Andrew Skurka at Midwest Mountaineering Expo

Yesterday I was fortunate to be able to attend a talk given by ultra-light hiker Andrew Skurka at Midwest Mountaineering's spring Expo.

It was a great presentation, covering his epic Alaska-Yukon expedition, replete with tales of adventure and hilarious bear encounters.

One of the subjects that struck home with me was the usefulness of following game trails in the wilderness. I've often commented that we should pay attention to the trails made by animals, as any repeatedly used path is likely to lead to a significant landmark or location – most likely water (or, if you're unlucky, it's lair). I found this to be true in the Badlands, where Bison trails marked an economical route across impassable canyons.

It was also interesting to witness the emotions Skurka experienced while hiking the 4700 miles of his recent trip. In a series of videos he showed the highs and lows of long-distance trekking. Upon discovering a massive caribou migration trail, he seemed overcome with the power of the scene; to be in that place, so far away from the rest of civilisation, walking his own trail, but then coming across paths etched into the landscape by animals that have been traveling that route for millennia. It was a powerful and humbling moment.

Aside from the fact that taking six months to hike through a wilderness is not something that I could easily convince my significant other would be a good idea, I don't think I could take on such a challenge. The planning, logistics, and scale of such an endeavour is, I feel, a step beyond what I want to achieve. In fact, I think it's that aspect of achievement that might taint the experience for me. I'd find having a daily goal would take over my enjoyment. But Skurka is more of an athlete; his treks are expeditions, and

he's covered by National Geographic

. His is more of a career, and apparently he puts relationships on hold while on his adventures, because "it would be hard to complete the trek if [he] had something better at home."

Still, part of any trip in the wilderness involves challenge: a challenge to the self, to find one's limits. I certainly find that one of the reasons I go is to challenge, face and overcome my fears - most of which I know are absurd, but present nonetheless. At one low point on his expedition, Skurka called Roman Dial, expressing his doubts that were making the current stage difficult. Dial said, "You're in big wilderness now - it's not supposed to be comfortable." This is so true - it's not about manning up, it's about accepting one's position within and in relation to the wild, and nature. We are all creatures evolved from wilderness, but when we return to it now, having spent thousands of years away, we step back in time, and renegotiate our position. We


be frightened, becuase it's one of the two instincts necessary for survival: hunger and fear. But it should be fear in a good way. Fear that we are not afraid of, that we try to overcome, in order to be stronger when we return, recharged.

This recharging is something I've become acutely aware of recently. I need to spend a little time away from everything to be able to continue with my day-to-day activities. Another article I happened to see about

raising an introvert

 struck another chord. I've always known I'm introverted, but one of the paragraphs in the article really seemed to summarize exactly the concept of recharging through being in the wilderness:

"Quite simply, introversion is an explanation of where an individual draws their energy; from solitude or from the company of others. Those who recharge their batteries through solitude are introverts. Those who recharge by being with others are extroverts."

Thankfully, I find I don't need a 4700 mile trek to recharge. A few nights under the stars are enough.

On a side note, it was nice to see some of the gear Skurka used in Alaska. Packrafting formed a major part of the trip, so I'm keen to get out and try the Denali Llama that Ryan Jordan has very kindly lent me. Perhaps most reassuring though, was his use of an MLD SoloMid throughout the entire trip - in extreme, exposed Alaskan conditions, both winter and summer. If anyone has any doubts as to the viability of a single walled pyramid shelter, well, if it's good enough for Skurka...

Gear hounds might also be interested to learn that he has written a book on ultralight hiking and backpacking - it's thin, but packed with all sorts of useful information based on real wilderness experience.

You can order a "pre-edition" from his website.