Memorial: John Skorpen

My father, John Skorpen, passed away in April. He was 78. Below are my remarks from his memorial service this past August.

Last week, I was up in the Adirondacks. 

In a break in rain storms, Kathleen and Abby and I hiked Mnt Catamount. It’s a mountain I hiked with dad maybe a decade ago. I think it was the last big mountain we hiked together. I don’t know if you’ve ever hiked a mountain with dad, but whenever you got to the summit, he’d immediately look to the horizon, searching out other mountains. 

“Look,” he’d say, “there’s Ampersand! There’s St. Regis! Ah, that’s Lion mountain … you’ve got to bushwhack to summit that one!” 

He always could name every peak, and seeing them on the horizon would get him fired up. He’d immediately start plotting a route up. The more off-the-beaten path, the better. Every hike added to his backlog of adventures. He had a list of adventures a mile deep. 

Years ago, when I was in fourth grade, we took a family trip to Europe. Dad joined Evan, mom, and me in Switzerland, and we headed south to Italy. Every night in Italy, he’d pour over the local maps, and he’d find us adventures — a little castle icon, just a few hills over. 

We’d set out in search of these Italian Castillos. He’d have us driving for hours down tiny Italian backroads, and we’d finally come across a small, ancient, but not-too-impressive walled village. 

In the decade’s since, dad’s hunts for Castillos have became a running family joke. He’d come up to the Adirondacks, and in a conversation with some local — despite being pretty introverted, he was so good at talking with anyone — he’d hear about a waterfall or a swimming hole. He’d spend the rest of the week winding his way down remote dirt roads to discover the Adirondack Castillo and finding a route to share. 

My last visit to the Adirondacks, to Mossflower, was a bit bittersweet, since it really was my last visit. You get a different lens on a place when you’re leaving it behind. I went through dad’s library of Adirondacks books — books we left up there, and I hope are appreciated by the next owners — and all across the margins were his scrawled notes, identifying his finds. 

For dad, I think, the journey was way more important than the destination. The destination was just an excuse for the detective work, the camaraderie of sharing his plan, the preparation, the journey. And this was how he approached all his life. 

In recent years, it was hard for him to hike or paddle. But he’d still search out new put-ins and trailheads. He’d spend a summer working on a broken motorboat engine, in anticipation that his grandchildren would use it to putt putt out to Saranack Lake. He spent years building different braces for his feet to prepare for one more hike. He spent months caring for wounds so that he could get his legs wet while on one more paddle.

And he was at it to the end. Two weeks before he died, he was telling me about a trip to the Caribbean he was planning with mom — when she was understandably a bit skeptical, he told her he was going, with or without her —  and interesting drives he’d uncovered in the Tetons, near where Evan’s getting married next summer. 

Kathleen, Abby, and I drove across the country to get here. It was a pilgrimage of sorts. I know that if he were here he’d want to hear all about the journey. 

And gosh, Dad, let me tell you: It was some trip. America the beautiful. I really loved Southern Utah and Colorado. They were gorgeous. There were a bunch of rivers I want to raft, and I think I spotted a few trailheads we might hit on the way back. You would have loved it.