Take the road less traveled
Hiking the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail is a daunting feat in itself, requiring great skill and determination.
Add two wheels and one paddleboard, and multiply that daring exploit by three, and at the sum of that equation you will find Tahoe City born-and-bred wilderness enthusiast Kyle O’Neal.
O’Neal has high hopes of someday tackling the affably-named “Tahoe Triple” — his version of a triathlon, by hiking the famed Rim Trail, followed by paddleboarding the circumference of the lake, and ending the tour on a road bike.
“There’s a lifetime of exploring to be had here, and we live in such an active and fit community that it’s kind of the norm for people to take on these extraordinary adventures,” O’Neal said while sitting in the bed of his pickup truck on a peak overlooking Tahoe City. “There’s so much satisfaction in pushing my body to the limits, and that’s what I’m hoping to do.”
BIG ON THE BACKCOUNTRY
As owner of Tahoe Wilderness Adventures — an outdoor recreation outfitter and guide service — O’Neal is no stranger to the uncompromising backcountry terrain that has mapped the course of his life.
“We live in a destination resort where people fly in from all over the world to get away from the hassle of everyday life,” O’Neal said. “Whether someone forgot to pack something as basic as a camping stove, or they’re looking for the full-service camping or backpacking experience, we can accommodate any client’s needs.”
Through connections with California State Parks and USFS, Tahoe Wilderness Adventures caters to all fitness levels, providing exclusive hikes in permit-based regions of the Sierra Nevada, in addition to many popular trail systems.
“You never know what you’re going to get on the trail, and that’s what makes those trips worthwhile because you come back with incredible stories you never thought would happen,” O’Neal said. “Those are the types of experiences you live on telling.”
After graduating from North Tahoe High School, O’Neal left his stomping grounds to pursue other fiery goals, like becoming a firefighter in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, spending weeks at a time in the woods carrying heavy firefighting equipment and minimal personal gear.
“Growing up, I did a fair amount of backpacking, but I wasn’t all that familiar with longer trips until I became a firefighter and started spending an average of 115 days out of the summer under the stars,” O’Neal said.
At the end of every summer, O’Neal returned to Lake Tahoe with a newfound appreciation his hometown playground, as well as for the network of friends and family with whom he had grown up exploring.
“When you leave the area and come home and see the lake and breathe the mountain air, you realize this is your home and that you feel a deep connection to the land here,” O’Neal said.
It was during one such trip home when sparks flew between O’Neal and a long-lost high school friend, Tiana O’Neal, who owns Bella Vida Salon in Tahoe City.
The couple celebrated their wedding by combining their affinity for the ocean with their love of the outdoors by taking their honeymoon in Hawaii.
“We hiked the Napali Coast for two nights and we had to fly all of our backpacking equipment with us, plus all the luggage we needed for the rest of our stay,” O’Neal said. “I had the idea for a recreation-based company at that point, but going into that honeymoon, I started to realize that an all-around equipment rental company could be a home-run.”
As an established entrepreneur with a business background, Tiana lent a hand in web design, marketing and writing the business proposal needed to launch Tahoe Wilderness Adventures in 2013.
“I couldn’t have gotten to where I am today without having her,” O’Neal said.
EXPLORING THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED
Tackling the tenacious “Tahoe Triple” is somewhere in O’Neal’s future, but the businessman, husband and father of an eight-month-old has his hands full.
Partnerships with local businesses like Tahoe City’s Alpenglow Sports have opened new doors for O’Neal to share his passion for the outdoors by sponsoring an educational day-hike on the West Shore’s Rubicon Trail on June 21, and a beginner’s backpacking excursion in Desolation Wilderness on June 27, as part of Alpenglow’s Mountain Festival.
Both hikes are free and will include food and equipment needs; participants need only bring personal gear and snacks to attend.
“You never know what life is going to throw you,” O’Neal said. “I feel incredibly lucky to have found something I love doing and that sustains my life here in Tahoe because there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”
Jenny Goldsmith is a North Tahoe-based freelance writer and a former reporter for the Sierra Sun newspaper.