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UPS grads turn the “Olympic Peninsula into an Island”

Post by Craig Hill / The News Tribune on Aug. 26, 2008 at 10:49 pm with No Comments »
August 26, 2008 10:49 pm

The guys from OAR Northwest, a foursome of University of Puget Sound graduates, have finished another epic rowing adventure.

Two years after becoming the first Americans to row across the North Atlantic, two members of the team circumnavigated the Olympic Peninsula.

Greg Spooner and Jordan Hanssen pulled into Gig Harbor at 2 p.m. on Aug. 23 to complete their 20-day, 400-mile voyage.

The men made the journey in a 16.5-foot, 200-pound dory and carried 150 pounds of gear.

Hanssen, who biked across Australia earlier this year, said in some ways this trip was more intense than rowing across the Atlantic.

The toughest stretch came in a swampy area on the Black River between Grays Harbor and the Puget Sound where Hanssen, 6-foot-5, and Spooner, 6-3, had to get out and push their boat through the muck. It took eight hours to move the boat half a mile, Hanssen said.

"Sometimes we’d push it an inch, sometimes it would go half a boat length and sometimes we’d fall on our face," Hanssen said. "And sometimes the mud smelled like diarrhea."

In other words, Hanssen said, "this isn’t something I’d recommend doing for fun."

Hanssen and Spooner became enamored with the idea of circumnavigating the peninsula when a friend suggested it in 2006.

"We wanted to make the peninsula an island," Hanssen said.

As they researched their idea they consulted several people who rowed portions of the loop, including themselves. They rowed from Port Angeles to Aberdeen with teammates Dylan LeValley and Brad Vickers in 2006 while training for their Atlantic row.

They read about men in the 1800s who tried to find a waterway from Gray Harbor to Puget Sound, but never found anybody who successfully circumnavigated the peninsula.

In fact, some bad luck kept them from completing their entire trip.

On the Pacific Coast near the Queets River, the men decided to ride the surf to the beach to spend the night. But the next morning their boat nearly filled with water as they tried to get it back out past the light surf. After several unsuccessful attempts, the men decided to row up the Queets River to Highway 101 and called a friend for a ride to Grays Harbor.

They thought about trying again the next day, but realized there was no way they’d get their boat past the surf.

"We didn’t want to put our lives at risk so we made the safe decision," Hanssen said.

Because they’ve rowed the section of the coast before they didn’t have a lingering sense of failure for the 40 miles of the trip they missed.

"If we had known we were going to have that trouble we would have just kept rowing through the night," Hanssen said. "… Greg and I are very satisfied. It might have been in a different boat and at a different time but we have rowed completely around the peninsula."

Besides, the real challenge of the trip was making their way from Aberdeen to Olympia, Hanssen said.

From Aberdeen the men rowed up the Chehalis River to the Black River near Oakville.

They then followed the Black River to Black Lake. From there they made their way up a canal and portaged their boat a bit to get to Capitol Lake.

At the end of Capitol Lake they picked their boat up and carried it to Budd Inlet where they had an obstacle free row all the way back to Gig Harbor.

Hanssen and Spooner’s adventure was more than just another physical and mental test. It was training for their next odyssey.

In 2011, Hanssen and Spooner plan to row from New York to Nome, Alaska.

Read Hanssen and Spooner’s dispatches from their travels at

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