Wed 12 May 2010
When John Francis and his family moved from Point Reyes Station to Cape May, New Jersey, last November, he assured us we hadn’t heard the last of him. And we haven’t. Yesterday he called from Cape May to say hi and fill me in on his latest adventure.
Most long-time residents of West Marin know John’s story. For 22 years beginning in 1971, John refused to ride in motorized vehicles (largely as a reaction to a humongous oil spill at the Golden Gate).
For the first 17 of those years, he also maintained a vow of silence. His not talking caused him to listen more and kept him out of arguments over his not riding in motorized vehicles, he would later explain.
During those years, John walked across the United States. Along the way, he earned a master’s degree in Environmental Studies at the University of Montana and a doctorate in Land Resources — with a specialty in oil spills — at the University of Wisconsin. (National Geographic last week put online John’s observations regarding the current oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.)
On Earth Day in 1990, John, who was in Washington, DC, at the time, started talking again, and soon afterward called me to break the news. Because I had never heard him speak before, I needed a bit of convincing before I believed it really was John on the phone.
John subsequently walked across the Amazon and down the west coast of South America to the tip of Argentina. He also walked around Antarctica a bit and north through Patagonia.
At the moment, John’s long-distance walking is again receiving public attention, this time in Australia. He’s been repeatedly interviewed by Australian television and is now frequently recognized there. Here’s what happened.
Last November, the Australian government financed a documentary, The Art of Walking — The Great Ocean Walk, which promotes a new trail along a scenic stretch of coast in Australia’s southern state of Victoria.
Katarina Witt, John Francis, and (with a spotting telescope) Shayne Neal, who owns Great Ocean Ecolodge.
To demonstrate different approaches to long-distance walking, three notable people each walked a section of the 65-mile-long, sometimes steep trail. John, who took the first section, provides a look at slow, contemplative walking.
At the end of his section of trail, John handed the journal off to the next walker, Katarina Witt, who is better known as a figure skater.
For her, the walk was more like a sports event, and at the end of each day, she relaxed like the major athlete she is, with a massage, fine food, and wine.
Unlike John, Katarina said she does not like walking alone although that was not a problem on this hike. All the walkers were accompanied by guides and photographers.
Katarina, who was born in East Germany in December 1965, is best known as a figure skater who won gold medals in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics. She is seen here in 1982 on the eve of her first European Championship.
Katarina went on to become an Emmy-winning performer (for Carmen on Ice, 1989) and a nude model for the December 1998 issue of Playboy.
The issue is one of only two that has sold out during the 56-year history of the magazine. The other is the first issue, which had Marilyn Monroe for its centerfold.
Michael said he took part in the walk to show that his disability does not hold him back from physically excelling.
A koala along the Great Ocean Walk. “The scenery is stunning,” John told me. “You can feel very much like you’re in California because of the eucalyptus trees.”
John noted that when he was on the trail, “I had four or five cameras following me around. Sometimes I had my own camera harness.”
You can see John’s part of The Art of Walking — The Great Ocean Walk by clicking here. The section featuring Katarina Witt can be found here. And the section featuring Michael Milton can be found here.