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Interview: Karen Skurka


At the end of the Great Western Loop, November 2007

Those who have seen one of my presentations or who have read trip reports know that I depend heavily on my parents—especially my mother, Karen—for logistical and emotional support. This interview was an opportunity for her to better share her thoughts and feelings.


Andrew. Please fill in the blank in the next sentence with an emotion. When I am out on a solo adventure, you are _________.

Mom: Worried, excited, and scared.

 

Andrew. Yet, you support me in these endeavors, both emotionally and logistically. How do you explain that discrepancy?

Mom. As a parent I want to protect my children from harm. I think you know that I would do anything necessary to keep all of you safe. In reality there is little that I can actually do to keep you safe when you are on a hike – supporting you emotionally and logistically is about the extent of it. So I will make sure that the gear and supplies you need are mailed on time. And when we talk on the phone I may say something other than what I’m really thinking, because you need to be strong and confident to succeed out there.

 

Andrew. The Alaska-Yukon Expedition was especially stressful for me, and I recall several phone calls during which you suggested that I might end up with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) after the trip was over. What it’s like on your end to hear how taxed I was?

Mom. There were times during that trip when I was concerned about your emotional health.  You appear to be fine now, however.  In those conversations I tried to reassure you that you could do this.  That you needed to be patient and smart and that you had the ability to handle the situations.  It was very difficult to hear your voice on those few occasions and to know that all I could give you was reassurance.  Again, it is part of the reconciliation within me that I could not physically help you and if I panicked on my end, it would not help you.  My goal was always to help you however possible.

 

Andrew. As a family we occasionally recreated in the outdoors, but nothing more than day hikes, car camping and skiing once a winter. Where there any clues from my childhood that I would take this path?

Mom: You always tested the situation as a child.  I often felt that you were on an elastic rope and that you just pulled that elastic as far as possible and I was always trying to hold the elastic back.  You always needed and were comfortable with alone time, and you always appeared to find peace in the outdoors.  You were never into video games because they were not active enough for you.  As a family, we found camping to be the best way to travel because it did not confine us to a hotel room.  You had amazing confidence in your abilities, even when the confidence was unfounded.  So, yes, there were signs but I could never have imagined your future.

 

Andrew. Please describe your profession. What internal and external factors caused you to choose it?

Mom. I am a Speech Pathologist (semi-retired now) for a public school system.  My siblings and I were the first in our families to go to college.  Your grandparents knew we needed to go to college but had no clue what we were supposed to do once we got there.  Opportunities for women during my college years were limited to mostly teaching and nursing.  Remember, I had to wear skirts and dresses to high school because of a strict public school dress code. College was an opportunity to find a career so I could do better than my parents.  I fell into my profession because of a great college advisor.  Fortunately, I liked it and did well.

 

Andrew. We butted heads as I veered further away from the conventional life that you would have preferred. Why were you opposed to this shift? And why do you seem more okay with it now?

Mom. I am okay with your career now, but I’d love it if you lived two towns over and could join us on Sunday for dinner. You and your siblings (mostly you) have forced me to accept a creative approach to a career.  You are doing what you love and doing well at it.  That is a novel idea.  I went to college to learn a trade that would give me a good career.  You went to college to learn how to think and to be creative.  I am okay with this now because you have taught me to be okay with it.

 

Andrew. Do you have any advice for parents who are in a similar situation now?

Mom. My advice is to acknowledge that you are not in control of your child.  Then, do everything that you can to support them because that is all you can do to keep them safe.  At night, just imagine a big plastic bubble over your child protecting them from harm and let God or the spirits of the world take over.

 

Andrew. Do you dare to make a prediction about what I’ll be doing in five years?

Mom. This is pretty difficult because I never imagined where you are now. That said, I think your guiding and speaking businesses will continue to grow. I hope you write a book about your Alaska trip—your experience was so unique that it should be shared. And, I would like to see you settled into one location with a supportive partner.

3 Responses to Interview: Karen Skurka

  1. steve sims January 6, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

    karen-even though andy is just one of my many psuedo-duke sons I share the concern for him and his well being on his various junkets. the alaska trip had the highest oh my level for me. I just had hope that he had learned enough to not risk his life and had the skills to make the right call. he is one of my all time favs in all my time at duke.can’t imagine parenting his ass. steve sims

  2. Stephen January 6, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

    Many of us are on our own personal “Alaska-Yukon expeditions” to start businesses, write novels, solve scientific riddles… It’s great to hear from a fellow adventurer who goes for it big time.

    I hope you write a book about your experiences with descriptions of the fear and peril and the wisdom gained. This is really exciting stuff, and it will do many people good to hear about your experiences.

  3. John Tommervik January 8, 2012 at 12:47 am #

    I agree with your mother. I think you should write a book about your alaska trip.

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