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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.

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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