When Andrew Skurka visited Washington, DC and spoke at National Geographic’s Headquarters, he described the sense of being in Alaska and the Yukon in wilderness, “with a capital W,” as he said. He saw more bears than people and explained that he had more in common with the caribou, moose and other animals crossing the far north.
At one point Skurka said, “Food and sleep are just enablers.” They were what empowered the caribou, moose and bears to travel and stay alert. It was no different for Skurka.
In several of his presentations, Skurka has explained that he was so far away from civilization and immersed in wilderness that he had never been more vulnerable and exposed to the natural world — a world that weather, animal-survival instincts, food, water, shelter, sleep and terrain trumped all higher needs of life, such as companionship, education and advancement that people like me strive for on a typical day in Peaklessburg.
Skurka deprived himself of everything except the absolute essentials (part of his fast and light philosophy) on his long hikes and challenged himself a great deal to reach his sense of wonder about wilderness. I’ve experienced the same feelings, though no doubt on a smaller scale. If you have gone backpacking or climbing, particularly solo, when you start out, all that matters is your destination and your enjoyment. But the idea of enjoyment (and later, bragging rights, perhaps) shifts to fundamental desires for food, water and sleep.
These basic priorities open us up to new sense of connection with the land and wildlife around us; suddenly we want the same basic things they want. And wilderness really does deserve to be capitalized.