Tall Tales by Skywalker

Posted by on August 7, 2011 in Appalachian trail Books | 0 comments

No shortage of tall talesEd Grisamore – gris@macon.com Sign up for daily e-mail news alerts



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Bill Walker knows what it’s like to be the tallest guy in the room.

At 6-foot-11, hovering around the ceiling brings its natural instincts. He is accustomed to stooping through every doorway. He could write a book on the frustration of shopping for clothes and spending the night with his feet dangling from the foot of the bed.

SPECIAL TO THE TELEGRAPH Bill Walker is seen with another hiker on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2009.
He figures he has answered the recurring question — how tall are you? — at least 4.5 times a day since the summer of 1977, when he shot from 6-foot-2 to 6-foot-6 to start his senior year at Stratford Academy.

It was a game-changer. He went from a reputation as a standout golfer to a guy who was “standing out” just by loping down the hall. Suddenly, he was being recruited for the basketball team.

Bill had grown up expecting to be at least as tall as his father, the late Duncan Walker Jr., a local physician who stood 6-foot-6.

But when Bill eventually topped out a couple of whiskers shy of 7 feet, he had to adjust to being a redwood in a forest of scrub pines.

Naturally, he heard some ribbing from down below.

“How’s the weather up there?”

“Spotted any forest fires, lately?”

“How much do you charge for cleaning gutters?”

For the longest time, Bill was less self-conscious of his height than his weight. Like many gentle giants, his body grew vertically but not horizontally.

He was 83 inches high and a stringbean 135 pounds on the bathroom scale. When you looked at him sideways, he almost wasn’t there. He was, as they say, a long, tall drink of water.

“I was an easy target,” he said. “In college, people started calling me ‘Biafra’ because I looked like one of those starving African children. I have friends from college who still call me that.”

After graduating from business school at the University of Georgia, Bill decided to join the Army. At a recruiting office in Atlanta, he was asked to list his height.

“I knew there was a limit, so I decided to lowball it by 2 inches,” he said. “I said 6-9. I was told I couldn’t be taller than 6-8.”

So he returned to Georgia to attend graduate school. He worked as an accountant in Atlanta, then spent 14 years in Chicago and London as a commodities trader.

It was in Chicago where he became an avid walker, like his surname. To avoid the gridlock rush-hour traffic, he would leave his job at the Chicago Board of Trade and walk home. He found the brisk, 4-mile walk to be “cathartic.” During the brutal winters in the Windy City, it was especially brisk.

In London, where he did not have a car, he reveled in trooping around one of the oldest, largest and most fascinating cities in the world. He also read “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson, a book that changed his life.

Bryson is an American writer living in England, and the book is a comical account of Bryson’s attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail with an out-of-shape friend. (The book is being adapted for an upcoming movie starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte.)

Bill continued his passion for walking when he left London in 1999 to teach English in five Latin American countries — Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Peru.

When his long legs would stride down the streets in Peru, people would lean out their car windows and holler “Margarita! Margarita!”

He wasn’t sure about what they meant — unless it had something to do with happy hour. So he asked his class about it one day. They laughed and told him “Margarita” was a giant Amazon character from a popular television commercial.

Always on the lookout for his next adventure, Bill decided in 2005 to channel his enthusiasm for walking and hike the 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail, the longest continuous and marked footpath in the world.

“The trail has this amazing community of through-hikers, so you get to meet all kinds of people,” he said. “If you want to see the country, don’t go to Disney World. On the Appalachian Trail, you walk through 14 states in the largest hardwood forest in the world.”

He gave himself the trail name “Skywalker,” and it was the perfect fit in stature and surname. It also became the title of his 2008 book, “Skywalker: Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail.”

Bill wrote about his experiences being the tallest guy on the Appalachian. He lamented low-lying branches and the travails having to pack a two-man tent because his legs were too long for a one-man.

He dedicated it to the memory of his father, who had died the year before. “He would have thought trying to hike the Appalachian Trail was a nutty idea,” Bill wrote. “But he would have been my biggest fan anyway.”

Bill wrote a follow-up “Skywalker” book after hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2009, a rugged 2,663-mile of endurance from the California border near Mexico to the northern terminus in British Columbia, Canada, passing through 25 national forests and seven national parks.

Bill now calls Asheville, N.C., home, but his mother, Kitty, still lives in Macon. He is visiting her this week after returning from still another hike, the famous spiritual pilgrimage of the Camino de Santigo. He trekked the 400 miles from southern France across the Pyrenees to Galacia in northwest Spain.

A book about that experience will be forthcoming. And he hopes to publish a collection of stories he has written about his life’s experiences in the air up there.

He plans to call it “Tall Tales.”

As you can probably tell, there is no shortage of them to share.

Read more: http://www.macon.com/2011/08/07/1657324/no-shortage-of-tall-tales.html#ixzz1UOfCBKqq

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