Grant Wheeler is one of those guys who look like they don’t spend much time indoors. His sun exposed, sinewy arms poke out of his cut-off sleeves, and his brown hair is slightly windswept. Brown eyes complement a shiny grin, making him someone you would gladly bump into while out exploring Oregon. Despite being a general science major, with a double minor in biology and geology, Wheeler’s wiry frame was clearly not designed to be sitting behind a desk.
The self-proclaimed “outdoorsman of sorts”, believes that he has only scratched the surface of Oregon’s wilderness. But exploration leads to experience and what Wheeler has experienced has nurtured him into an admirer of natural beauty. An interest and passion for fitness and exercise fuels his need to be so active, and day in, day out Wheeler finds a way for nature to challenge him. He defines his “quest” in this world as to “experience the most untouched wildernesses”, which begin with “a personal battle with motivation to stay fit between adventures”.
Examining his roots shows Wheeler’s family were “fairly outdoorsy”, and with time clocked in at boy-scouts, he was exposed to a lot of backpacking and outdoor experiences. His first few white water rafting trips were on the Deschutes River, so Wheeler has plenty of time in the Oregon wilderness under his belt. Through the university he has taken part in outings with the Outdoor Pursuits Program, in mountaineering and rocking climbing classes.
For Wheeler, the outdoors is an escape. When he pauses between conversations he seems at peace with himself, like the world is playing a gentle song that only he can hear. What Oregon offers him with a crest of a ridge, a unique panorama of flatland, mountains, forest, rolling hills, is what he defines as “inexplicable”. Wheeler says, “It is enough to fuel my life. It is enough to push myself to learn to be safe, to learn to be strong, and most of all to be calm and collected.”
So far, Wheeler’s adventures have consisted of “rock climbing, skiing, backpacking, flat water kayaking, and most recently, river rafting.” For an exercise binge, Wheeler runs the Clackamas River, and the more he spends by the water the more he falls in love. This may have sparked his current goal – through the University of Oregon, Wheeler went on a five day guided trip with Oregon River Experiences, and is currently training to be hired by them. And that involves? “packing up the lunch, meeting the guest, taking them to the top and guiding them down the river— oh, and try[ing] to be funny!”
Wheeler’s enthusiasm for the sport is obvious when he expresses his interest in kayaking, despite his newness to the activity. “I haven’t really done much of it as far as white water, [so] I just recently started getting into kayaking for white water rafting. I’d done it a few time as a kid, I figured it was one of the first and lower level things to do as a guide to get into the industry to figure it all out.” So far, he has tackled the Clackamas and the Deschutes, but through Oregon River Experiences, Wheeler is looking to conquer rivers all over Oregon.
Wheeler’s attraction to the water is innate. “The power, it’s just fun. It’s scary, but it’s really fun at the same time. It’s one of those things that when you don’t know what you’re doing, you could die really easily, but it takes just a little bit of education to know what to do to keep yourself safe. So, it’s really fun, but a little bit dangerous.” His knowledge gained through guiding at Oregon River Experiences leads him to wanting “more experience on the water.” Wheeler wants to “get into kayaking on my own, [because] it’s really just the first step into the guiding industry […] being able to work with people like that so I can take it into rock climbing and mountain climbing.”
For someone whose love for the outdoors is on such a personal level, it is interesting that his ultimate goal is to share it with other people. He believes that the perfect job would combine personal outdoor exploration with reaching out to people and exposing them to what he loves. Wheeler says, “Every time you go through a challenge in the outdoors, it definitely changes you […] you learn something about yourself. As I continue to run the river I become more confident, more confident talking to people.” The 10-year dream plan? To be a mountaineering guide, due to it’s more technical, more dangerous nature with, “a lot more learning, a lot more time, a lot more small little pieces that you need to learn […] it’s the highest level I’d like to be, or like to get to – it’s the end goal at this point.”
Anyone talking to Wheeler can see the excitement he feels when he talks about his goals, as his mood lifts and his smile brightens. “I have goals for myself in a few scattered ways […] I want to learn the basics and delve into climbing, whitewater, and mountains [and] in the long term, I want to work as a guide or teacher for a variety of the sports and skills involved in climbing, whitewater, and mountains.” Does he ever take a moment to slow down? No, because with plans to jump solo from air planes, BASE jumping, and eventually to using a wing suit, life for Wheeler is full throttle. Wheeler comes across as the competitive type, and this is proven true as he throws out a challenge. “My biggest goal of all though, is to see the world. I know it’s not possible to see it all, but who’s going to stop me from trying?”
As locals and foreigners alike get to explore Oregon, we are able to see that this land was made for men like Wheeler. Not satisfied until he has conquered every mountain range, rock wall or river, Grant Wheeler is the ultimate Oregonian.
Written by Siobhan Cavan
Edited by Reed Nelson