Bill & Dave’s excellent adventure in Sonoma County has spanned decades
It’s a wonder Bill Myers and Dave Chalk ever became buddies, much less a beloved Sonoma County hiking duo who’ve guided thousands on the trails over an astonishing two-decade run.
When they first met in 2000 at a docent training for new state park volunteers, the two men thought they had very little in common, other than their shared Midwestern roots.
Myers was a self-described “money-grubbing capitalist” whose smoking habit and aversion to exercise landed him on the surgeon’s table at the age of 43, undergoing angioplasty to clear his clogged arteries.
Chalk was a retired high school math teacher and Boy Scout leader who had moved to Santa Rosa from Michigan to help care for his ailing father.
Nothing suggested a budding friendship between the two men. But nearly 20 years later, “Bill and Dave Hikes” is a Sonoma County institution, and the men behind it integral parts of a seemingly inseparable whole. By their own estimate, more than 10,000 people have joined them on one of their outings in the county’s regional and state parks.
Such is their bond that many people apparently consider them irreplaceable - judging by the lack of interest in their effort to find someone else to lead the hiking excursions. Or maybe people are simply afraid to try and match their stamina.
Whatever the case, Myers and Chalk, who are in their 70s, would like to slow down a bit and leave the organizing to someone else.
So far, they’ve found no takers.
“I don’t think Bill or I gave a thought about where this might lead,” Chalk, 78, said. “We wanted to be outside. We still do.”
The monthly hiking excursions are part of Sonoma County’s official park offerings. Chalk maintains the group’s website - sonic.net/~fmi/daveandbill.html - and each month, e-blasts upcoming excursions to the group’s mailing list of thousands. Most hikes attract upward of 50 people.
Untold friendships have been forged through the hiking group, as well as a few marriages (no word on any divorces).
Mike Noel and Susette Stickel-Rufer met on one of the hikes and later married. The couple, who now reside in Petaluma, invited Myers to their wedding.
“It’s a wonderful way to meet people,” Stickel-Rufer, a retired accountant, said of the organized outings.
Myers and Chalk hew to a routine that has remained remarkably unchanged for years. In two decades, the men have been forced to cancel hikes on only two occasions: an October 2017 outing at Trione-Annadel State Park because of the firestorm, and this winter when flooding forced closure of Windsor’s Shiloh Ranch Regional Park.
Chalk leads the groups, setting out irrigation flags for hikers to follow, and Myers picks up stragglers from the back. Chalk is never without a hat or hiking poles, and his attention to detail is such that for years he rounded up the number of hikers to the nearest prime number, a math teacher’s old habit.
Myers, a retired sales executive whose business carried him around the world, is the more flamboyant of the pair. He and his partner, Linda Pavlak, founded the popular Funky Fridays concert series supporting local parks.
At the 2000 docent training at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, Myers and Chalk discovered they shared a desire to get outdoors, albeit for different reasons. Myers was seeking a more heart-friendly lifestyle; Chalk wanted to learn more about his adopted home.
The men calculated an organized hike would easily fulfill the requirement that docents volunteer five hours a month. But getting people interested in joining them proved more challenging than they predicted. Their first hike, to the summit of Bald Mountain in Sugarloaf, drew an unremarkable 10 or so people.
Over time, more people discovered the group and the number of regular attendees climbed. Then, on a memorable Fourth of July, more than 200 showed up for a hike to Bald Mountain to watch fireworks. Chalk was out of town visiting family, leaving Myers to lead the group on his own.
Myers remembered it as a magical night. But he said the next morning, an irate park ranger blasted him for leading a “totally, positively illegal” hike occurring after park hours in violation of volunteer protocol, which required one docent for every dozen participants.
“She read me the riot act,” Myers said.
Navigating state and county bureaucracy wasn’t his and Chalk’s only challenge. Assuring the safety of hikers was - and is - their greatest concern, a fact underscored early in the hiking series when a participant collapsed from a heart attack and died shortly after the group set off for a hike at Sugarloaf.
It turned out the man had underlying health problems unknown to Myers and Chalk. Nevertheless, the event gave them pause.
“I felt really terrible about it,” Chalk said.
That incident notwithstanding, Chalk said there have been very few medical issues involving hikers over the years. He said the most frequent mistakes new hikers make are not carrying enough water or wearing inappropriate clothes for the conditions, such as jeans.
“They soon find out hiking in blue jeans in warm weather is not fun at all,” he said.
In addition to poles and a sturdy pair of boots, Chalk hikes with a hydration pack and a backpack containing a first aid kit, emergency blanket, windbreaker, gloves and a folding saw. He and Myers stay in touch using radios.
Both men are in relatively excellent health for their age. Chalk’s knees ache a little more with each passing year, which is among the reasons he hopes someone will come forward to lead the excursions.
Myers started donning a hat and sunglasses on hikes a few years ago after he had to have a few skin cancer lesions removed from his scalp and face. But it’s been nearly 30 years since his heart-health scare.
Their favorite hikes?
For Chalk, it’s the ?6.5-mile hike to the farthest reaches of Hood Mountain Regional Park and the McCormick addition of Sugarloaf.
Myers’ favorite is the Goodspeed Trail to Gunsight Rock, a strenuous 7.5-mile roundtrip.
“I’m just as excited going up Brushy Peak Trail at Sugarloaf State Park as I was 20 years ago,” Myers said.
“Everything is different - the weather is different, the trail is different, the burning. I’m getting a huge kick watching the black trunks getting covered with new growth and envisioning what it’s going to look like in 20 or 30 years.”
And as for the future of Bill and Dave Hikes?
“We never planned for it to last 20 years,” Myers said. “We don’t know how it will end.”