here are some highlights:
Skydiving without a chute
See the accompanying article for more on Luke Aikins, a Graham native and Shelton resident who pulled off one of the most calculated and daring stunts you’ll ever see.
On July 30, Aikins jumped from a plane at 25,000 feet without a parachute. He was aiming for a 100-by-100 net in California’s Simi Valley. He hit his mark and made headlines around the world.
He spent almost two years designing and practicing the jump before nailing it on live TV.
“I don’t think I can top this,” Aikins said.
Kyle Cooper, Matt Ryan and Daniel Walters
Paddled from Alaska to Washington
Over the summer, Olympia residents Kyle Cooper and Daniel Walters and their friend, Matt Ryan of Seattle, celebrated the most memorable birthdays of their lives. Cooper and Ryan turned 28 and Walters turned 27 as they paddled their kayaks from Skagway, Alaska, to Orcas Island.
The men spent the summer making the nearly 1,000-nautical-mile trip that went as smoothly as they hoped. It rained hard only five times, and the water was rarely choppy enough to force the men to shore. They never capsized, and they were able to log 15-18 miles per day. But that’s not to say the trip was easy.
1,000 Nautical miles paddled by Kyle Cooper, Matt Ryan and Daniel Walters during their trip on the Inside Passage from Alaska to Orcas Island.
“The trip was hard in ways I didn’t expect,” Cooper said. “When you spend all day on the water for that long it can be hard to keep your brain engaged.”
The Inside Passage attracts paddlers from around the world, and the friends got to scope out the terrain as they traveled to Skagway from Bellingham via the Alaska Marine Highway ferry. As they paddled home, they stopped at towns along the way to restock supplies (including to beer to celebrate their birthdays) and to splurge on burgers.
To say they spent their summer close to nature would be an understatement. A bear motivated them to switch camps one evening, and Cooper says there were 25 days on which they spotted a humpback whale.
Logan Fitzgerald and Bob Lemier
In separate adventures, a pair of South Sound residents completed a trip that’s a bucket list adventure for many cyclists. Both men pedaled across the United States.
Logan Fitzgerald, a 20-year-old University of Washington student from Puyallup, and Bob LeMier, a 61-year-old Olympia resident, took different approaches for their trip.
Logan Fitzgerald biked from Long Beach, California, to Washington, D.C., and Bob LeMier of Olympia biked from the Oregon coast to Yorktown, Virginia.
Fitzgerald left from Long Beach, California, and finished in Washington, D.C., and pedaled with 23 others on a trip organized by his fraternity, Pi Kappa Phi. The ride took nearly two months, covered more than 3,600 miles. Fitzgerald raised more than $7,300 for The Ability Experience, an organization dedicated to helping people with disabilities.
LeMier recreated a trip he did in 1980. He left from the Oregon Coast and traveled 4,052 miles to Yorktown, Virginia, during his 71-day trip. LeMier, co-owner of an Olympia-based remodeling business, took off three months for his solo adventure and spent three weeks touring the country by car during the return trip with his wife.
“It was an amazing trip,” LeMier said. “I’m still pinching myself.”
Sam Friedman, Eric Nathanson, Audra Tromly and Calli Vasatka
Rowed Mississippi River
The four grads (all but Nathanson were members of the Loggers rowing teams) took part in a new UPS course taught by adventurer Jordan Hanssen. The course culminated with an optional project: Row 2,300 miles from the river’s source in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.
They started in mid-August and reached the Gulf of Mexico on Thanksgiving evening. They celebrated with a dinner of sausage, sweet potatoes and vegetables.
2,300 Miles rowed and paddled by recent UPS graduates as they traveled the length of the Mississippi River.
“One of the most powerful parts of the trip is that we saw the country in a whole new way,” Tromly said the day after they finished their trip. “It’s easy to think we all have the same ideology when we look at the world through these bubbles we create for ourselves. But when we break out of those bubbles we get a better understanding of things.”
Along the way, the rowers spoke to more than 4,000 students ranging from grade-schoolers to college students. They also collected data for scientists and shot images for Google Maps.
Mountain running world champ
Since graduating from Lakes High School more than a decade ago, Joseph Gray has had an impressive career as a professional runner.
He won a world trail running championships in 2012, 11 national titles and was named Team USA’s mountain runner of the year six times.
On Sept. 11, he added another impressive line to résumé: World mountain running champion. Gray, 32, won the championship while racing in Bulgaria.
Joseph Gray won the World Mountain Running Championship on Sept. 11 on a Bulgarian course that climbed about 5,000 feet over 7.8 miles.
Mountain running races are held on steep trails at elevation and courses can vary dramatically from race to race. At the world championships, the course climbed about 5,000 feet over 7.8 miles.
“I excel more on the uphill courses” Gray said. “And the more technical the terrain, usually the better for me.”
Gray, who now lives in Colorado, is fast on more traditional courses, too. In February, he competed in the Olympic Trials for the marathon in Los Angeles. Despite being sick for the race, he finished 76th out of 108 in 2 hours, 31 minutes, 20 seconds.
Ron and Michele Hall
Boating the Great Loop
The world looks different when you’re going slow.
Just ask Ron and Michele Hall of Browns Point, who, on April 27, 2016, finished a three-year, 6,000-mile trip. Ron says they averaged about 7 mph as they circumnavigated the eastern states.
About 100 boats per year complete the journey.
The Great Loop, as it’s known in boating circles, is created by linking the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, canals, the Great Lakes, rivers and the Gulf of Mexico.
“We thought it would be a wonderful way to travel from small community to village to village to get a better understanding of America and our Canadian neighbors,” Ron said. “It was an exploration for us and a renewal of ourselves.”
The couple was short on experience when they took on the challenge. They bought a 48-foot Kadey Krogen trawler with two bedrooms and a living room and named it Spirit Journey. Two months later they set sail from Stuart, Florida.
They might have finished sooner, but they tacked on 5,000 miles of side trips including a 71-day trip into Canada.
Ron said the couple intentionally did not create an agenda for their trip.
“That’s the great thing about boat people, they aren’t in a hurry,” Ron said. “They aren’t searching a destination. They are searching a journey. An experience.”
In 2016, Kate Landau started running the marathon and established herself as the South Sound’s fastest woman.
The 40-year-old Tacoma resident’s first marathon was May’s Tacoma City Marathon. She won the woman’s race and was second overall running side-by-side with the men’s champ for most of the race. Her time of 2 hours, 43 minutes, 51 seconds was a new race record.
For her second marathon she won October’s Portland Marathon, one of the most coveted marathons on the West Coast. She finished ahead of all but three men. Fourth place overall is the best finish by a women’s champ in the 18 years of results posted on the race website.
Her time of 2:38:45 was a masters record and the second fastest by a woman in the 45-year history of the Portland Marathon.
She also finished ahead of the men’s winners as she won the St. Paddy’s (Tacoma) and Tacoma Narrows half marathons.
“There’s always going to be a little bit of ego that feels good about that kind of accomplishment, especially when you are in the mode of racing,” Landau said in October. “Afterward, I don’t think too much of it because I’m not really competing against the guys.”
Landau ran at Georgetown University and moved to Tacoma in 2013. She is a physician assistant in MultiCare’s vascular surgery department.
Her recent running success is part of an impressive comeback story. For years she battle anorexia and thought her competitive running career was over. She stopped running for 15 years.
“I’d given up on running, and I’m amazed and grateful to be doing this,” Landau said. “It’s a fun experience.”
500 Rainier summits
Climbing with friends in early June, Brent Okita, 55, reached the 14,411-foot summit of Mount Rainier for the 500th time.
The Enumclaw resident became the second person to accomplish the feat (International Mountain Guides co-owner George Dunn is the other). He celebrated by skiing back down the mountain via the 55-degree slopes of the Edmunds Headwall.
Okita has worked as a guide for Rainier Mountaineering Inc. since 1986 and is also part of the ski patrol at Crystal Mountain Resort.
4,500,000 Estimated vertical feet Brent Okita climbed during his 500 summits of Mount Rainier.
Summiting Rainier 500 times is the equivalent to about 9,000 miles and 4.5 million vertical feet. That doesn’t include hundreds of additional climbs that didn’t reach the summit.
Okita has a reputation in the climbing community for being supremely fit and dedicated. “He is an animal,” said Robert Link, one of eight guides who has climbed Rainier more than 300 times. “For him to maintain his level of fitness at his age (55) says a lot about him. That dude always trained really hard.”
Okita, who climbed Mount Everest in 1991, says he still feels great and plans to continue to climb as long as his body can handle the rigors of the sport.
“I figure I still have a few good years left,” Okita said.
Rainier speed record
Steidl, one of the Northwest’s most accomplished distance runners, set what is believed to be a new speed record on the 14,411-foot mountain by making his roundtrip in 4 hours, 24 minutes, 30 seconds. The 44-year-old departed at 4:57 a.m. and finished at 9:21 a.m.
He broke the previous fastest known time of 4:40:59 set by mountain guide Willie Benegas in 2008. Eric Carter of British Columbia has the fastest known time for a skier, 3:51:40 in 2014.
Steidl doesn’t have the climbing pedigree of past record holders, but he has a running résumé few can match. He won 10 Seattle Marathons, five Vancouver Marathons and holds the Portland Marathon record. Twice he won the masters division of the Boston Marathon.
4:24:30 The time Uli Steidl needed to climb Mount Rainier on July 26.
As fast as he was, he doesn’t expect the record to stand forever.
“There are definitely people out there who could run it faster,” Steidl said. “One thing in the back of my mind was, (Spanish ultrarunner) Kilian (Jornet) has been going around the world and running up mountains like Denali and Aconcagua. And I think if he wants to do something in the (contiguous) United States, Mount Rainier would be the choice.
“I thought, I better do it before he decides to do it because if he does it I don’t think I have any chance of possibly getting the record.”
Ras Vaughan and Gavin Woody
Finished Rainier Infinity Loop
Gavin Woody and Jason “Ras” Vaughan love endurance challenges, creative adventures and Mount Rainier. On July 23, they combined all three passions by taking on something called the Infinity Loop.
What’s the Rainier Infinity Loop? The idea is credited to legendary Northwest mountaineer Chad Kellogg, who died on an expedition in Argentina before he could attempt the loop.
I think that we as humans are far more capable than we might think. We just have to tell ourselves the right story.
Gavin Woody, adventure athlete
Once complete, the 120-mile loop would create something roughly resembling an infinity symbol. The men started at Paradise then climb to the 14,411-foot peak, descend to White River and then ran back to Paradise clockwise on the Wonderland Trail. Then they climb over the mountain again, this time returning counterclockwise on the Wonderland Trail.
It took them 99 hours, 7 minutes to finish the trip that included 40,000 feet of climbing. Vaughan, from Whidbey Island, and Woody, from Bellevue, used the adventure to raise more than $5,000 for The Mountaineers Youth Programs.
“I keep a quote from Chad (Kellogg) on my mirror: ‘The story you tell yourself becomes your reality,’ ” Woody said. “I think that we, as humans, are far more capable than we might think. We just have to tell ourselves the right story.”
Clearly this approach works for Woody and Vaughan. As an encore, Woody ran a 200-mile race in Italy and Vaughan did a second Infinity Loop, this time on Mount Adams.
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