March 2019 - ATHLETE PROFILE
Michael Baker & Stephanie Rios
By Shawne Camp
Age: Michael, 44 and Stephanie, 28
Residence: Ballston Spa
Family: Blue Heeler dog named Zeke
Occupation: Michael, Excavation and Stephanie, Bartender and Personal Trainer
Primary Sports: Hiking and Ultra Running
Secondary Sports: Fat Biking, Alpine Touring, Snowshoeing
My wife Janay and I met Michael and Stephanie through cycling and we became friends. Janay and I enjoy a nice hike, but these two adventurers take hiking to the next level. I’d wake up some mornings and see photos of them already on top of some mountain I’ve never heard of, or dragging tires while snowshoeing, and think “these two are either crazy or crazy dedicated.” I knew they had some cool accomplishments, but until I sat down over a beer and conducted the interview for this story, I had no idea of the extent.
Michael’s passion for hiking started in 1996 with a dare between him and his sister to hike up Mt. Marcy – which they did. Over the course of the next four months, he had completed half of the Adirondack High Peaks. In 2010, Stephanie’s first hike was Franconia Ridge in the White Mountains, and she’s been hooked ever since. She competed in track and cross country in high school “but I was never any good.” Stephanie didn’t get seriously into running until she was an adult and discovered that “I might not be extremely fast but I have endurance.”
Michael and Stephanie are both members of “The Endurance Society,” an organization that’s dedicated to providing extraordinary physical and psychological adventures to the endurance community. They met in 2016 while competing in Endurance Society’s 48-hour, 100-mile rugged trail race, called Infinitus in Brandon, Vt. Stephanie was living in Chelmsford, Mass. at the time and Michael in Ballston Spa. While Michael described this grueling race, I was thinking to myself how bad my ribs hurt while doing a 5K. This was Stephanie’s first 100-miler and they both completed it. From this point on they became friends and adventure partners.
I asked them both separately what their most memorable hike has been and they both responded with the “Pemi Loop” in New Hampshire, a 31-mile trek that climbs eight 4,000 footers. When I asked why this was the most memorable, they both had the same answer “it was their first time hiking together” on July 4, 2017.
Stephanie described how she got from Massachusetts to New York. She wanted to be closer to her new love Michael and closer to the mountains. For months, every single weekend they’d drive to each other, six hours round-trip. When they completed the 48 4,000-footers (mostly in the White Mountains) in seven consecutive weekends, she’d drive three hours to Michael’s place, then drive together four hours to New Hampshire. In one weekend they hiked 32 miles and completed 13 of the 48 peaks. When I asked Michael about Stephanie’s biggest strength, he responded “she’s got grit!”
In addition to the New Hampshire 48, Stephanie was recently accompanied by Michael as she became an Adirondack 46’er. Michael has done five winter rounds of the 46 High Peaks and two of them were in a single season. In October 2018 they completed the 115ers, which are all 4,000+ foot peaks located in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. They celebrated with beer and food at Moat Mountain Brewery in New Hampshire. Currently, they are one hike (Mahoosuc) from completing the North East Ultra Eight; the eight toughest hikes in the Northeastern US, and each hike must be done in less than 24 hours. So, what’s their longest day hike? The Cranberry 50 – completing it in an incredible 17 hours! Together they also completed the Georgia Death Race, which was 72 miles with close to 28,000 feet of elevation change in under 24 hours. Michael has also twice competed in the Barkley Fall Classic which is a 50K trail race held in Tennessee – it’s designed to give the runner a taste of what the notorious Barkley Marathon is all about!
In 2018 they loaded up and headed off to the UTE 100, which is a 100-mile trail race held in Utah. Michael had been training and he was set to get it done, while Stephanie was set to crew. They stopped in Colorado to hike some of the Rockies and fell in love with the area. As they proceeded through towards Utah, I received some requests via text message for places they should stop at, since I’m originally from Colorado. I told them they definitely needed to check out an awesome pizza place called “The Hot Tomato” in Fruita, Colo. A couple hours later I began receiving photos of pizza! The next update I thought I’d read would be about the race, but the next message was about how they were back in the Rockies. Michael described the temperatures in Fruita as over 100 degrees, and he couldn’t stop thinking about the fun he and Stephanie had in the Rockies. They went back out to their van, named “Fluff,” and said screw it lets go back to the mountains, where they completed nine more peaks over 14,000 feet.
So, what’s on the agenda for these go getters in 2019? Michael has the Beaverhead 100K Endurance Race this July, on the Idaho-Montana border in the Beaverhead Mountains. Stephanie is competing in the “IMTUF” Idaho Mountain Trail Ultra Festival 100-miler in September, crossing eight passes and gaining around 22,000 feet, which Michael will be crewing for. When asked about training, Michael told me training for both events has begun, but Stephanie has been training harder. This spring, they also will be riding fat bikes in two separate events. The first being the “Farmers Fatty” held in Nassau, NY, and the next being one of my personal favorites, “Rasputitsa” a spring classic held in East Burke, Vt.
Earlier I mentioned their van named “Fluff.” So, what is this van, and how’d it get its name? It’s a Sprinter van they purchased for all their adventures. When I first saw it last year, it was pretty much an empty shell begging to be outfitted. Slowly and methodically, Stephanie and Michael have been doing much of the work themselves, and occasionally it’s sent off to have more extreme modifications done. It now looks like a true adventure mobile! One that will take you wherever and provide basically a home on wheels. Stephanie says Fluff originally was a joke because the van is white and like a big marshmallow or fluffernutter. Joke or no joke the van’s name is now Fluff!
Recently they picked up a new travel partner named Zeke. Zeke is a young energetic Blue Heeler (Australian Cattle Dog) who’s super cute. They’ve been spending a lot of time getting him trained, adjusted around other dogs, and going on hikes. His favorite things are snacks, naps, snow, and hanging out with his new parents.
This summer Michael and Stephanie will leave their jobs (with the ability to return to them later), and load Zeke up in Fluff – along with whatever they need – and hit the open road. Destination? Out West! There are quite a few tall mountains in Colorado, so I have a feeling they’ll be there for a bit, chasing their dreams. Best of luck in all your endeavors!
Shawne Camp (firstname.lastname@example.org) lives in Malta with his wife Janay and dog Rango. He is an artist who stone sculpts and paints, as well being a professional bicycle mechanic.