The Stories You Loved Most in 2016

Revisit our best of the year—picked by you

You spent the most time with some of the most intense stories of the year—and a few #vanlife stories thrown in. (From left: Cole Ott; Dominic Nahr; Sara Lafleur-Vetter; Morgan Rachel Levy; Jesse Burke)
Photo: From left: Cole Ott; Dominic Nahr; Sara Lafleur-Vetter; Morgan Rachel Levy; Jesse Burke

You know what they say: measure your life not in the number of times you clicked on a headline but by the number of minutes you spent reading the article. (Just us?) That's exactly how we plan to look back on 2016. Presenting the stories you spent the most time with this year—from a Sherpa you should know to high-altitude mysteries to an investigation that will make you sweat the next time you board a chairlift. 

Adventure Stories

1. What Happened to Eastern Airlines Flight 980?

Eastern Airlines
(Robert Harkness)

“On New Year's Day in 1985, Eastern Air Lines Flight 980 was carrying 29 passengers and a hell of a lot of contraband when it crashed into the side of a 21,112-foot mountain in Bolivia. For decades, conspiracy theories abounded as the wreckage remained inaccessible, the bodies unrecovered, the black box missing. Then two friends from Boston organized an expedition that would blow the case wide open.”

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2. What Killed the Bear Lady?

(Drew Wilson/Virginian-Pilot)

“For 28 years, Kay Grayson lived side-by-side with wild black bears in North Carolina's swampy coastal forests, hand-feeding them, defending them against poachers, and letting them in her home. When she went missing last year, the only thing the investigators could find were her clean-picked bones. And that's just the start of the mystery.”

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3. The Most Successful Female Everest Climber of All Time Is a Housekeeper in Hartford, Connecticut

(Jesse Burke)

“Lhakpa Sherpa awoke before dawn on a cold Connecticut morning in January 2015 and shuffled into the kitchen of her two-bedroom apartment in West Hartford. She brewed up a small pot of coffee rather than the milk tea she grew up on in Balakharka, a village in the Makalu region of the Nepalese Himalayas.

“ ‘I’m very sad inside, but I never show people sad,’ she said. ‘I’m all the time happy.’ I asked whether she was sure she wanted her story told. She was.”

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4. Special Report: The Keyhole Seven

(Courtesy of Bobby Arthur)

“When a group of canyoneering beginners were swept away in a flash flood last September, it was the worst disaster in Zion's 97-year history. And it illustrates a growing question: How far should national parks go to keep their visitors safe?”

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5. What's Happening in Standing Rock?

Mni Wiconi
(Sara Lafleur-Vetter)

“Two of our country's biggest issues, racism and climate change, collided on a North Dakota reservation. In September, Mark Sundeen loaded up his station wagon with water and supplies and drove down for a look at a historic demonstration that could shape the national dialogue going forward.”

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Culture Stories

1. The Real-Life Superhero Who Beats the Cops to Bike Thieves

(Cole Ott)

“Bike Batman was just an average-seeming guy in Seattle who liked to ride his bicycles. He had no inkling to become a vigilante who would face off against criminals while armed with little more than a smartphone, some spare time, and a pair of brass balls. But sometimes in life, the cape finds you.”

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2. How Jogging in Burundi Became an Act of War 

(Dominic Nahr)

“For a decade, the African nation of Burundi was home to a unique phenomenon: group jogs involving thousands of people who hit the streets to sing, socialize, and sometimes protest the nation’s authoritarian president, Pierre Nkurunziza. In March 2014, he banned the activity. As conflicts threaten to boil over—and the body count continues to rise—runners have become both weapons and victims.”

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3. How Sally Jewell Is Opening Wild Lands to Underprivileged Kids

(USFWS Midwest/Flickr)

“The Secretary of the Interior isn’t as interested in recounting her childhood adventures as she is in trying to ensure that all American kids have the same opportunity to get outdoors that she had. Her initiative seeks to help young people from disadvantaged backgrounds experience the wilderness.”

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4. The Privileges, Punishments, and Odd Training Methods of a Star Cold-War Athlete

(Erin Wilson)

“Czech running phenomenon Emil Zátopek was unstoppable on the track. Outside of the arena, living in a Soviet satellite state, was where things got complicated.”

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5. The Unofficial Oral History of ‘Hot Dog… The Movie’

(Metro-Goldwyn Mayer)

“It has a paint-by-numbers plot, loads of sexism and gratuitous nudity, and a screenplay full of tired racial stereotypes. It’s also the highest-grossing ski movie of all time. Frederick Reimers and Sam Moulton uncover the true story behind every skier’s favorite cult classic.”

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Gear Stories

1. Traeger vs. Big Green Egg: Which Is Better for Grilling Meat?

(Wes Siler)

“We threw a slice of venison on the two fanciest grills around to find out which cooks best.”

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2. The Husband-and-Wife Team Behind the Internet’s Most Infuriating Outdoor Retailer 

(Neil Webb)

“It’s hard to believe a Colorado gear shop could outrage so many customers in the age of crowdsourced review sites and marketplaces like Amazon. But 123Mountain, owned and operated by European couple Olivier and Anna Sofia Goumas, has been fending off lawsuits for years. Has their luck finally run out?”

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3. How to Live Out of Your Car

(Chris Brinlee Jr.)

“Professional vehicle dwellers share their tips for making the most out of life on the road.”

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4. Is Your Local Chairlift a Death Trap?

(Francesco Bongiorni)

“At 8:30 a.m. EST, Timothy Yates hopped on the Thunderstruck lift for a course inspection. It’s an old three-seater that was installed in 1985 by Borvig, a New York–based company that went out of business eight years later. That day, as Yates approached Tower 12, he gazed in disbelief as the crossarm tipped away from him in slow motion. The haul rope slipped free from the wheels, and his chair plummeted toward the ground 30 feet below.”

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5. Chasing the Dream: How to Live the Ultimate #Vanlife

(Morgan Rachel Levy)

“For a certain breed of adventurous souls, the key to happiness is a road machine that forever stokes their desire to chase fun. Looking at these seven dream rigs, it's hard not to want to play along.”

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Fitness Stories

1. The Silencing of a Low-Carb Rebel

(Hannah McCaughey)

“South African physician Tim Noakes, one of the world’s greatest sports scientists, has been preaching an ultra-low-carb, high-fat diet as the key to fitness and health. His ideas have made him a bestselling guru, but now his critics are pushing back—and as Bill Gifford reports, they’re putting his theories on trial.”

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2. How Your Sex Affects Your Diet

(Studio Firma/Stocksy)

“ ‘Almost every woman I talk to is eating a certain way—whether they’re doing Paleo or intermittent fasting—because their male coach or husband or boyfriend told them to do it,’ says Stacy T. Sims, an exercise physiologist at Stanford. But she adds: ‘And while it’s probably working for her husband, for her, it’s a disaster.’ ”

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3. Sweating the Small Stuff Will Make You a Faster Runner

Media Use
(Nils Nilsen)

“Alone, these tiny details won't boost performance much. But their sum could mean the difference between a good race and a PR.”

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4. The Latest on Low-Carb, High-Fat Diets

(Kaare Iverson/TandemStock)

“In December, racewalker Evan Dunfee notched a huge personal best at a 50-kilometer race in Australia, smashing the Canadian record and punching his ticket to the Rio Olympics this summer. Just a few weeks earlier, he’d completed a three-week block of intense training on a diet of 75 to 80 percent fat, fueled by pre-workout boiled eggs and nutballs—‘nuts, cocoa, and I’m not sure what else to hold them together,’ he recalls, ‘but they were alright’—and mid-workout cheese and birthday cake.”

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5. Question Everything You Know About Fitness

(Martin Schoeller)

“Whether you’re an elite athlete or a restless desk jockey, there are better ways to achieve your goals. Just ask 4-Hour guru Tim Ferriss, who started quizzing the world’s greatest performers on their routines as a side project—and ended up with a whole new approach to training.”

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Travel Stories

1. So You Want to Be a Dream Town?

(Donnie Sexton)

“How does a city turn itself from a backwater to one of Outside's Best Towns? Libby, Montana, is trying to figure it out.”

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2. The 16 Best Places to Live in the U.S.

(From top left: Jimmy Chin; Jen Judge; Peter Frank Edwards; Courtesy of Bar Melusine.)

“We talked to climbers, Olympic mountain bikers, musicians, and award-winning chefs about what exactly makes their hometowns so special and fun.”

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3. Visiting Alaska’s Fortress of the Bears

(USDA Forest Service)

“Alaska is home to some of the largest brown bears on the planet, and southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage includes several remote islands that have more giant bears per square mile than anywhere else in the world. We flew out to explore this wild marvel—here's how you can do the same. ”

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4. 351 Amazing Places That Aren't National Parks

(Margaret Kimball)

“Yes, we’re crazy about our 59 national parks. But the Park ­Service manages 351 other worthy properties, so follow our road map, pack a beach towel, and ditch the masses.”

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5. A Hidden Irish Paradise of Vertigo-Inducing Fun

Adventure tourism in Donegal Ir
(Andrew Hetherington)

“By European standards, Ireland’s County Donegal, tucked into the country’s far northwest corner, may as well be Mars. But for adventure travelers, it’s a hidden frontier packed with wind-bitten landscapes to mountain-bike, rowdy coastline to surf, and 500-foot sea stacks to climb. That is, if you’re brave enough.”

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Filed To: Media / Outside Features
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