Despite hardships, the outdoors saw good news in 2020

By Matt Johanson

For those of us who believe in positive thinking, 2020 put that philosophy to a test. One year saw enough bad news to fill a decade as wildfires broke records in California, social injustice set off nationwide protests, and COVID-19 ravaged the world. 

California Outdoors Hall of Fame inducted five new members. They include rock climber Alex Honnold, hunter and outdoor journalist Terry Knight, fishing champion Kent Brown, angler, hunter and radio host Jim Brown, and the late Clarence King (1842-1901), a geologist, mountaineer and author. 

Hans Florine, another member of the California Outdoors Hall of Fame, created a group called Do Hard Things to challenge people to push themselves, physically and otherwise. 

We’re a community of people who do hard things and do new  things so that our lives are better,”  said Florine. 

Dozens of people are already participating through and hundreds more get inspiration at 

Danville soccer coach Joe Owen didn’t walk but ran up Mount Diablo (13 miles and 3,400 feet of climbing) every day in April to raise more than $4,000 for a local food bank. 

Four California cyclists biked from coast to coast on a journey of discovery. Three recent high school graduates and their slightly-older former teacher rode 3,614 miles, climbed 155,706 feet, averaged 69.5 miles a day and repaired 65 flat tires. 

Everyone we encountered was so kind to us and so welcoming. It showed me how we’re all just human. I would never trade the experience for anything,” said Dasha Yurkevich, 18. 

Check them out at 

Members of Union City football team helped a wheelchair-bound climber summit Fremont’s Mission Peak. 

May we all turn our dreams into reality and may we all be there to help each  other out,” said James Logan High School coach Cedric Lousi.

Matthew and Arabella Adams, the five-year-old “Super Hiking Twins,” became the youngest known climbers to reach the summit of Mount Shasta. They had a little help from their parents. 

They couldn’t wait to get to the top,” said father Shaun Adams.

1000s of firefighters risked life and limb to protect our forests and the public. Among them were Me-Wuk and Mexican firefighters who protected Sierra Nevada forests even though 19th century American “settlers” violently drove their ancestors out of their homes in these lands. 

Three condor chicks survived the Dolan Fire in Big Sur. Rangers and wildlife volunteers rescued one from a nest directly in the fire’s path. Though the fire sadly killed other condors, these tough young birds and other survivors will help their population grow in the wild. 

Three mountain lion cubs orphaned by fires recovered at Oakland Zoo. The UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and California Department of Fish and Wildlife formed a partnership called Wildlife Disaster Network to treat animals impacted by future fires. 

Lia Ditton,  40, rowed alone from San Francisco to Hawaii in 86 days, breaking the world record by 13 days. 

I was alone but rarely lonely,” she recalled. “My bird, fish and even shark visitors kept me fascinated.” 

Ditton is preparing for a 2021 trans-Pacific trip to Japan, which no one has done without assistance. 

California and Oregon revived a stalled effort to remove four dams on the Klamath River. This agreement aims to restore hundreds of miles of salmon habitat and access of the Karuk and Yurok tribes to their sacred sites. Officials and the Native American groups hope removal can start in 2023. 

Civil rights activists created a Ride Against Racism which challenged cyclists to climb 50,000 feet on their bikes in 50 days. Twenty-nine riders participated and raised money to support the Tribal Historic Preservation Office of the Washoe in the Lake Tahoe area. 

A passion for social justice is permeating every part of society, including outdoor recreation. Antiracism and the desire to be antiracist is suddenly becoming a part of bike culture, climbing culture, surf culture, and snow culture,”  said Matt Niswonger, co-founder of Riders Against Racism, and ASJ Editor-in-Chief.

Read more about them at Donations to the Washoe are being accepted through January 5, 2021, at

ASJ Editor Wins Gold. James Murren won the 2020 Gold Award in the Column category for his Earn Your Beer series in Adventure Sports Journal. The award is handed out by the Society of American Travel Writers –Western Chapter, with judging facilitated by The Missouri School of Journalism, University of Missouri, home of one of the world’s first journalism schools (1908). 

I am both surprised and deeply honored. The idea that outdoor adventuring and independent craft brewing can come together and be recognized by experts in the field of journalism, and my peers, goes beyond anything I imagined when I started this gig,” said Murren.

Catherine Breed sets new swim record for swimming 25 miles across the Monterey Bay in 12 hours and 42 minutes. Breed broke the previous record by 18 minutes. Her Monterey Bay swim was a fundraiser for Diversity in Aquatics, a non-profit dedicated to education and promoting swimming, water safety and healthy aquatic activities for vulnerable populations.

Watching her is like watching an Olympic swimmer go at it for nine hours straight, it’s unbelievable,”  explains Scott Tapley, the president of the Monterey Bay Swim Club. 

What’s more, California’s outdoors became a little more welcoming as a revived civil rights movement led to a map makeover. A mountain, a giant sequoia and a popular ski area near Lake Tahoe all shed their racially-insensitive names with several other improvements pending elsewhere. 

If we expand our focus beyond California, we would find far more uplifting stories than we could list, but let’s mention at least a few:

Colorado mountain climber Brittney Woodrum raised $85,000 for COVID-19 relief by climbing all 58 of the peaks in her state at least 14,000 feet high. 

Chris Nikic became the first athlete with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman Triathlon, finishing a Florida race in 16 hours and 46 minutes.

Public lands provided the setting for countless people to improve themselves and help others. Making this possible were thousands of rangers and staff who worked overtime to keep parks open during the pandemic, even as visitation sharply jumped. They deserve our thanks, as do all who stepped up to fight wildfires, racism and COVID-19 in 2020. 

Record number of Americans vote in Presidental Election amidst a global pandemic, Americans turned out to vote in record numbers in the 2020 Presidential election. As the ballots continue to be counted, President-elect Joe Biden’s winning tally is growing and is approaching 80 million votes, a record high for a presidential candidate. Additionally, Kamala Harris makes history as not only the  first woman, but the first woman of color, first of Asian descent, and first child of immigrants to be on a winning Presidential/Vice Presidential ticket and elected to the country’s second highest office.