National Geographic : 2011 Mar
as a superman among trekkers. e very idea of connecting two great thru-hikes---the Paci c Crest and Continental Divide Trails---was un- precedented and audacious, and Skurka's pace, 33 miles a day, was stunningly fast. e question was whether Alaska could be broken down into Skurka-like numbers. Nor- mally it isn't done that way, says Roman Dial, one of the state's most experienced wilderness explorers. Covering huge distances on estab- lished trails is one thing. But doing it when you have nothing but contour lines, game trails, and graveled river braids is an entirely di erent task. " ere are only a handful of people who've ever tried that," Dial says, "and Andy's goals were as ambitious as anyone's I've ever heard of." Skurka's plan was to cover 24 to 25 miles daily. To get to know the terrain better, he joined a team in the 2009 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic, a contest o en described as the rst in the adventure-race genre. His team won, and he went home feeling ready for 2010. Dial was less sure. Skurka was "one of the fastest, if not the fastest, backcountry travelers I've ever met," he says. But Dial also sensed a ri- gidity in the young adventurer: "He didn't seem to know how to look around. He was focused only on moving forward, and that doesn't always serve you in Alaska." More important, could Skurka enjoy the experience---a capacity Dial says is essential to surviving months of hardship in the unforgiving northern backcountry? SKURKA'S MICRO-MEASURED world doesn't leave much room for re ecting on emotions. But over the long weeks of deep solitude, change came. Dial saw it when he joined Skurka for a segment that included a May blizzard. As the two crossed Wrangell-St. Elias National Park's Chitistone Pass, Skurka pushed forward with a grimness that bordered on bitter. "He didn't make it easy to want to spend time with him," Dial says. "And it didn't have to be that way." But two days later they arrived in the town n Society Grant Andrew Skurka's trek was funded in part by your Society membership.