Illinois pair looking to reach new heights with '50 States, 50 Summits'

Illinois pair looking to reach new heights with '50 States, 50 Summits'

On a wintry Montana night in January 2017, two free-spirited, adventurous individuals with Illinois ties — Jason Yue and Alec Eickert — met for the first time while on vacation.

That night, they said, they instantly made a connection and shared with each other their life goals, ambitions and bucket lists.

Three months later, they had gone back to their regular lives when Eickert received a text message out of the blue from Yue: "50 states, 50 summits. Are you still thinking about doing this?"

From then on, they decided to embark together upon a journey to scale the heights of the tallest peaks in all 50 U.S. states — an item on Eickert's bucket list.

Eickert said he got the idea for "50 States, 50 Summits" from the story of a father-son duo on who had climbed the "Seven Summits," the highest points on all seven continents. But he said he wanted to do something more feasible.

When Eickert, a native of St. Charles, is not on the road, he works in Chicago as a partner at Preactive Investments and as the vice president of family-owned Business Development Ventures. His claim to fame, however, is that he played for the University of Oregon's 2015 Rose Bowl winning team.

His partner in adventure, Yue, a University of Illinois graduate in systems engineering and design from Chicago, said he wants to document their journey in hopes it will inspire others to get out of their comfort zone.

At the UI, the Chicago native was an Ebert fellow and has experience in documentary making from his time with CNN's "Soundtracks" series. As a videographer, he said he has been making videos for his Youtube channel, "Jason's List," since June 2015.

After months of planning, the duo said, they began their journey in Woodall, Miss., in the summer of 2017, with three boxes of granola bars, a few gallons of water, a tent and more clothes than they knew what to do with. In spite of their excitement, they said they spent the first night of their journey in a McDonald's parking lot due to weather made unbearable by heavy rain.

Yue said he realized in that moment that it was not going to be easy.

"This journey is not a rosy journey," he said.

But once they started, they said they never looked back.

"Neither of us are outdoorsmen; that's exactly what makes this adventure quite interesting," Eickert said. He said their first hike had a lot of firsts for the men, including sleeping in a tent, making a fire and getting lost in the woods.

Yue added that they have gotten lost more times than they can count. But both agree that they're learning and said they are extremely grateful for kind strangers who point them in the right direction. For Yue, meeting people from all walks of life and making a connection with them is what it's all about, it's what keeps him going, he said.

"Contrary to what you hear about in all the over-sensationalized news out there, people are good," Yue said. "It's just so heartwarming and overwhelming."

Since Woodall in 2017, they said they have summited the highest point in 10 states — including, last year, Illinois' highest point: Charles Mound, a 1,235-foot-high hill in northern Jo Daviess County — documenting it all as they go, and they reckon this project will keep them moving until the summer of 2019.