20 years and 2,000 miles later, duo behind Bill and Dave Hikes readies for their final trek
Early on in our 2½-hour hike up Hood Mountain, Bill Myers and Dave Chalk break into their regular opening schtick:
“Welcome everybody, I'm Bill.”
“And I'm Dave.”
“Welcome to Bill and Dave Hikes. Dave, tell them what we're gonna do today.”
Then Dave describes the hike and Bill explains how he'll be bringing up the rear and Dave will take the lead.
“So please don't pick up the trail flags, otherwise I'll get lost,” Bill says.
Like a pair of sports commentators or Oscar hosts, they play off each other with perfect timing.
But the buddy trail routine is winding down. In May, they'll run through their opening number one last time. After two decades and more than 2,000 miles hiked, Bill and Dave - at age 71 and 79 - are finally passing the torch. In June, Sonoma County Regional Parks will take over Bill and Dave Hikes and an eager 25-year-old programs assistant - whose name is neither Bill nor Dave - will take the reins.
“They're big shoes to fill, but I'm looking forward to it,” says Alexis Puerto-Holmes, an Oakland native who led sea kayaking and camping expeditions while at Humboldt State and now helps organize programs and camps for the county parks system. “It's a community and a family and I just want to try to continue to help it grow.”
Bill and Dave will still join future hikes whenever they can, but the job of sending out e-blasts, planning monthly hikes and leading expeditions will now fall to Sonoma County Regional Parks.
“Bill and Dave have a huge crowd,” says parks recreation coordinator Lesley Pfeiffer, who will lead a few hikes with Puerto-Holmes. “We have no plans to change the name. The idea is to pay homage to them and we kind of want to honor that.”
A strong following
Back in 2000, the two Midwestern retirees, who grew up only a few hours apart (Bill in Ohio and Dave in Michigan), met at a Sugarloaf Ridge State Park docent training and hit it off immediately.
“When another volunteer suggested leading hikes, a ranger said, ‘Good luck with that. We never get more than half a dozen people on a hike,'?” Dave remembers. “Bill overheard that and said, ‘Dave, I bet we can do better than that.'?”
With Bill's knack for promotion after decades of sales and marketing in the electric utility industry and Dave's eagerness to get outdoors after spending a lifetime indoors as a high school math teacher, they set out to form a monthly hiking group.
The first sojourn, to the top of Bald Mountain, drew 13 hikers. By the second year, they were averaging around 25. As the email list grew, they publicized outings in local newspapers and eventually created a website. During their heyday, by 2010, they averaged around 80 hikers a month. These days, they draw around 40 a month, although nearly 70 came out for their last hike, in late February.
As we wind around switchbacks on our way up Hood Mountain, the two trade stories, often stealing each other's punchlines and questioning each other's memories. Cutting long strides, Bill is a wiry figure who has a little trouble going uphill, stopping to catch his breath, still recovering from an illness in Patagonia last year. Dave is more stocky. Even with hiking poles, he has a harder time going downhill, with the pressure it puts on his knees.
Like the Odd Couple
In some ways, the two old trail buddies couldn't be more different.
Bill is a self-described “serial monogamist.” Dave's been happily married for 56 years.
Bill was a longtime smoker - addicted to Marlboros, menthols and low-tar Trues - before angioplasty saved his life and hiking extended it. Dave's never smoked a day in his life.
Bill lives in the mansion on the hill, literally. It's a 4,000-square foot compound with a 1,000-bottle wine cellar on 11 acres in the hills behind Sugarloaf park. Dave lives in the flatlands in a house in Oakmont he inherited from his parents.
But put them together and they work like the Odd Couple. Both are quick to point out they're not naturalists. By that, they mean they don't typically wax on about surrounding flora and fauna. Instead, they're more likely to talk about whatever topic comes to mind. Think of it as a coffee klatch that burns calories.
“We talk about anything and everything,” Bill says. “Whatever people bring up. I guess we're psychologists in a way. We talk about marriage problems or dealing with the kids or the next trip they're taking.”
“There are always two or three hikers who have some family issues or personal problems,” Dave says. “Often it might be related to something we've gone through with our kids.”
Along the way, they've had their share of adventures and tragedies. One hiker, suffering from diabetes, died of a heart attack on the trail. Two couples met through the group and got married. One boastful Boy Scout, who bowed out after about a quarter of the hike, asked Bill to sign off on his hiking badge. Bill declined.