In short, here’s what you need to know about Bill Walker: He’s 6-feet 11-inches-tall — not 7 feet tall. He spent 14 years as a commodities trader in Chicago and London and later taught English in Peru, Mexico, Argentina, and Paraguay.
A native of Macon, Ga., Walker has always been a kind of nomad, a self-described “serial Visa violator,” who, until hiking the length of the Appalachian Trail in 2005 — a total distance of 2,175 miles — had never actually camped outside a night in his life.
He’s always enjoyed walking for reasons beyond pure aerobics. In Chicago, he walked four miles up the bus line every day to his office. In London, he pounded the pavement on the West End, and in Latin America he continued the habit.
His last name is purely ironic.
“Walking long distances brings out the best in people,” says Walker, 49.
Ten years ago, he read travel writer Bill Bryson’s book, “A Walk in the Woods,” in which an overweight and characteristically self-deprecating Bryson attempts to traverse the Appalachian Trail. Walker obsessively thought about embarking on the same journey and, at one point, ran the idea past his father, who incredulously suggested his son seek shelter under a bear in the event of a thunderstorm.
Shortly after his father died, Walker bought a backpack, sleeping bag, a stocking cap, fleece vest and two sets of long johns, rain jackets and rain pants. Falling under the influence of legendary hiker Warren Doyle, a weathered mountain man who’s hiked the Appalachian Trial 13 times, Walker ditched the extra weight of a tent and slept under a tarp instead.
He chose his trail name in advance: Skywalker, not because he’s a fan of “Star Wars,” but because of his last name — at 6-foot-11, how could he not?
In the spring of 2005, he set out on foot from the Chattahoochee Valley National Forest, in Georgia. On Sept. 26, 2005, he reached the northern terminus of the trail — Mount Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine. It took him 171 days, and he dropped 33 pounds.
In Sarasota, he penned the memoir, “Skywalker,” while working for Young Biz, a financial literacy- and youth-entrepreneurship program. In 2009, he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, which is 489 miles longer than the Appalachian Trail and runs from California to Canada.
To train for the flatter desert trek, he trudged up and down Siesta Key Beach wearing his hiker’s pack and ankle weights, a peculiar sight that inevitably grabbed the attention of filmmaker and Sarasota Fringe Film Festival founder Patrick Nagle, who asked Walker if he’d be interested in shooting a short documentary about his newfound trail fever.
“It’s about why I do it,” Walker says of the film. “My fondest hope is that I inspire non-hikers; people who say, ‘If that idiot Skywalker can do it with all the mistakes he made, I can do it, too.’”
If You Go
The 2010 Sarasota Fringe Film Festival runs April 7 to April 11, at Main Street Plaza, next to Regal Hollywood 20. For a complete list of screenings, visit www.sarasotafringefilmfestival.com.
Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected].