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Outdoorsman, Trail Blazer Colin Fletcher Dies

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Outdoorsman, Trail Blazer Colin Fletcher Dies


Outdoorsman, Trail Blazer Colin Fletcher Dies

Outdoorsman, Trail Blazer Colin Fletcher Dies

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Colin Fletcher, the grandfather of modern-day hiking and backpacking, died last week. He was 85. Fletcher wrote about the contemplative aspects of getting back to nature in The Complete Walker and The Man Who Walked Through Time. Writer and outdoorsman Chip Rawlins speaks with Linda Wertheimer.


News reached us this week that the father of modern backpacking has died. Colin Fletcher was 85. In 1968, Mr. Fletcher first published "The Complete Walker," a guide to hiking with a pack on your back. The book became a kind of manifesto for going back to nature.

An avid outdoorsman, Colin Fletcher practiced what he preached - walking the length of the Grand Canyon, hiking from Mexico to Oregon. And at age 67, he hiked and paddled the length of the Colorado River.

Chip Rawlins worked with Mr. Fletcher on the fourth and final edition of "The Complete Walker." He joins us on the line from his home in Wyoming.

Mr. Rawlins, thanks very much for doing this.

Mr. CHIP RAWLINS (Writer): It's a pleasure.

WERTHEIMER: I wonder, first of all, if you could talk to us about the role that Colin Fletcher played in that sort of outdoor life, I mean, he didn't invent backpacking, but he certainly made it a part of our culture.

Mr. RAWLINS: Colin was a very thorough sort of person - almost obsessively thorough. And he liked to plan things so he thought quite a bit about his walking trips, not only where to go and how to do it but also the gear to take. You know, most people were just content to get an old rucksack and heave a few pots in it, and an axe and go out. I think the entirety of his approach is what made him so valuable and so renowned among the people who love the outdoors.

WERTHEIMER: In 1958, he went from one end of California to the other from Mexico to Oregon. And in a book about it that he wrote much later, he called it contemplative walking. Was that a part of his thinking, as you said, about walking?

Mr. RAWLINS: I believe so. He really enjoyed walking particularly alone because of the way that one can have a thought in mind and circle around it and return to it. Any interruptions, you know, there might be something like a bird on a twig - they aren't really interruptions. They somehow contribute to that thinking process. He just really valued that time alone when he had his mind free to roam.

WERTHEIMER: The Grand Canyon walk of 1968 where he walked through the bottom of the Grand Canyon and wrote a book about it which is called "The Man Who Walked Through Time" - according to what I've read not very many people have done that, not so much following in his footsteps on the Grand Canyon hike, I wonder why.

Mr. RAWLINS: Well, one reason is it's an incredibly difficult journey. If you've ever been down the Grand Canyon, most people go through by boat and you notice that there are a lot of tributary canyons that come into it that are quite steep and deep and precipitous. In order to walk along the Canyon you have to figure out some way of crossing all those.

So one of the things Colin did was he did some goofy things with putting his pack inside a garbage bag and then having a little inflatable life vest. And he actually swam across the river in a few places where he had to. One of my friends who was a Grand Canyon river guide told me, she thought he was absolutely nuts.

WERTHEIMER: You worked with him on the last edition of "The Complete Walker." And over time, I gathered that that book evolved from a guide and a very detailed how-to book to something a little more philosophical - a sort of literary exploration of the act of walking tgrough the wilderness.

Just thinking about Mr. Fletcher's essays on his walks, I wonder if there's one that you thought from your shared experience was a particularly meaningful piece of writing about walking?

Mr. RAWLINS: There's a section right in the first part of the book, "Why Walk?"

(Reading) Ten minutes drive from the apartment in which I used to live there was a long grassy ridge from which you could look out over parkland and sprawling metropolis. I often walked along this ridge in order to think uncluttered thoughts. Up there alone with the wind and the sky, it was as if my mind, set free by space and solitude and oiled by the body's easy rhythm, swung open and released thoughts that it had already formulated. Sometimes when I've been straining too hard to impose order on an urgent press of ideas, it seemed only as if my mind had slowly relaxed. And then all at once, there was room for the ideas to fall into place in a meaningful pattern.

WERTHEIMER: Chip Rawlins, reading from Colin Fletcher's essay "Why Walk?" which is part of the most recent edition of "The Complete Walker." Chip Rawlins worked with Mr. Fletcher on the fourth and final edition of the book, and joined us from his home in Wyoming.

Thank you very much for this.

Mr. RAWLINS: Thank you for calling.

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