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Transcontinental Trekker
Adventure caught up with megahiker Andrew Skurka during his sea-to-sea hike to find out what's in his pack, his favorite trail eats, and why he carried a bottle of ocean water clear across the country. Jesse Harlan Alderman

Photo: Trailblazer Andrew Skurka
THE LONG WAY: Trailblazer Andrew Skurka hikes from coast-to-coast along the Sea-to-Sea Route.

On August 6, 2004, then 23-year-old thru-hiker Andrew Skurka set out solo from Cape Gaspé in Quebec's Forillon National Park on a 7,700-mile (12,291-kilometer) quest to christen the transcontinental Sea-to-Sea Route (andrewskurka.com). An unofficial linkage of the International Appalachian, Appalachian, Long, North Country, Continental Divide, and Pacific Northwest Trails, the Sea-to-Sea forms the mother of all routes. If all went well, Skurka finished, at Cape Alava in Washington's Olympic National Park on July 9. Adventure caught up with Skurka by phone in North Dakota for a progress report.

Q: What's in your backpack right now?
To start, I have a GoLite Jam Pack that I've modified to get it down to under one pound. I have a sleeping bag rated to 20 degrees Celsius (-7 degrees Fahrenheit). My shelter is a pyramid-design, one-person winter tent. I'm carrying an alcohol stove made out of a Red Bull can. I've got a 3.4-ounce (96-gram) titanium pot that I ripped the handles off. I also have a rain jacket, a down insulated jacket, a pair of liner gloves, waterproof vapor mitts, and a winter hat. The heaviest item in my pack is a digital SLR camera at two pounds, six ounces (about one kilogram). If you're going to hike across the continent once, you might as well take good pictures. I also have toiletries and a journal. In all my pack probably weighs 12 pounds (5 kilograms) without food and water.

On my body I'm wearing Montrails, the Highline model. I also carry an extra pair of shoes with me that are also Montrails—the Masai. I switch off throughout the day. I'm putting in 35 miles daily (56 kilometers), so my feet get tired of the same thing. It also helps with the longevity of shoes.

Q: This certainly isn't like the AT, where there is a community of thru-hikers. Who do you encounter out there?
The last two hikers I saw were back in the Porcupine Mountains in Michigan. It was late February. I saw a bunch of people on the AT, of course, and maybe only two or three on the International AT in Quebec and New Brunswick. If you exclude the AT, maybe I see one hiker every 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers). The bottom line is I don't see hikers out here.

Q: How do you deal with the solitude?
I can go for three or four days straight or more without talking to anyone. A lot of my thoughts are caught up in the logistics. Where to camp that night? When to eat? When might I hit the Rockies? Other times, I get caught up in old memories. I've remembered things that I haven't even thought of since they happened. When the hiking isn't particularly technical, I just daydream. But I'm not an intellectual dummy. At times it'd be a lot easier if I were because sometimes I get a little bored out here.

Q: You thru-hiked the AT in 2002, what was your trail name?
On the AT, I went by Paul Revere. A guy in Georgia thought there was enough of a correlation, since I'm from Massachusetts. But it actually worked out because Paul Revere had this elusive, tactical way about him, and that's the way I was on the trail. Just as people heard of me or read my Web entries, and I'd be gone instantly.

Q: What did you find this time around on the AT?
People call themselves North-bounders and South-bounders, so I thought I would be a Pacific-bounder. People asked me, "So where are you heading?" and expect me to say an answer like "Georgia" or "I'm just out for a week." Then I would say, "Actually I'm heading to Washington state."

Q: What's your favorite trail dinner?
Instant mashed potato burritos. My favorites are roasted garlic potatoes, loaded and baked. Then I wrap them in a burrito shell. Every time I've mentioned that recipe to someone who's not a hiker, the response is, "Eww, dude!" But, I tell you, it really is delicious after a long day.

Q: What was the hardest stretch?
This winter, the hardest stretch was in Wisconsin. I got hit hard for two straight days with lake effect snow—probably 12-18 inches (30-46 centimeters) of new snow. And we're talking super light, powdery snow. You don't float on the stuff, you sink. I had fairly big snow shoes, but I was averaging like a mile-and-a-half (2.4 kilometers) an hour. It's frustrating to work that hard yet move so little.

Q: I'd just want to lie down and make snow angels.
The thought crossed my mind. It was a testing moment.

Q: It probably got pretty cold at times too, eh?
Well there were several nights of -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit). But even March 26th, I was in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota and it was 0 degrees. I was thinking, "Back at Duke [University], the girls are wearing their sun dresses and all the kids are out on the Quad. What am I doing here?"

Q: How physically demanding has the hike been so far?
It is physically demanding, but it's not like trying to run a four-minute mile. I tell people that if you can take a stroll around your neighborhood, then you too can walk across America. It's totally a mental challenge.

Q: What are you going to do when you hit the Pacific Ocean?
The one thing I visualize is getting to end—the ocean at Cape Alava—is just walking into the water with all my clothes and my backpack on and taking these two ounces of water from the Atlantic, dumping them over my head, smiling, and loving it.

Q: And pick up some Pacific water for the plane ride back?
Don't you mean the hike back? Just kidding.

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Photograph courtesy of Andrew Skurka

Additional Excerpts
From the print edition, August 2005

• Instant Alaska: Four explorer-worthy fly-in trips.
Hell-Bent for the Arctic: Emerging Explorer Kira Salak takes the ultimate Alaska bike trip
The Map of Us All: Geneticist Spencer Wells's plan to use DNA clues to retrace the origin of humankind
Stalking One Very Cool Cat: Writer Paul Kvinta searches for snow leopards in India
There & Back: Mountaineer Ed Viesturs summits Annapurna
Pelton's World: Our man on the scene explains why he travels alone


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Related Web Sites

Andrew Skurka's Web Site
For photos, maps, trail logs, and more from Andrew Skurka's Sea-to-Sea Route hike, go to his official Web site.

The 11 Top Trails
Adventure magazine, along with Peter Potterfield's new book Classic Hikes of the World, determine the top 11 trails in the world. Check out our picks.

Grail Trails
Take a look at our primer on the AT, the Pacific Crest, and the Continental Divide.

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August 2005

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