Meet Bill Walker, better known by his trail moniker of 'Skywalker'. Bill's an affable guy in his late forties, a businessman whose work sometimes took him to the odd foreign country, like lots of other people in the world.... And here the resemblance ends.
Bill Walker (his real name) is also thin, unusually tall (6'11”), and likes to walk. In Chicago, where he worked as a commodities trader, he walked to work to avoid all the traffic, and that's where the obsession started. Four miles each way, in winter. In London he did the same, losing exhausted girlfriends, but discovering the city. In successive foreign countries, ditto. Up until now, Bill had been considered a bit “eccentric”, but his wry humor won over everyone he encountered. When I first met him loping along a beach in Sarasota, dwarfing those around him, we struck up a conversation, as he did with everyone. I thought he was a basketball player, or certainly should have been. But no, Bill had just finished walking the historic Appalachian Trail, that magnificent Georgia to Maine wilderness trail, all 2,175 miles of it. He had never before spent a night outdoors, and had never backpacked.
Enjoy the full video here:
This 18 minute film lets him explain the adventure in his own words. Is he a nut? Is he a lot smarter about the challenges that life can present than the rest of us?
"Skywalker...Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail' is now available for DVD academic library purchase for $150 plus shipping and handling. Rights include PPR and DSL.
About Bill Walker and his Appalachian Trail Experience
Preparing for the first hike.
Well, I thought Bill was a part of the 'Nut Network' albeit a charming and very entertaining one. Oh, and he'd written a book about it, and as a fellow writer would I mind taking a quick look? Well, I liked to walk too, but was hardly qualified to comment on such a trek. But I started reading, and was plunged into a stunning world, harsh, yet filled with extraordinary beauty.
Taking a "golf break".
The AT is dramatically difficult terrain, crisscrossing the highest peaks in the East. Weather changes quickly, as does one's traveling companions, both male and female, who are richly detailed in the book as they pursue their grueling quest. Stereotypes are exploded as hikers enter regions previously unknown to them.
On the Trail...sometimes lonely. “….and miles to go before I sleep.”-Robert Frost
Many drop out, sometimes tragically. Of the millions who attempt part of the trail every year, about 2,000 are 'thru-hikers', and of these only the dedicated make it to the finish line at Mount Katahdin in Northern Maine.
The end of the Trail!
Bill 'Skywalker' made it, 171 days after starting out at Springer Mountain in his home state of Georgia. He'd gone from 212 pounds down to less than 180, but the novice hiker had survived!
As longtime documentary filmmakers (even the son has a little show on Discovery Channel called 'Storm Chasers'), we thought there might be an interesting angle here for a television series, if we could pin Bill down long enough. But 'Skywalker' was already off to conquer The Pacific Crest Trail, which includes the John Muir Trail Hike in Northern California and meanders 2,663 miles up the spine of the West Coast. On Bill's return, 168 days and 43 pounds lighter this time, we sat him down for an interview. Wow! The guy is amazing! His spirit, grit and downright tenacity come through vividly, leavened with a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor. When asked by awestruck hikers if he were a basketball player, Bill would shrug, “No, the money is much better in hiking than professional basketball.” His own secret for survival? Lots of olive oil to keep the motor running.
The Pacific Crest Trail winds from Mexico to Canada, through deserts and snow-covered mountains.
Bill 'Skywalker' is quite a raconteur, and he's ready to do the damn trip all over again for our cameras. But first there's the trip to Spain this summer, to tackle the famed 'Way of St. James'. He will walk the 820 kilometers from the picturesque South of France over the dramatic Pyrenees Mountains and through the bucolic beauties of Northern Spain to the medieval town of Santiago de Compostela, a
UNESCO World Heritage Site. Originally known as a famous medieval Christian pilgrimage trail, it has existed for over 1,000 years and is now one of the most popular walking tours in Europe. This year promises to be spectacular! Because it's a Jubilee Leap Year , which only happens every 11 years, over 200,000 are expected, and all the unique cafes and restaurants along the trail are getting ready for the onslaught of hungry hikers. I expect food explorer extraordinaire Anthony Bourdain, who loves the the Basque region of Spain, to make an appearance, along with assorted travel writers, tree-huggers, celebrities, curiosity-seekers and seekers of enlightenment.
The road to Santiago de Compostela will be a busy one this year
We intend to follow 'Skywalker' as he strides along 'Le Chemin de St. Jacques', as he samples the local Coquilles St. Jacques (scallops), and film him, along with his 15-year-old nephew, who speaks fluent French. A lot of Bill's friends from his Appalachian and Pacific Crest encounters will also be making the trek. It should be a great adventure. We hope you'll come along for this one.
Skywalker plans to keep on walking and talking up everybody along the way. Natural hiking trails all over the world are fast becoming the popular vacation mode of seasoned trekkers and eco-tourists alike, who want to “see it before it's gone.” The message, sadly, is clear folks. We must break free from our dependance on our prehistoric gas guzzlers and learn to walk again. We must discourage the petroleum giants from drilling into and destroying the planet's fragile ecosystems. They will not come back in our lifetime, if ever. The catastrophic oil spill is the Gulf of Mexico by British Petroleum is a clarion call to either drown those careless idiots in their own oil or move forward on clean energy. Okay, you've heard it a million times, but so what? We've got to keep trying; showing people what they're missing out there if they spend their spare time watching You tube. We must save our precious resources now, so our kids wont just have pretty pictures to look at of a dead planet. On a happier note...no sorry, I'm really depressed about the oil spill.