Photograph by Michael Christopher Brown. See the story, photos, and map in the March issue of National Geographic Magazine.
About a year ago, Andrew Skurka embarked on the hardest expedition of his life—4,679 miles of skiing, hiking, and packrafting in wildest Alaska and the Yukon. You probably recall his thoughtful blog dispatches on this website. Though the 29 year old had logged some 25,000 miles on foot since 2002, this expedition challenged Skurka like nothing before it. We're pleased to announce that you can read about his experience in "Circling Alaska in 176 Days," by Dan Koeppel, in the March edition of National Geographic Magazine, on newsstands now. Here Skurka reflects on Alaska, on understanding the wilderness, and why even elite adventurers watch The Bachelor.
You have said this expedition was your hardest ever, by far. How do you feel about Alaska and the Yukon now?
Andrew Skurka: This trip put me on edge, from start to finish. There were very few times when I was not out of my comfort zone—the conditions were usually tough, there was always uncertainty about what was ahead, and the consequences of making a mistake could easily have been catastrophic. My earlier trips, I realize now, were always in a very controlled environment; this one was not. I’m strongly risk adverse, and I have wondered whether a thrill-seeker would have handled the stress and uncertainty better than I did. I think this may be true, but I also think that my cautiousness explains why I came out alive, and successful.
Do you think the difficulty of this expedition has changed or matured your connection to the outdoors?
AS: I certainly have a much better understanding of true wilderness, due in large part to the final third of the trip across Yukon’s Arctic and Alaska’s Brooks Range. This included the 657-mile, 24-day stretch without crossing a road or seeing another human. I was so unnerved by the first two-week stretch, between Dawson and Fort McPherson, that I called Roman Dial for assurance. “Roman, I’ve never felt so exposed or vulnerable before. I might even say that I was scared.” His response was perfect: “True wilderness is not a place where you will ever be comfortable. Just look at the animals that live out there—they are constantly looking over the shoulders, always on edge, just trying to make it to tomorrow. We’re no different than them.”
What's your normal, non-expedition life like? We know you are a huge fan of The Bachelor.
AS: I’m almost ashamed to admit that I’ve become a The Bachelor junkie—it’s my guilty pleasure on Monday nights, too entertaining to miss. Overall, I think my “civilian” life is pretty average. I spend most of my day working at my computer. In the afternoon I try to get out for a run. On the weekends I usually go skiing. After my trip was over I was intentionally unproductive through the New Year, so that I could recover and reenergize again. I preoccupied myself with training for a 50-mile ultra-marathon in California’s Marin Headlands in December. My finishing time of 8 hours 8 minutes was respectable in light of the course’s 22,000 feet of vertical gain and loss, but I definitely don’t have the speed that I used to.
AS: I’m excited about this year. Over the last seven weeks I have been writing a book on backpacking gear and technique; it should be available in May or June. I’ll start a book about the Alaska-Yukon Expedition soon thereafter. Next week is the first of about 35 presentations and clinics I have scheduled through October. And this summer I’ll be guiding a few trips in the High Sierra and Alaska. I’d like to get out on a short personal trip too but I may have to wait until 2012. I may have a dream job, but I have economic realities like everybody else.