Adventurer of the Year
Adriene Levknecht, Greenville, S.C.
Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer
The year 2016 was a big one for Levknecht. Voted Canoe & Kayak Magazine’s Female Paddler of the Year, she came in third at the Little White Salmon Race, second at GoPro Mountain Games, and first at both the Lord of the Fork and the Green River Race. She’s won the Green Race consecutively for the past eight years. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, the Queen of the Green broke into the top 10 men’s, tying with former Green Race winner Andrew Holcombe and race organizer John Grace with a time of 04:35. A first in Green Race history.
All of this from a gal who started 2016 not with a bang, but with dengue, which she contracted in Costa Rica just days after her engagement to Dagger Kayaks designer Snowy Robertson.
“I lost 15 pounds during the whole thing” Levknecht says. “I came out of 2015 strong as I’ve ever been and then that strength just went away. It just vanished in a week, so that was pretty frustrating.”
Levknecht, fire that she is, didn’t let it stop her. She was back on the water just four days after her fever broke. And while most would take to a quiet stretch of familiar water, Levknecht headed south to Ecuador, where she raced on the Upper Jondachi. Though she had never paddled the class V section of river before, she placed second literally just one second behind the only other female paddler.
Most would be content with this amazing comeback (or making it safely down the river, period). But Levknecht isn’t like most people. She trained harder, fighting the lingering fatigue and effects of dengue well into the spring. But when she crossed the finish line on the Little White Salmon third out of three women, again by a matter of seconds, the frustration had come to a head.
“I don’t want to say I was disappointed, but I was disappointed,” she says.
While many of her fellow paddlers spent the summer traveling and paddling hard rivers every week, Levknecht took eight weeks off to work full-time for First Descents, a non-profit that provides free outdoor adventure opportunities for young adults fighting cancer.
“It’s those kids that give me strength when I’m training for a really hard race,” Levknecht says. “If you put your head down, you can really do anything. 80 percent of the battle is your head.”
In addition to continuing her competition circuit for 2017, Levknecht plans on completing a yoga teacher training in Thailand next month. As for the Queen of the Green and her record hold on the gold?
“Someone’s going to have to wear the crown eventually. In my race this year I spun out for the first time ever in over six years. I know I can go faster.”
Best Instagram Account
With over 10,000 followers on Instagram, would you be surprised at all if I told you Justin Costner picked up photography just four years ago when he discovered North Carolina’s Linville Gorge Wilderness?
“I never knew anything about the gorge, but seeing all of these amazing views of Shortoff, I started snapping little iPhone photos,” Costner says.
About a year later, Costner bought a Canon T3i, his first DSLR. For a while, he defaulted to shooting on automatic, but when he stumbled upon a step-by-step guide to DIY night photography, he decided to give it a whirl. One weekend, he grabbed a friend, a tent, some lights, and headed for the gorge.
“I had no idea you had to do manual focus on night shots,” he remembers, “but I just kept playing around and accidentally got one that was really good.”
Now, Costner’s lighted tents and night scenes are a staple of his work. He regularly hosts photography workshops near his home in North Carolina and his work has been featured on Visit North Carolina, Chaco, The North Face, and Grandfather Mountain Country Club.
“I think one of the coolest things about Instagram is of course the networking, but it opens up a whole new world to people. You can pretty much travel anywhere in the world with a scroll of the thumb. It creates this wanderlust and shows people what’s out there.”
Steve Yocom, North Carolina
Derek Diluzio, N.C.
Shannon Millsaps, N.C.
For Philadelphia native, Maggie Valley, N.C., transplant Steve Yocom, the outdoors, and photography, were later-in-life discoveries. You can thank Asheville for that. When Yocom started doing IT work for a healthcare company in town, he began exploring his backyard. The more he saw, the more he wanted to document what he saw.
“I used my bonus money to get a camera, just a starter kit. I brought it out every weekend on trips,” and the rest, he says, is history.
Yocom’s early work mostly features his two dogs, Asia and Cain. They’re not your typical pet portraits, not unless you count epic sunrise and frozen whisker shots as “typical.” For Yocom, his dogs weren’t just his only models at first—they were, and continue to be, his best adventure partners.
“One time I ran into this guy and he told me, ‘You’re never going to sell anything if there’s a dog in every picture.’ But I just shot a catalog for an outdoor dog brand. I can’t wait to run into that guy again. It’s super important to just shoot what you love because that’s where the passion is,” and that, he says, is more authentic than any model could ever be.
Gordon Wadsworth, Roanoke, Va.
Ty Caldwell, N.C.
Jay Reese, Va.
There’s more to this guy than mustaches, American flags, and life-crushing quads. To date, Gordon “Quadsworth” is the three-time singlespeed USA Cycling National Champion and three-time National Ultra Endurance Series singlespeed Champion. He’s been hailed as the “Fastest Singlespeeder in the World,” and we don’t doubt it—last year our readers voted Wadsworth Adventurer of the Year.
So how does he do it, especially on top of a 30-hour work week?
“In the winter, that means you’re either starting in the dark or ending in the dark,” Wadsworth says. “It really kinda adds some gravity to what you’re doing. If you’re getting up before light or finishing in the dark, you’re planning for several hours of changing temperatures and it can be an epic thing. It can also get boring really quick.”
Wadworth compensates long, lone hours in the saddle with group rides, which, when you live in a city like Roanoke with an active cycling community, it’s not hard to tap into any one of the area’s weekly rides.
“I often invite someone to ride with me, or meet someone on a ride, or start my ride and catch up to a group. I try to incorporate that social element to my riding because I know my personality and it helps me commit to really long rides. I don’t stress it if I go out with the local junior team rather than doing my own intervals.”
On most training weeks, Wadsworth is on a bike at least 12 to 18 hours. When he’s building volume, which typically happens in winter, early spring, and late summer, he can spend upwards of 30 hours a week in the saddle. He says getting out on the trails with his wife Emily and their schnauzer mutt pup Pippy keeps him grounded to the very heart of his cycling pursuits which is, quite simply, to have fun.
“I try to prioritize taking racing seriously, but not to the point that it’s fatiguing. I think people tend to burn out when they have one monster goal, and they finish it, and then you don’t see them at all that next year. I want to build a really great athlete reputation and lifestyle and fitness, but with a tone of adventure,” which might include, for example, activities such as running to each of the Roanoke area’s seven peaks, a challenge most residents conquer in seven weeks but which Wadsworth and a friend tackled in a single day last November.
Kaitlyn Stell, Bryson City, N.C.
Joe Dean, N.C.
Jonny Horton, N.c.
At 12 years old, Kaitlyn Stell knew she wanted to be a raft guide. She’d just had her first whitewater rafting experience ever on the Ocoee River. Her guide, Tanner, was charming and enthusiastic. He made Stell and her family feel like his longtime friends. Fast-forward just six years. Stell, now a raft guide for the NOC, is guiding a trip on the Nantahala. She has her own crew, her own guide stick, her own raft. And who should come floating past but Tanner, the very guide who inspired her to follow her dream.
“That was pretty cool, getting to tell him that he was my guide and for him to see that now I had become a raft guide,” Stell says. “I really like the fun and exhilaration you get from rafting, but also the families that come through. I’m a really big people person, so that makes it fun for me.”
And, despite the NOC’s location in western North Carolina, Stell says she gets to experience an amazing amount of diversity through her guests, like the Indian family from Texas who drove to the NOC just to go rafting, or the annual group of foreign exchange students from Denmark.
“Their trips literally revolve around me, and that’s how important my job is. I’m giving them new experiences,” she says, just like Tanner provided to Stell all those years ago.
Karsten Delap, Pisgah Forest, N.C.
Clifton Gifford, N.C.
Joe Moerschbacher, N.C.
If you spent 250 days a year in the mountains, 150 of which you were paid for, life would seem pretty good, right? For Fox Mountain Guides co-owner and guide Karsten Delap, life is pretty damn sweet. His house is just 10 minutes away from Looking Glass in western North Carolina. His job takes him around the world guiding climbing trips on big mountains and low-key crags and everything in between. But still, it’s a job.
“It’s the hardest job I’ve ever done,” Delap says. “Physically and mentally, and I don’t plan on it ever getting any easier. There are a lot of days I’d rather be climbing on my own, or hanging out at home, or not travelling. But on the other hand, it’s a Wednesday, and I’m out climbing right now.”
What’s more, Delap says the satisfaction he feels when seeing a former client organizing and executing climbing adventures of their own is indescribable.
“I didn’t have someone who could mentor me,” Delap says. “The best part of this job is being able to be a part of someone’s adventure through that mentorship.”
Fly Fishing Guide
Patrick Sessoms, Boone, N.C.
Colby Trow, Va.
Kevin Howell, N.C.
There was a time when Patrick Sessoms was on the path to be an engineer, but that lasted all of a minute. In reality, Sessoms would have studied angling in college had Appalachian State University offered it as a major. Practically every minute he wasn’t behind the books, he was on the water. So when Sessoms bought a drift boat the day after walking across the stage, it came as little surprise to his friends and family.
“Some of my most fond childhood memories stem from roaming the creeks surrounding Boone,” Sessoms says. “Being able to share those experiences with fellow anglers is hands down one of the most rewarding aspects of being a professional fly fishing guide.”
A.T. Thru Hiker
Jamy Beth Suminski, Franklin, N.C.
When Suminski, or “Eddy Spoudazo” as she later became, set foot on the trail at Springer Mountain, Ga., February 10, 2015, she had no intentions of making any friends. Really, she would have been content not to see another soul at all. That’s why she left so early in the first place.
But when her father got off the trail after the 60-mile marker, and Suminski was finally truly alone, the magic of the Appalachian Trail showed itself.
“I was cautious about the fact that I was a female hiking alone,” she says. “On Big Bald in Tennessee, it was one of the harder days for me physically. It was really cold and windy and my feet were hurting and I was alone. I got on top of Big Bald, and the sun started setting. I just sat up there and watched it. I couldn’t think about my feet hurting.”
She also couldn’t think about the fact that she would now have to night hike to the shelter, something that would have normally unnerved her. When she arrived, a group of college kids greeted her with a steaming bowl of chili. Whatever doubts she’d had about being alone, and making friends, melted.
“People are very kind, a lot more so than we give each other credit for,” she says. “People are kinda isolated in the way we live now. We’re on computers and phones and you walk down the street and you don’t make eye contact. It was really cool to see how many strangers and friends were willing to step up and go out of their way just to be kind. If you look for it, it’s everywhere, not just the AT.”
Despite learning of her grandmother’s passing just two days before she summited Katahdin, Suminski successfully completed the trail. The beauty of her hike came not from any record-setting pace or act of heroism—it came out of the diligent self-discovery that surfaces from months spent walking in the woods, which should be considered an act of heroism unto its own.
“I think not just myself but people in general underestimate themselves,” she says. “My friend Mojo says you can do anything if you just have a fresh pair of socks on.”
Inspiring Outdoor Person
Anna Levesque, Asheville, N.C.
Marion Childress, Va.
Gerry James, Ky.
Former Canadian Freestyle member and bronze medalist Anna Levesque is well respected among the paddling community for Girls At Play, a kayaking resource she created over a decade ago that caters specifically to women and whitewater. Levesque’s insight and sensitivities to the predominantly male sport were ahead of her time—some in the industry dismissed the possibility that men and women approach risk, and therefore adventure sports, differently. But Levesque held her ground. She fought for inclusiveness within the world of kayaking. Now, she’s taking on another stigma of the industry that goes beyond the river to the mind, body, and soul of paddlers.
“I used to think I could eat whatever I wanted as long as I was active,” Levesque says. “That was my assumption. I’m an outdoors person, therefore, I am healthy. But getting outside and exercising is only one piece of health. Diet and lifestyle do matter.”
That’s why Levesque became a certified Ayurveda Wellness Counselor last year. Her message is simple: taking care of your mind and body will better serve your adventure sport of choice.
“In our culture, because there is so much stress, vigorous exercise isn’t always the answer,” she says. “We don’t give ourselves that time and space to rest. I want to advocate for healthy lifestyles. Kayakers have a tendency to go paddle all day and then eat pizza and drink beer all night. There’s nothing wrong with beer, but that’s not sustainable for the body. The body itself still needs to process nutrition and it needs healthy nutrition to function properly.”
In April of this year, Levesque will be releasing her Falcon Guides book, Yoga for Paddling, which addresses the best postures for canoeists, kayakers, and standup paddleboarders. Her mission is to urge paddlers of all disciplines to practice yoga as a means of prevention.
“Paddling requires repetitive motions that throw our bodies out of alignment which can cause a higher risk of injury, lower back pain, hip pain, shoulder injuries, and general discomfort,” she says. “Instead of waiting for an injury to happen and then turning to yoga, I’m encouraging paddlers to incorporate yoga into their fitness routine so they can reduce the risk of injury.”
Dave Perrin, N.C.
Mike Fischesser, N.C.
If you’re worried about the future of our kids or our beloved public lands, you can sleep well at night knowing Andy Nichols of Rappahannock County, Va., is on your side. Nichols is a jack-of-all-trades, a retired Naval Commander turned college adventuresports professor with an affinity for ski bumming, suffer fests, and of course, passing all of that experience along in the form of environmental stewardship and education.
Nichols is the founder of Shenandoah Mountain Guides and the Old Rag Mountain Steward program in Shenandoah National Park. He’s a Leave No Trace Master Educator, a Lead Instructor for the National Park Service’s Eastern High Angle Technical Rescue Training Cadre, and founder of numerous non-profits like ALOFT, which provides outdoor activities to teens with incarcerated parents, and YAHA, or Young at Heart Adventures, which offers adventures for adults 50 years and older.
Throw in a few long-distance paddling trips across Scotland and circumnavigating the Delmarva Peninsula on top of raising three sons, it’s hard not to wonder—what’s with this guy?
“Most of what this is for me, is following a calling to get people into the natural world,” Nichols says. “Despite my best efforts at being ‘normal’ in 1993, I had to give in to that fundamental call,” 1993 being the year Nichols considered being a stockbroker for all of one minute. “All I really am is just a cog in the wheel, trying to get as many people engaged with nature as I can. If you don’t have young people in the outdoors, I don’t care who is in office. It doesn’t mean anything if we don’t have a population engaged with nature.”
Andy Forron, Fayetteville, W.Va.
Chris Heslin, Va.
Tim Richardson, Va.
Born and raised in Summersville, W.Va., Forron taught himself at a young age how to fix his own bike. This was before the time of YouTube and Google, mind you, but what alternative was there? Southern West Virginia wasn’t exactly known for its lucrative bike shop scene. Now, Forron’s at the heart of mountain biking in West Virginia with his shop New River Bikes in downtown Fayetteville.
“It’s cool to be able to help people and keep them out doing something they like,” Forron says. “Plus, I love the random crazy phone calls that make no sense whatsoever. The people who aren’t fully functioning members of society, they typically like bikes.”
What’s not cool about being a bike mechanic? Getting texts at random hours of the day asking how to fix such-and-such on so-and-so’s bike.
“And dirty bikes. I really hate dirty bikes. Especially bikes that are infested with bees or spiders or poison ivy. If you have to weed eat the bike out, don’t bring it to me.”