Ryan Jordan

Two Seas Two Feet: America’s Greatest Long Distance Route?

Last night we hosted an event at the Emerson Theater in Bozeman, a homecoming of sorts for Andrew Skurka, who worked for Backpacking Light last fall on our staff and is now one of our Ambassadors of Ultralight (cf. Jerry Maguire re: quan).

(See related article in the Billings Gazette)

In my introduction, I wanted to highlight two important things to our audience. The first, and more practical thing, is that lightweight gear and style can provide the freedom for pretty normal people to do some pretty amazing things.

The second, and vastly more important thing, was to introduce to our community one of the most incredible hiking routes ever completed: the complete, continuous, and mostly-wilderness traverse of North America across the Quebec and the northern US states.

What’s remarkable about this route is that it interconnects our long distance trails in a way that highlights the fact that, yes, we actually do have a trail system and not just three N to S long distance trails.

Even more remarkable is the fact that you don’t have the luxury of “following the seasons”, “conforming to a thru-hiking community”, or partake in an experience (a hike of the PCT, AT, or even the CDT) that is becoming increasingly homogenized thanks to “national scenic trail associations”, “official trail guides”, and predictability.

Kudos to Andy for being a pioneer, but the lasting treasure here is America’s most magnificent long distance walk among our trail systems that truly demands long distance hiking skills in all seasons, and not just the determination of putting one foot in front of the other and waltzing your way north with the summer flower blooms.*

So, if you haven’t caught a Two Seas Two Feet tour stop yet, do it: Andy will inspire you with an amazing story.

* Cool your jets before submitting comments. I’m not hammering an experience on the AT, PCT, or CDT. They all have the potential to provide some sort of positive experience for any hiker. I’m just saying this: the Sea-to-Sea route is quite different.

Transcript from Ryan Jordan’s Introduction of Andy Skurka’s Emerson Theater Event

“Good evening and thank you all for coming tonight.

My name is Ryan Jordan and I’m the publisher of Backpacking Light Magazine and and the BackpackingLight.com website.

Backpacking Light Magazine was founded in 2001 under the premise that lighter gear, combined with smarter backcountry techniques and skills, could make the wilderness experience more accessible to people who were either unable to, or otherwise fearful of, carrying a heavy backpack.

In the past five years, new gear and education has become available such that the days of carrying 40, 50, or 60 pound backpacks on a weeklong backpacking trek into Yellowstone or the Beartooths are all but obsolete.

More realistic is the probability of carrying 25 pounds – or less – without sacrificing your comfort or safety.

Backpacking has now become a more enjoyable activity for families, senior citizens, Scouts, and even individuals with disabilities.

Last weekend I returned from Lander Wyoming as part of a partnership between BackpackingLight.com and the National Outdoor Leadership School to train NOLS instructors in the techniques and skills required for ultralight backpacking.

NOLS, who is famous for expedition backpacking courses that require their students to carry 60 to 80 pound backpacks into the wilderness, is offering their first ever lightweight backpacking course this summer.

Long distance hikers continue to push the limits of what is possible in the backcountry by using lightweight gear and techniques.

In 2001, Brian Robinson became the first person to hike the Triple Crown in a Calendar year – which included the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail, the 2,500-mile Continental Divide Trail, and the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail – a total of more than 7,000 miles.

He carried between 13 and 20 pounds of backpacking gear.

In 2004, Scott Williamson began a hike of the Pacific Crest Trail with a pack that weighed less than nine pounds, hiking north from the California-Mexico border to the border between Washington and Canada.

Then, he turned around, and walked back to Mexico.

More than 5,200 miles.

Also in 2004, Demetri Coupounas, founder of the lightweight gear company GoLite, after completing unsupported hikes of Vermont’s 272-mile Long Trail and California’s 211-mile John Muir Trail, both without resupply, also completed the first unsupported trek of the Colorado Trail.

The distance: 468 miles.

75,000 feet of elevation gain.

He carried all of his food and gear for the entire distance and completed the trek without resupply.
The weight of his backpacking gear, not including food, about 12 pounds.

His only regret: that he carried too much.

Last year, Brian Frankle become the first person to hike the Hayduke Trail, an 800-mile journey through the desert wilderness of northern Arizona and southern Utah (a detailed report of the Hayduke will appear in Issue 4 of Backpacking Light Magazine).

His pack weight was less than 13 pounds.

This June, I will join Roman Dial, Isaac Wilson, and Jason Geck to attempt a 624-mile traverse of the Brooks Range in Alaska.

No roads, no trails, no resupply, no air support.

Between the four of us, we’ll pack less than 30 pounds of gear – combined.

And a lot of food!

There is no way any of these long distance hikes that I’ve mentioned could be accomplished with a traditional load of backpacking gear.

Heavy packs require you to go slower, cover less distance per day, increase your rate of resupply.

Heavy packs make you less mobile, put more physical strain and stress on your body, and leave you exhausted at the end of a long day with little room for errors in judgment when it comes to dealing with inclement weather, injuries, or the occasional angry grizzly bear.

However, perhaps no one has proved that ultralight backpacking style can be applied in all sorts of conditions and weather as well as Andy Skurka.

On August 6, 2004, Andy Skurka left Cape Gaspe in Quebec, and started hiking west.

Nearly 7,800 miles later, he arrived at Cape Alava on the Washington Coast, to have completed the longest continuous backcountry wilderness trek in America.

His pack weight: less than 8 pounds, although he chickened out while hiking through Michigan in the Winter and carried a ton of extra warm clothes and whatnot for the minus twenty degree temperatures and was burdened with an entire 17 pounds of gear.

Andy spent last fall in Bozeman as a member of the BackpackingLight.com staff. During that time, I began to understand what quirks characterized long distance hikers long after they leave the trail.

He ate Balance Bars for lunch.

And breakfast.

And dinner.

He wore his backpack while working at the computer.

I would ask him if he wanted a ride somwhere. His reply: “no thanks, I’ll walk.”

Whether it was 2.5 miles back to his house.

Or 90 miles to West Yellowstone.

All fun aside, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Andy.

I’ve learned a lot about backpacking from Andy, but more important, I’ve found a great deal of inspiration from his accomplishments.

How he managed to walk through the plains and mud of Eastern Montana without creating fictitious companions for himself is still beyond my comprehension, but the global nature of his Sea-To-Sea hike is impressive nonetheless.

So, without further delay, please join me in welcoming the first person to have completed the 7,800 mile Sea-to-Sea Route, Andy Skurka.”