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Backpacker Magazine – August 2008

Walking the Talk

First John Francis stopped riding in cars. Then he stopped talking. More than three decades, two continent-spanning hikes, and countless trail miles later, he's still following his remarkable path of protest–only now he's not alone.

by: Bill Donahue – Photography by Mark Compton

John Francis hasn't ridden in a car for three decades.
John Francis hasn't ridden in a car for three decades.
Francis walks up Mt. Vision, near his home in Point Reyes Station, Calif.
Francis walks up Mt. Vision, near his home in Point Reyes Station, Calif.
Francis near Marshall, Calif., in 1975.
Francis near Marshall, Calif., in 1975.
Francis with his wife, Martha Smith, and sons Sam and Luke.
Francis with his wife, Martha Smith, and sons Sam and Luke.
Francis lives near Point Reyes National Seashore.
Francis lives near Point Reyes National Seashore.

The Pennsylvania hike was part of his westward trek, and Francis arrived for it in a small private plane, a Piper Arrow piloted by his friend, David Rhodes, a young Washington lawyer. When he lumbered out onto the wing, wearing a long-sleeve T-shirt and huge baggy cargo shorts, he was quietly laughing. "Bill," he said to me, warmly extending his hand to greet me. "Bill! Bill!"

In time, we sat down on a bench, and Francis's tone was calm and pedagogical. "Walking all those years," he told me, "that was a journey. And when you go into the wilderness, you come out changed. You come back with something to give." In Francis's case, the years of silent walking crystallized the truths that now form the core of his mission. "We have to start treating each other with dignity, with respect," he said. "We need to work together on our environment. We need to stop dumping toxins where people live. We have to get along because the environment is not just about trees and rivers–it's about people."



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READERS COMMENTS

Todd Sinclair
Sep 07, 2008

An amazing man. Even if he's not worried about the relatively new concept of his carbon footprint, I'm sure that he must realize that the harm his travel does to the environment is negated by the change he espouses in others. For my own part, I was nearly killed by a careless driver about 15 years ago, and was told that I might never walk again. Even if I beat the odds, I would not be able to ever walk in any appreciable way, and would never hike or carry loads. Many years later now, I am finally walking on the scale of miles, rather than feet. Walink does clear the mind, as long as the ipod stays home. I'm not a tree hugger, but this was a great story.

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