The concept of adventure is often depicted as a young person’s game. Art “Karts” Huseonica, however, knows better. As he prepares for his 68th birthday, the Sun City, Arizona, resident is fresh off a second thru-hike of his state’s signature route, the Arizona Trail, becoming the oldest person ever to yo-yo that trail within a calendar year. That’s 1,600 miles of snowcapped peaks, rugged trails, and scorching desert heat—and it’s pretty much business as usual for a guy who seems to thrive on adrenaline when many his age would be content to, say, nurse a piña colada or two.
Huseonica’s adventurous spirit has been a constant throughout his life, sparked by days spent horsing around on slag piles and nights spent solo camping in hillside caves during his childhood in Pennsylvania’s coal country. “I could have been an early Bear Grylls or Les Stroud,” he laughs. A 20-year career as an Ocean Systems Technician for the U.S. Navy stoked his wanderlust and offered opportunities to climb peaks and explore trails around the world; a second career as an Associate Professor at the University of Maryland University College kept him slightly more grounded. But it was retirement that truly opened his world.
As of now, Huseonica is the oldest person to complete Bear Grylls’ Survival Academy, which required, among other things, “running butt naked through the woods, trying to build a shelter.”
With time and ambition at his disposal, Huseonica has made it a priority to act on his innate curiosity about the world, while keeping his pursuits as spicy as his body—and his wife, Karen, the “Kar” in his trail name “Karts”—will allow. He’s hiked the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim. He’s completed multiple ascents of Mount Rainier, among other high peaks, and has found a mentor in acclaimed alpinist Ed Viesturs. And he notched the first documented double-traverse of Death Valley’s namesake feature, tiptoeing around razor-sharp salt sheets and tromping through silica mud so thick it ruined his gear.
One of his boldest “retirement” adventures was a 4,200-mile, 46-day journey down the Amazon River through Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil in a dugout canoe with a group that included British adventurer Jacki Hill-Murphy. Their mission was to conduct scientific reporting while recreating Isabel Godin des Odonais’ famed 1769 voyage along the same route—a perilous and historic feat, considering she was the sole survivor from her group. Things were a bit safer for Huseonica in 2016, but only by a slim margin. “There’s no law enforcement, there’s no government, you carry your own sidearm, and you’re on your own,” says Huseonica. “We had some close calls.”
Perhaps his most beloved bragging rights, however, come from two experiences with British survivalist and television personality Bear Grylls. As of now, Huseonica is the oldest person to complete his Survival Academy, which required, among other things, “running butt naked through the woods, trying to build a shelter.” He was slightly less exposed, though no less enthused, during his appearance on the reality show Bear Grylls: Face the Wild.
While Huseonica chases these bold dreams primarily for himself, he’s also conscious of the impact his adventures have on others. “I get so many comments about, You know, this is great. I wish I could be doing this. Or I’m going to show this to my dad or my granddad,” he says. “I’m satisfying my own needs, but it rolls off and just affects so many other people, too.”’
What does the word “retirement” mean to you?
I don’t have an alarm clock. I don’t know how to set my alarm on my smartphone. I abhor alarms.
Did you initially have any plans for when you retired?
To tell you the truth, there were several, and there still are. One of them was just to learn to do more stuff around the house, but I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to do that. The last thing—I talked to Bear Grylls [about] my bucket list and the only thing left on there was to be on a show with him, which I accomplished. Oh, also, to learn how to dance. And I still haven’t learned how to dance. So right now, the only thing on my bucket list—I have an actual bucket with a list—is to learn how to dance. Otherwise, I live life as it comes.
So what made you want to be on a show with Bear Grylls in the first place?
My ego. [Laughs] There’s millions of people that follow him; every one of them would love to be on a show with him. We used the grandpa angle—my age actually helped me out there. In the past for other reality shows, my age has always been a problem.
What inspired you to yo-yo the Arizona Trail within a calendar year?
I didn’t have any other adventures lined up, and I’m a mountain climber by trade. When I went from Mexico to Utah, I got to Utah and then I go, okay, I’m at the top of the mountain—and there was just this emptiness. It’s like I wasn’t done. As the months went along, it really set in and I was talking to Sirena [Rana Dufault, author and Arizona Trail expert], telling her about that. She goes, Well, why don’t you yo-yo it and you can complete your climb, come back down off that mountain, and go back down to Mexico?
How did you prepare for the trail?
A lot of this stuff is mental, so I had to make sure I was in a mental state to really do this. I had physicals done, made sure I was in great shape. I had my right knee partially replaced in early August, and had one of the best surgeons in the valley here. He was excited about doing it and getting me rehabbed in a few weeks, and then getting me on the trail with a 40-pound pack. I’m a member of the Sun City Hikers hiking club and did a lot of hikes with them; when I wasn’t hiking with them, I was just solo hiking, out all day with a heavy backpack. And I did a little bit of exercise, calisthenics—you know, the old school stuff.
Let’s talk details. Do you know what your base weight was for the hike?
I’m old school, and old-schoolers don’t care about base weight, but it was twenty-five to twenty-seven pounds. Us old-schoolers, we think in total pack weight of what we’re actually carrying because that’s the important thing.
Did you notice any other differences between your style on the trail and the “new school” or younger generation?
Yeah, going lightweight, smaller packs. But what they do is have everything hanging off the outside of the pack; it looks like a yard sale. I’m old school, where there’s nothing on the outside of that backpack. You get a backpack big enough to put everything in. That way you can’t lose anything, it doesn’t catch on any vegetation, and when you fall—old school, we were trained to fall backward on our backpack and just bounce right back up because we knew how to pack our backpacks so that we can’t hurt anything inside, ‘cause obviously there’s nothing on the outside.
A lot of them were doing 20, 25, 30 miles a day and only taking one noon break, and I can’t do that. That’s not fun to me. I didn’t have to get back to work like some of them did, but at least I had the time and hey, if I wanted to stop and just stare or listen for a while, I could.
What does adventure bring to your life?
Adventure brings life to my life. Grylls and I talked extensively about both of us growing old, and our kids and grandkids, and how we’re going to be perceived. Are we going to be able to stay healthy to enjoy our grandchildren’s lives and our great-grandchildren’s lives? I was just like, I’m afraid of getting old, terrified of dying. So I push myself, maybe too much sometimes, but I push myself to stay young. I’m absolutely fit right now, in great shape. The ladies at the swimming pool love to see me. [Laughs] A lot of it’s mental, too. I think as you grow older, if you let your body go, then your mind starts to go. And when I get up in the morning, I gotta have something to look forward to. I need to have things to do, short-range and especially long-range. What am I getting up for? What am I living for? What am I doing today?
What advice would you give others about staying adventurous throughout your life?
Just two words: Do it. We all have our aches and pains and everything, but just suck it up buttercup, and get out there and do it.