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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Walk across stage became 7,770 miles

Associated Press

SEATTLE – With college graduation looming and no plans for a career, Andrew Skurka decided to take a walk.

That stroll turned into a trek across a network of North America’s long-distance hiking trails, the Sea to Sea Route covering 7,770 miles, that took 11 months and ended Sunday on the Olympic Peninsula.

“The infrastructure was there – these paths had existed for over 100 years,” Skurka said.

By completing the trip, Skurka is the first person to hike the whole route, according to Steve Vear, president of the North County Trail Association’s local chapter in Hillsdale, Mich.

Skurka was inspired by a 2003 article about the route published in Backpacker magazine and written by Ron Strickland of Seattle. Strickland founded the Pacific Northwest Trail connecting Glacier and Olympic national parks in 1970. He came up with the Sea to Sea Route years ago but was reluctant to attempt the grueling trek himself.

“A lot of hikers are introverts who are out there because they want to get away from everything,” said Strickland.

“But Andy is really part of an earlier tradition where, if you’re deep in the wilderness and you meet another person, you stand there for a while and talk.”

After spending almost 10 months planning and mapping his hike, Skurka began his trip Aug. 6, 2004, from Quebec’s Cape Gaspe in Forillon National Park.

The Duke University graduate soon was sleeping outside in zero-degree weather, going weeks without a shower and often alone.

“That was kind of weird,” said Skurka, 24, of Seekonk, Mass.

“I definitely talked to myself, but not out loud unless I was in grizzly country and then I was yelling out every random thought that came into my head.”

His online travel log kept hiking enthusiasts – and his family – apprised of his progress.

Skurka’s parents could do little as he ventured into remote areas and endured frigid weather along the route – they were able to help out with the laundry he sent home, though, wet socks and all.

“In my generation you were expected to graduate college, start a family and buy a house,” said Karen Skurka, a 53-year-old speech therapist who initially tried to dissuade her son from making the cross-continent journey.

“Kids today need to be more creative and sort of pursue their own goals.”

She eventually accepted his plan and even helped manage his Web site.

Skurka’s route took him from the Appalachian to the Pacific Northwest trails, ending up at Cape Alava Beach in the Olympic National Forest.

Along the way he was greeted with well-wishers and people offering their generosity.

“You get a pretty bad impression of mankind these days,” Skurka said.

“But what I’ve found is that people out there are incredibly good. The whole experience has given me much more faith in civilization.”

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