On Wednesday, November 19, long-distance hiker Andrew Skurka visited the snow-dusted campus of Colgate to speak to students, faculty and residents of Hamilton about his pastime that has gained him national recognition. While students complained of the weather becoming increasingly cold, Skurka reminisced about his experiences running through knee-deep rain on mountaintops and trudging through snow banks for weeks on end.
The 27-year-old Skurka never expected to be where he is today when he looks back on his college days. A graduate of Duke University, he admits that he was “totally Wall Street-bound.” Throughout college, he always held internships at prestigious businesses, and confesses that he figured that by the age he is now, he would be a millionaire. Although he is certainly not living the life both he and his family expected, Skurka was certainly glowing and relishing in his impressive accomplishments.
For Skurka, hiking did not play an important role in his life until his college years. After two “corrupting” summers of camp in which he led hiking trips, paired with his experiences visiting the summit of Mount Washington with his family as a child, he finally discovered his calling.
Skurka fascinated his audience with all sorts of stories from his experiences on the trails, including one in which he experienced the “magic moment” of discovering an unopened package of Ho-Ho’s on a trail after days of unexpectedly having to ration his food. He began his stories with a description of his first long-distance hike on the Appalachian Trail. Recalling this experience brought some joyful tears to the brawny fellow, who explained that this trail spanned 2,168 miles along the length of the entire Eastern seaboard from Georgia to Maine and took him 95 days.
This accomplishment seemed extraordinarily impressive, until he told of his experiences with the Sea to Sea Route, which went from Quebec all the way to Washington. This trail was 7,778 miles, or the equivalent of 301 marathons, and took him 339 days. He snowshoed for 1400 of these miles.
One may wonder how Skurka travels such great distances while still being able to sustain himself and provide shelter for himself. Skurka addressed this as he advocated “light packing.” On average, he carries only 7.5 pounds of gear and 4 pounds of food when he travels. He uses extra-light materials, as well as crafty ways, such as creating a stove out of a Fancy Feast tin can, in order to pack so lightly.
One may also wonder why Skurka takes such pleasure in traveling these great distances alone, particularly when he described all the hardships he experienced along the way, as well as the separation from his friends, family and girlfriend. However, he mentioned that what makes these hikes so worthwhile are the places he gets to see and the people he gets to meet. He told of a man who oversaw one of the trails he traveled who became so hospitable to him that he drove four hours in the snow to find Skurka along the trail on his birthday to deliver him a cake. It is experiences like those that he will never forget.
“When I am out there, I feel alive,” Skurka said. “I’ve been given a sense of place and purpose through some of these hikes.”