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[pct-l] Conversation with Billy Goat - very long
- Subject: [pct-l] Conversation with Billy Goat - very long
- From: rellinwood at worldnet.att.net (Robert Ellinwood)
- Date: Mon Jan 16 18:44:46 2006
For several years, I've wondered about this perennial PCTer called "Billy
Goat" of whom others speak so highly, whom Yogi has called her hero, and
whom friends of mine keep bumping into seemingly everywhere on the trail.
When I first met him, I assumed that the distinctive long beard - now about
10 yrs old - had some relation to the trail name of "Billy Goat". I mean,
male billy goats have long beards, right? No, it seems George Woodard, age
67, was called that by hiking buddies 20 years ago while climbing some of
New England's Highest Hundred in NH: "There he goes, climbin' a mountain
just like a billy goat." A trail name was born. Well, just who IS Billy
Goat? Might he have lessons to teach me?
BG: "After growing up in the shadow of Mt Katahdin in Patton, Me, I worked
for the railroad in New England for over 30 years - 1957 to '88 - in freight
yards as a freight train conductor, a yard foreman conductor, and then as a
passenger conductor for Amtrak. The exception was being in the Army from
'59-62, serving the majority of that time in Germany first with Border
Patrol, then as driver for the Battalion and Regimental Commanders. I
retired from the RR in '88 at the age of 50, having made the decision 10
years prior to that if I could swing it financially I was going to
discontinue work. When I was in my twenties, I had seen so many RR men
retire and a few weeks later be dead that I said I wasn't going to do that!
My retirement plan didn't kick in til I was 60, but some rental properties
got me through my 50's. There's a trade-off. I was willing to do without
that pick-up every year. My daughter was in college, but I could eliminate
a whole bunch of things for myself and just forget about that job. I did
work occasionally as a consultant for a small railroad company out of
Atlanta - part of the time in Los Angeles - hiring employees and training
Dr Bob: Prior to retirement in 1988, what sort of hiking had you done?
BG: "Most of the times in 3 week segments, as a section hiker, with 7 weeks
on the AT in '87 being my longest time period. After growing up in Maine,
walking through the woods with friends, I got started actually hiking back
in 1965 in Connecticut with short local circuit hikes and found I enjoyed
the freedom of this inexpensive activity. Then a brochure about short hikes
on the Long Trail led me to climb Stratton Mt in Vt. Years later, in 1975,
I interrupted a southbound AT section hike and walked the entire Long Trail,
my first trail completion. I knew by '84 that I wanted to hike more and not
just work to make the pile get bigger, if you will. How big a pile do you
need? Following my retirement in '88, I went out on the PCT in April of '89
for 1600 miles and that began my long-distance hiking."
Dr Bob: From what I'm sensing, I know of very few current hikers who have
totaled as many trail miles as you have: Walkin' Jim Stoltz, Warren Doyle,
Scott Williamson, Dan Smith, Ward Leonard, and Ed Talone, who works at the
American Hiking Society. Run through for me what you've hiked.
BG: "Well, I've hiked 25,500 miles. The Long Trail 3 times: 1) in
sections. 1975, 2) and thru-hikes in '91 and '95. The Grand Canyon in '75.
The Northville-Lake Placid Trail in '95. The John Muir Trail in '95. The
Ozark Highlands Trail in '97. The Appalachian Trail 3 times: 1) in
sections, '71-'87, 2) a thru-hike '94, 3) in sections, '91-'96. The CDT in
sections from '97-'99. The Wonderland Trail in '88. The Colorado Trail 4
times, twice in each direction, '96, '97, '00, '01. Portions of the Florida
Trail in '86, '94. The highest mountain in Mexico, Mt. Orizaba, in '90, Mt
Rainier in '88. The Highest Hundred in New England, finishing in the
mid-'80's. 38 of the 54 Colorado Fourteeners, 17 of the NY Adirondacks.
40 of the 50 State High Points. Mt Washington in NH in every month of the
year. 300 miles of the Arizona Trail. 100 miles of the Natches Trace
Trail. The PCT 4 times ('99, '02, '03, '04), plus about 1800 miles, this
Dr Bob: This year was different?
BG: "I said to Mary, 'This year I'm going to be flexible (I'm not known as
being very flexible). Flexible with timing, people I hiked with, where I
went, direction. I just went out to be ON the trail. Didn't necessarily
have to get from one border to the other border. I actually ended up
enjoying my hike more. I felt fresher without having to keep up great
mileage every day."
Dr Bob: This past summer, friends bumped into you jumping around a lot on
the trail. Do you often do that?
BG: "My preference would be to just do a straight north-bound thru-hike.
However, I'm not bent on that. I need to be flexible and adjust according to
the elements and, perhaps, the end of the season. If I knew I was going to
be late getting to Canada, say in mid-October, I'd be willing to skip a
section, finish up before it snows and then come back to a lower elevation
later on. Flexibility is something hikers should make part of their overall
plan. I prefer to hike northbound because it offers the sun at your back, as
opposed to walking southbound with the sun in your face most of the way.
With the glare, you would need to use sunglasses more than when walking
north and I prefer not to use sunglasses. I can see better without them.
On some trails hiking north is also advantageous because of the early season
Dr Bob: What's a typical hiking day for you?
BG: "I would like to stop at 12 hours, but frequently it goes on to 13 and
14 hours. The first 3 hours are my strongest and I will often try to
position myself at the end of the day in order to begin a climb in the
morning. I almost always - 95% of the time - start as soon as I can
actually see the trail in the morning. Psychologically, if I wait to start
at 9:00 a.m., I feel I've lost it for the day and can never get an
appropriate number of miles done for the day. So by mid-day I will have
gone at least 10 miles and can cruise along to do some more. Starting late,
there is no chance for error, for visiting, taking a break, cooking lunch,
or going swimming. Weatherwise, it's also smart on the PCT in July to be
moving early, getting up over the passes early. I just REALLY enjoy the
first hours of the morning... every day. I like seeing the light come and
hear the birds and see the shadows and watch the sun come down over the top
of the mountain and the shade disappear. My pace is about 2 mph. I wish
that it were faster. Sometimes when a young fella goes by me, I get a
little bit discouraged, but I can maintain 2 mph. I do very little training
before I hike, except for about 75 miles just before the Kick-Off. Anyway,
I believe that after 3 weeks we're all even. I don't do stretching, having
never determined the need for it. As for breaks, I take a break every 2-3
hours, but I try to limit it to 10 minutes or so. Then, most days I take a
45 minute break and cook lunch with my alcohol stove. It's a rewarding
thing for me to have a hot lunch, while my body is resting. I rarely eat
while I'm walking. I go about 20 miles in a 12 hour period. Each day I
have certain goals... a big destination for the day... then during the day
I'll have 3-4 smaller destinations I'm seeking out: a ridgetop, a creek, a
road crossing. Sometimes the goals are to position myself timing-wise to
best utilize the location. For example, I don't want to be going across
Goat Rocks at 7:00 in the evening!"
Dr Bob: Do you prefer hiking alone?
BG: "No, I enjoy hiking with others. However, I have often said that if I
waited around home for someone to hike with I would never go. How many
friends or neighbors that you know are interested in hiking like you are? I
would rather just match up and hike with someone but not have an obligation,
enjoying their company but if I decided I had had enough I could just go on
my way. I don't mind hiking by myself, but I do like the idea that there are
other hikers in the area. If I'm hiking in the off-season and I know no one
is around, then it's probably not as rewarding as if I know I'm going to
bump into someone. I enjoy the element of meeting someone out there....it's
always uplifting. I walk away after a 10 minute chat and think, "Wow, this
is great!." On the other hand, I don't hang around crowds in towns. I go
there and do my chores and visit, but I tend not to be a part of the crowd.
I'm much more comfortable on the trails than anyplace else. I'm not very
comfortable in society... in the Mall....on the interstate... or places
where there's a lot of activity.
Perhaps the trails may have been used as an escape, but now I would consider
them my home, most recently the PCT. This feeling grew in '84 as I began
hiking more and more of the AT, as I had available time. Outdoors, I'm much
more at ease, easier to be around, more assured of who I am. I have less
Dr Bob: What impresses you in other hikers?
BG: "What gains my admiration are skills as an outdoorsman. Someone who
obviously has outdoor skills like fire building, map and compass,
knot-tying, a good feel for the run of the streams... which direction they
are going, awareness of the timing of sunrises and sunsets and the moon
phases (one of my favorite things on a hike is watching the moon phases as I
camp at night). Someone who is confident in themselves. They don't
necessarily need to tag along with a friend, but are pretty aware of their
own person. Not cocky, but confident. Old or young, it's pretty easy to
identify such a person... or not. A person who is competent and knows their
skills... knows where to set up their tent, cook their meals, how to pace
themselves, take care of their feet, take proper shelter in a storm.
Someone who is unruffled."
Dr Bob: As you watch others out there, what are some of the mistakes you
BG: "Among the mistakes I see people making is chasing after someone ahead
of them on the trail. For days, they go faster and harder, not seeing
anything along the way, while that other person may well be trying to catch
someone else. If they really wanted you to be hiking with them, all they
have to do is slow down or stop briefly. Also, I see people chasing the
Post Office, fearful of it being closed on the weekend. I think people
would be better off and enjoy their hike more if they slacked back a little
and said, "We'll go to the P.O. on Monday morning." They run a risk of
being injured, but basically, I think, of not enjoying their hike. Pushing
too hard will lead to injury. I saw this in a hiker this past summer with
his feet. Besides the feet, it will take its toll on your ankles, knees,
and perhaps the hips and back. One needs to learn there are limits. I
also think mistakes are made in arranging to meet family members or friends
on up the trail at a certain date at a particular place. The family member
has much more flexibility than the hiker does and could catch the hiker at a
variety of road crossings. I've also seen hikers skip sections in order to
match up with friends and they seem, later, to have a defeated attitude...
that they missed 35 miles and no longer can they feel like they're a
thru-hiker. I think it takes away something psychologically that they have
not walked from one end to the other. I would recommend not to skip
sections. However, in a year like '05, it was simply not practical to walk
straight through... places like San Jacinto and Baden Powell. As a result,
I think some folks quit the trail before they got to Kennedy Meadows."
Dr Bob: If asked, what advice for the younger hiker would you give?
BG: "It's easy to turn people off. Even if they seemed genuine in their
interest, I would minimize my comments, lest they not be welcome. However,
if someone wants to walk with me and learn along the way about how I select
a campsite, how do I keep my load down, what do I use for equipment, and
learn piece by piece, that seems to be more effective than just talk around
a campfire. I've actually had a couple younger men follow me and pattern
themselves after some of the things I was doing. I'm comfortable with that
more than talking to a group and then, in retrospect, wishing I hadn't said
as much. In a group, how do you know everyone is interested in what you
have to say?
Sometimes when I hike the trail, by the time I get to the Columbia
River I think 'Oh, I wish the trail ended right here.' Because by that
time it's the beginning of September and I'm starting to get weary. The
days are getting shorter and I'm not even looking around anymore. I'm not
ooh-ing and aah-ing over the scenery... I'm just trying to grind out the
miles with my head looking down. But we have to go on another 500 miles,
which would be more spectacular if you weren't already weary. (However, if
that trail didn't end in Manning Park but went on another 500 miles, somehow
we'd figure out how to do it.) We're driven... and you almost have to be a
Type A personality to do a thru-hike. A laid-back personality will sit down
under that tree so frequently that they won't even get through California.
But we need to be realistic and not overestimate our ability. When we do
our 'arm-chair hiking' planning at home, it's better to underestimate your
ability and avoid discouragement. Then, on the trail, if you find you can go
another mile or two then it just makes you feel a little more strong. I
like to trick my mind: I'll say to myself that I should get to that top in
about 2 hrs and 15 minutes. Even though I know I could possibly make it in
2 hours, if I get up there a few minutes earlier than 2 hrs and 15 minutes,
I'll say, "There, I met my goal." What I don't want to say is that I'll get
there in an hour and 45 minutes and then it takes me 2 hours... then I'm
discouraged. I do that mind game a lot. It helps and is a way of not
Sure, I have miniature tough times on the trail, but rather than
confront Nature, I just back off! I think some hikers neglect to learn that
they cannot alter the elements. They must make changes to accommodate the
elements. Sometimes just slacking off a little gets me much further along
in a much better frame of mind. I try not to compete with the elements or
There's a fine line between pleasure and torture. As we hike along,
we can work just a LITTLE too hard and there goes the pleasure and
immediately it's torture. Find the balance so you don't tip over into the
torture side. Frequently, if a storm is coming in, I'll try to find a place
in trees, put up my shelter, just hunker down, and call it good. We'll deal
with this thing tomorrow. We'll get to Canada either way. However, I do
set a schedule so I'll have an idea of what I'm doing and where I'm going to
be. That does not mean I keep it! I just don't want to be in Ashland and
it's already mid-August.
One thing that's always given me pleasure is keeping a written
journal. I write a page of what happened that day, including what time of
day I started and stopped, both morning and unusually hot temperatures, my
mileage, and the people I met. I record the time I reached the pass,
crossed the creek or the road. The benefit is not immediate, but the
following winter or years later. I can relive each event. I discipline
myself to write every day."
Dr Bob: How do you feel about "Ray Day," June 15th, as a general guideline
for entering the Sierra from Kennedy Meadows?
BG: "I suppose it's good median day to consider, but each season is
different and each individual has different abilities to cope with the snow
and to do the mileage - and still get to Canada - if he delays. Some are
comfortable with the snow... some are not. I don't give 'Ray Day' much
significance in my planning."
Dr Bob: Are there current trends you consider unwise?
BG: "One thing that concerns me is a general disrespect for towns... the
property, the property owners, the facilities that are offered in a small
community. There is somewhat of a superior attitude, as if a long-distance
hiker somehow is a better person or superior to the local person. I think
the opposite should be thought. Those people live there. They're here 365
days a year and we're here one day. What happens is that nowadays hikers
are coming into town in droves and they're not being well accepted because
of their disrespect and their just keeping company with themselves. 10-15
years ago, a hiker would come to a place like Seiad Valley and I know a
person there who liked to greet them and get to know them, one on one.
Recently, I saw him and he tells me that ten hikers come into town and they
only talk to each other. I think the "herd" attitude influences these
attitudes of feeling superior as a thru-hiker. If any individual hiker were
to come into town they would have less of an attitude. It's the
herd-mentality. They're influenced by each other, trying to out-macho and
out-do one another. One on one, that wouldn't exist. Whatever problems the
AT has had this way in the last decade is inevitably brought to the PCT. 2)
I also question some of the high-tech use. A lot of people have a MP3 player
or iPod to their ear and miss out on all the sounds going on around you...
birds, cracking in the bushes, chipmunks hollerin' at you, rattlesnakes
buzzing, the flowing sounds of the water, the wind in the trees. You
forfeit all of that to listen to your favorite music. They're tuned out
from all the natural sounds around them. Sometimes I will come upon a hiker
and speak to them and they don't even hear me. 3) Another thing I've seen
is hikers using strictly their Data Book for information... not even
carrying the guidebook pages or the maps. Sometimes not even a compass! I
think that's inviting a chance to get in trouble. As many times as I've
hiked the PCT, I still carry the maps and the guidebook pages."
Dr Bob: "Inviting a chance to get in trouble." Nice phrase! But for you
personally, what's changed over the years?
BG: "The excitement I feel hasn't changed a bit in the 35 years or so. My
load has lightened and my techniques have changed: today it's almost taboo
to build a fire, as opposed to having a fire every evening. I would
sometimes build a bough bed 35 years ago, but not now, of course. We don't
therefore carry tools for cutting branches now. These days I know what my
pack weighs... to the ounce. In 2004, my pack was 8 lbs 10 oz at the
Kick-Off, the lightest load presented. This year, 2005, I changed a few
items and my pack weighed right around 9 lbs. I carry what I need... but I
don't carry what I don't need. Most of us have a list of what we want and
what we think we need, but if we pare that down to what we truly do need
then it comes to quite a bit less. Now my backpack weighs a pound. Most of
the major items that I've been able to lose weight on are the pack, the
tarp, and my sleeping bag and pad. I now carry almost nothing in first
aid... a few bandaids, some moleskin. I don't even carry any antibiotic
cream. My biggest aid in 'first aid' is my bandana. I also carry nothing
for repair... no duck tape, no needle and thread. No extra socks or
underwear at all, only what I wear."
Dr Bob: Well, since you only have one pair of socks, when you're walking
with wet socks how do you avoid blisters?
BG: "That's an real issue. If I get an opportunity and it's a good day,
I'll undress my feet up in the sun and try to dry my feet. That doesn't dry
the socks out quickly, although the liners dry fairly quickly. At the
stream crossings, I'm willing to undress my feet six times a day going
through Yosemite in order to maintain dry feet. I take a pair of cheap shoe
inserts and put the inserts inside an extra pair of liner socks (for the
Sierra only) and put them on my feet with a rubber band over my foot just to
hold the sock and insert in place and then I cross. Including the changes
on both sides, I've gotten my crossings down to 15 minutes. This year in
the Sierra in August I could just rock-hop everything, getting my feet wet
only in Bear Creek and Evolution Creek."
Dr Bob: You mentioned tools. Do you take an ice axe up in the Sierra?
BG: "I do not. I own one, but I have never taken one up there. I have had
training and have used one in climbing, but in hiking have just used
trekking poles and crampons. With care, I have found that the crampons have
been able to hold me in the Sierra, along with the hiking poles."
Dr Bob: What about tarp vs. tent?
BG: "I have not used a tent since early '94... that's over 11 ? years.
Currently, I have 2 tarps I use. One is a very lightweight tarp by Gossamer
Gear, used primarily in CA and then only when it rains. It's the 1st one
they issued and I modified it by shortening it by 14 inches. It weighs 8
oz. When I get to WA, I use my 14 oz Integral Designs tarp. It's a bit
more spacious and it's not difficult to spend an entire day in there, if
necessary. I carry a separate 6 oz. bug screen from Campmor and use my
hiking poles on the front end and stake down the foot. I have found that
seldom do you need both the screening and the tarp. My ground cloth is a
one-ounce 1mm painter's drop cloth, replaced as needed. I use an
8-section Z-rest pad, which sometimes gets me through 2 summers."
Dr Bob: On the 'Tell it on the Mountain' site, you said you rarely stay in
a motel? On principle? For finances?
BG: "When I do occasionally get a room it is mostly to dry out. My
favorite place to get a room is Snoqualmie Pass. But I don't mind going
month after month without getting a room. I have plenty of 'house time' in
the off-season. Part of my reasoning for hiking is to be outside and why do
I want to stay inside when it's nice weather? No, it's not finance-related.
If I feel like I want a motel, I do it. However, I'm reluctant to share a
room with someone else because of the TV...the late noise and the movies.
Even at the Saufley's, I prefer to sleep on the ground behind the trailer,
being able to enjoy visiting but then sleep outdoors in the quiet. It's the
Dr Bob: Personal cleanliness... this would mean you don't get showers very
BG: "That's true...it's a trade-off."
Dr Bob: Have you become an expert at "sponge baths" near streams? Or do
you just ignore it?
BG: "I think I ignore it more than I used to. I'm aware of my not being
very hygienic, especially if I meet someone, but somehow over the years it
has become less important to me. If there's an opportunity to take a shower
I will, but I'm pretty comfortable with not taking them. I suppose I get a
shower every several weeks, but occasionally one can just hop in a creek."
Dr Bob: Do you purify your water?
BG: "No, I do not. I don't do anything about it and essentially never
have. In 1990, I noticed everyone was using a filter, so I got one. I
used it 2-3 times, it plugged up, and I got rid of it. I believe I did get
giardia one time in the Adirondacks in an early June snowmelt and Mary fixed
me right up with a home remedy of liquid oxygen, extract of grapefruit seed,
heavy doses of vitamin C and black walnut tea. I repaired in about 2 days.
A lot of hikers can't afford a trip to a doctor and all this involves is a
trip to a pharmacy for liquid oxygen essentially."
Dr Bob: What, if any, electronic equipment do you take hiking?
BG: "You know, I was born 100 years too late. I should have been born in
the 1800's. I'm not very much interested in technology. It would have been
fine with me had I been born before automobiles were. Despite their
hardships and shorter life, sometimes I wish I had been an American Indian a
few hundred years ago. They had a sense of community and a relation to the
earth I fear we don't have anymore."
Dr Bob: I gather you also avoid modern processed foods to some extent in
what you eat on the trail?
BG: "For breakfast, I eat a pre-soaked cereal mix of oats (roasted at
home), buckwheat groats, slivered almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds,
and chocolate-flavored protein powder in 8 oz. packets, vacuum sealed at
home. At lunch, I quite frequently cook up an 8 oz. prepackaged (at home)
meal of pinto beans, buckwheat groats, a variety of dried vegetables
(including broccoli, cabbage, celery, parsley, plus a few other things),
and cheddar cheese powder for flavoring. Most days, I do the same for
dinner. This past season I had more than 225 cereal mixes and 177
meals-to-cook made up. To get me from meal to meal, I will have some Wasa
crackers and powdered peanut butter (with added water). I also use a
mixture, made up at home, of walnuts, peanuts plus the nuts and seeds I
mentioned in my breakfast. Because I'm diabetic, I don't buy any
pre-packaged snacks or candy from local stores. I just can't eat that
stuff. However, the fact that I'm diabetic does not hinder my hiking. I
just pay close attention to what and when I eat. When I get hungry, I have
to eat... like, RIGHT NOW! Also, I take a lot of vitamins and supplements,
twice a day, although less while hiking than I do at home when I'm not as
Dr Bob: Give me an example of one of your supplements.
BG: "Concentrated Alfalfa. It seems to make me more flexible. 9-10
years ago, I felt I was getting stiff, even getting out of chairs. I
thought, at 57 or so, it was just due to aging. Mary suggested taking
concentrated Alfalfa and a couple of months later I noticed I wasn't stiff
anymore. I take 3 twice a day and they keep me more flexible than if I was
not taking them."
Dr Bob: Do older hikers have any advantages going for them?
BG: "Older hikers have learned what their bodies can and cannot do.
They've learned their restrictions and limitations and how to stay within
them. Many younger hikers have not learned that. They also learned how to
pace themselves for the long haul - a pace they can maintain indefinitely -
be it for a day or for weeks. Often younger folks will take several breaks
going up a hill, for example, and the older person is coming along, quite a
ways behind, but they'll both get to the top at the same time. The older
person has not needed the breaks because of pacing himself."
Dr Bob: We all have funny stories about trail incidents. What's one of
BG: "In 1994 when I was thru-hiking the AT, at Elmer's in Hot Springs, NC,
it had been raining, as usual, and this young boy, "Greaser," decided he
would put his tent out in the back yard to dry. When he was satisfied that
it was dry, he started to take it down. I'm setting there in a chair on the
porch with another hiker, Noodleman. So here was Greaser taking down his
dry tent without noticing that, at the very same time, Elmer's dog was
peeing on it. Noodleman was taking a picture of the whole deal.... of
Greaser, the dog and the tent being freshly 'wetted.' "
Dr Bob: How about the strangest thing that's happened to you on the trail?
BG: "In Feb, '99, on the Arizona Trail, the first thing one morning I came
upon a man - in shorts and T-shirt - lying in the trail. The temperature
was in the low 30's. I stopped and said, 'Hello.' Coming closer and
getting no response, I suddenly realized the man was dead. Miles from
anywhere, I recorded a good description, including that his ears were
purple, and hiked on until 3 p.m. when I came to Summerhaven and could
report the location and elevation to the Postmaster, who called the Sheriff.
It seems the young man, depressed, in his 30's, had died from an overdose of
Prozac, with 4 times the prescribed amount in his body."
Dr Bob: Any interesting animal stories or encounters?
BG: "There were wonderful wild horses in Wyoming in the Great Divide Basin
on the CDT. One day I saw as many as 200 wild horses. I came to realize
that when I saw them I would be within 5 miles of good water somewhere. In
the Basin in '91, I saw a group of six horses and the stallion broke away
and came toward me, tossed his head, mane flying, and I like to think he
said, "Come play with me!" They were so shiny and beautiful, with manes and
tails flying as they ran. With the tough winters there, it was survival of
the fittest, I guess. Then in '04 in the Goat Rocks on the PCT, I saw a
group of 60 mountain goats all at once, young and old, all in close
proximity to each other and to me. Unaware of me, first they crossed Cispus
Pass and then I did. As I crossed, there they were right in front of me
again and I had time to count them more than once, before they ran on. Then
in '03 on the PCT, a Goshawk came flying at me, right for my head. After
much squawking, he attacked again repeatedly for almost a mile. It was the
same one that hit Yogi's cap a day earlier."
Dr Bob: Have you ever felt really afraid out there?
BG: "The answer is, 'Yes!' In most of those situations, I try to be calm,
think clearly, act slowly, and not make any sudden moves. I think it's very
important to accept your setting and think it through - assess things -
before jumping into action. However, in electrical storms you feel you
basically have no defense. One time on the Colorado Trail, I was climbing
from the saddle below San Luis Peak off the trail up the exposed ridge to
the top. The weather was not good and I knew better than this. A very heavy
electrical storm quickly came in and I was just a minute from the peak when
there was a simultaneous flash and crack of lightning. Right then some hail
hit me on the bill of my cap and, thinking I'd been hit by lightning, I
dropped to the ground on my stomach. A few minutes later, I went on to the
top, snapped one picture, and ran all the way down the bare ridge to the
saddle. Some stream crossings have been very trying, especially when you
are all by yourself. Some on the CDT come to mind. Also, I have been
cautious - not afraid - about where I sleep overnight... not near a
trailhead where cars can drive in. There, I'll be off, not visible, out of
the way. Also, in hunting season, with hunters driving around in their
pick-ups on dirt roads, I've been uncomfortable. It can be a little bit
scary. If folks nearby were making a lot of noise, were drinking heavily,
or playing music loudly, that's just annoyance and I would consider setting
up elsewhere. But if someone seemed definitely intoxicated, perhaps on
drugs, or just behaving strangely, then I would move on for sure. Because
once you're asleep, you're pretty defenseless. I think I've always been
quick to identify a person's spirit, if you will. My scariest time, though,
was in March, '01, on the Naches Trace Trail in Mississippi when I walked
into Port Gibson to re-supply. On my way out of town, a car load of
African-Americans stopped at the light and yelled, "Hey, white boy, what do
you do with them sticks?" That was followed by, "I'm gonna cut off your
beard." Just then the light changed and, with cars behind them, they had to
move on. As I moved on quickly, defenseless, I definitely felt afraid."
Dr Bob: What injuries have you had on the trail?
BG: "In August, '86, on a wet day-hike in the Kinsmans in NH I was flyin'
along, slipped on a rock, went airborne, and broke a rib when I hit the
ground. I had some difficulty with deep breathing, but the worst thing was
if I sneezed. Also, while not really an injury, I got Rocky Mountain
Spotted Fever from a tick bite on the CDT in '93 in the Great Basin. I was
off-trail for almost a month and it took a long time to get my energy back."
Dr Bob: I assume you want to keep hiking forever. In fact, some folks want
to die with their boots on, doing what they love.
BG: "I would like to be able to hike indefinitely, but realize that there
will come a time when I may not have the ability to do a thru-hike and I'll
have to be satisfied with much shorter distances. Do I want to die out
there? The answer is, 'No.' On one hand, out there I appreciate the
ABSENCE of the things of the world as much as anything. Yet I'm so thankful
for health, interest, energy, stamina, financial resources, Mary's support,
the trail community. I need to express my thanks for all that and more.
Sometimes I'm walking some place on the PCT and I say 'Ah, just look at
this. You know, God made this place JUST for me... just for my enjoyment.'
Last summer I said, 'Look at this. I've had the pleasure of walking through
the Sierra SIX times and almost everyone in this country has never even SEEN
the Sierra. How blessed can that be?' "