The book Walking Man: The Secret Life of Colin Fletcher by Robert Wehrman is finally out in ebook on Amazon Kindle and should soon be out in printed form. I know the author and had the privilege to read an early draft of the book. It tells the amazing story of a person often referred to as the father of modern backpacking. He backpacked the length of California long before the PCT was even a concept. He was the first person to backpack the entire length of the Grand Canyon National Park. In his late 60s he solo backpacked and rafted the Colorado River from its source to the end. He also wrote the popular the Complete Walker series.The book is more than a listing of his feats. It is the very personal look at an unusual and often very eccentric person who went from serving in the army in Wales to various adventures in Africa to his move to Canada and finally the U.S. He was also an outspoken environmentalist. The biography is based on Colin's personal notes that he kept almost daily plus interviews with his book agent and close friend plus other friends and neighbors. By the end of the book you will feel like you were there with him through his travels and adventures. I highly recommed this book to hikers, backpackers and those who have a connection to nature.
Loc: Portland, OR
I have no doubt this would be a fascinating book about an exceptional man.
I would quibble with your assertion that he hiked the length of California "long before the PCT was even a concept". The earliest proposals for a long distance trail from the Mexican to Canadian border date back as far as 1926, while Colin's epic hike was several decades later. This doesn't detract from his accomplishments. The PCT still did not exist as a continuous trail when Colin hiked his Thousand Mile Summer, and he chose a demanding route of his own devising.
I'm one of millions who pored over The Complete Walker, the rare balance of technique, gear and yarns aplenty, all written with a certain twinkle in his eye. Have always wondered whether he and Ansel Adams ever crossed paths. A pairing for the ages, that would have been.
Purchased it two nights ago, when I saw your post - I'm not disappointed yet. In fact, the biographer's writing style is quite reminiscent of Fletcher's. I'm not sure if that's intentional, or just something that happens when you read enough of Fletcher (yes, I drank the Fletcherade. )
The Complete Walker was the first thing I purchased after I got the backpacking bug. I have poured over it countless times.
I came across a copy of The Secret Worlds of Colin Fletcher in a used book store a few months ago and read it on a recent trip to the Pisgah range. Devoured every page and it was well on its way to becoming a favorite until I encountered the last chapter.
In it he is musing on ways to save the wild spaces we have all come to enjoy. He looks around after years of backpacking and sees those spaces starting to dwindle. He fears the encroachment of "civilization" on these spaces that we use as our refuge. He wonders aloud what can be done to stop this. Somewhere in that thought process he begins to wonder if a culling of the herd is necessary and that perhaps this newfangled AIDS will be the thing to thin out our numbers.
I closed the book at that point. I haven't finished the last 15 pages, and I don't think I ever will.
Oh well...We'll always have the Complete Walker.
Has anyone else read this book? We're you stopped cold by that passage like I was, or am I overreacting?
Loc: Portland, OR
Epidemic disease, along with famine and war, make up the Big Three causes of population decrease. Generally speaking, disease is by far the most effective one. So, it would be natural when thinking of "culling the herd" to think of disease as the culprit.
I get the idea that if he'd said "bubonic plague" or "dengue fever" instead of AIDS your reaction would have been far less horrified, not because those diseases are less horrific in their effects on the body, but because AIDS is associated in most minds with a specific minority group which is widely persecuted in the world, and this makes it appear that Colin was wishing death specifically on that group, not others.
I doubt this is where his mind was at. By 1989, when that book was published, anyone who kept informed knew AIDS was spreading rapidly into the general population and at that time AIDS was seen as nearly 100% fatal. It would have been the obvious candidate as the agent for the next human die-off. I'm sure he wasn't thinking about gays as the exclusive target of the disease; they were just the unfortunate vanguard in coping with what is a pan-human disease. But I can see why you experienced revulsion at the thought that he may have had such an idea in his mind.
Loc: Portland, OR
What may have been his last book, River, about the Colorado River, was a pretty good one, as I recall it. He mixes hiking and rafting in that one. Maybe find a copy in a public library, so you can give it a try and see how you like it.
I wasn’t stopped cold at all. I’m very much intrigued with his concept of a “carrying capacity” - it’s a concept applied by conservationists and assorted others concerned with vanishing species all the time, so why shouldn’t it apply to humans?
We’re seeing the effects of climate change, and it seems to be getting worse, if you pay attention. We’re currently at 7 billion humans, and should be closing in on 10 billion in the next few decades. (Scientists recently announced that we’ve entered a new epoch - if that’s the right word - distinguished as the first time man can alter the physical world in a permanent way. I didn’t say that very well, but that was the gist of it.)
I don’t know what the carrying capacity is, but I’m fairly certain it’s considerably less than 7 billion. Assume, for the sake of argument, that it’s 4 billion. The most critical question our children and grandchildren wil face is “Which 3 billion have to go, and how do we make that happen?” My prayer is that we will come to grips with it in time to do it humanely (Negative Population Growth) and consciously over those next few decades - before nature and history conspire to do it dramatically in a catclysmic natural or man-made event.
Please finish that chapter. It will cause you to think about that which must be faced, sooner or later.
I have not yet read the book. However reading your post I now know why I enjoyed his books so much. We are a virus on the planet out of control. A careless oblivious creature stomping around w/o care what is stomped on. If you cannot see that I'm envious.
Loc: Albuquerque, New Mexico
To revisit this discussion. Over the past year and a half I was inspired to revisit Colin Fletcher in depth. Using Walking Man as a backdrop for Fletcher backstory, I read in order Thousand Mile Summer, Walk through Time, Secret World, Man from the Cave, Winds of Mara, and River. I threw in a copy of the first edition of Complete Walker for good measure since that was my introduction to Fletcher.
It was good to have the backstory along the way. Secret World was my least favorite, and The Man from the Cave took some time to grind through, but I remain a Fletcherista to the end. Winds of Mara was beautiful, but through all the books I loved the poetry of his words.
If you like the poetry of language in books, I’d also highly recommend anything by Bruce Catton. His best work, naturally, is about the Civil War, but he also visited other historical periods, too. Clever use of sentence length (slow, long sentences to describe the beginning of Pickett’s Charge changing to short, sharp sentences as it reached its desperate climax) phrasing, and a very dry wit (“the volunteers just thought they were exercising their constitutional rights, not committing mutiny, but if the major general commanding felt differently, what with all the regulars he had with him...”) combine for a top-notch read.
When this thread came up again I decided to read the book again. I have it on my Kindle.
In "The Walking Man" it mentions that "The Man From the Cave" was not really a best seller and soon went out of print. The book said that used copies sold for $50 to $275. I looked and found my copy. Amazon used books show $30 to $150. Maybe my kids can make some money on it some day but they will probably just give all of my books to Goodwill.
I do regret giving away my copy of "Complete Walker 1" especially because the person I gave it to left the hiking community in a hissy fit over some minor perceived slight.