On Sunday, May 18, John Wells of Bellingham reached a landmark he had been walking toward for more than five years.
Partway up the Pine and Cedar Lakes Trail, he tallied one million vertical feet on his hikes up the steep path to a rocky outlook. Remembering the milestone will be easy because it came one day shy of Wells' 72nd birthday.
"It keeps me in good shape," he said. "After doing it for a couple of months, it's like doing a walk at the mall."
Wells calculates the elevation gain to be 1,540 feet from the trailhead to the outlook. For counting purposes, he doesn't include his return hike.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Bellingham Herald
"It's all gravity coming down," he said.
Wells began keep tracking on Feb. 14, 2009. It took him 650 hikes up Pine and Cedar Lakes to reach the million-foot mark. That's the equivalent of 189.58 vertical miles (requiring 2,210 trail miles).
It figures that Wells has the numbers down cold.
In 1993, he retired after nearly three decades of teaching math in Bellingham schools, including a long stint at Sehome High where he coached the math team to multiple state championships and to several high finishes at the national level.
"I'm a math teacher," he said, "so I've gotta have all these stats."
Wells grew up in Enumclaw and came to Bellingham to earn his teaching degree.
"I went to Western Washington and never left, for outdoor reasons," he said.
Indeed. Wells has been an active snow skier, hiker, biker and mountain climber for years. He's a member of the Mountaineers and of an Ancient Skiers club out of Seattle. While at Sehome, he took his math teams on hikes and bicycle trips.
It's hard to imagine, but Wells said he was out of shape when he retired, so he began hiking the Pine and Cedar Lakes Trail to get back into trim.
"It's the quickest place you can get vertical feet," he said.
He drives 7.2 miles from his home on Alabama Hill to the trailhead on Old Samish Road, meaning he has put 9,360 miles on his car for the 650 hikes it took him to reach a million vertical feet.
One day, while chatting with a fellow hiker at Pine and Cedar Lakes, the topic of vertical feet came up. The other hiker said a persistent person could tally 200,000 vertical feet, with some effort.
Wells decided to give it a try, and reached that in a year's time. That got him to thinking.
"I thought, 'I wonder if I could do a million?'"
So he kept returning to Pine and Cedar Lakes.
He has hiked even though he's had two stents placed in his heart. He hiked despite a painful growth on a tendon in his right foot.
He hikes on sunny days and cloudy ones, on warm days and cold ones. He hikes when there's snow and ice on the ground. But like the Wicked Witch, he doesn't like rain. On those days, he works out at Bellingham Fitness gym.
With a million vertical feet in the rearview mirror, he has set a new target. With 110 more hikes, he will total enough vertical feet to reach the International Space Station, 220 miles above Earth.
Wells estimates he can do that by next May. If he succeeds, he will have hiked the trail 760 times.
He's already thought about a goal beyond that - 1,000 hikes total.
"I'm goal-oriented," Wells said. "If I don't have something pushing me, it's too easy to stay home."