Subscribe

20 years and 2,000 miles later, duo behind Bill and Dave Hikes readies for their final trek

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Subscribe

Upcoming Bill and Dave Hikes

March 28: North Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail. Meet at 9:45 a.m. at North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park (5297 Sonoma Mountain Road) for a 10 a.m. departure. The 9-mile moderately strenuous hike will climb 2,000 feet and last approximately five hours. Bring lunch and lots of liquids. billanddavehikes.com

April 11: McCormick addition to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. The 8.5-mile strenuous hike climbs 1,800 feet and lasts approximately five hours. billanddavehikes.com

“Hikers will join others in celebrating the life of Grandmother Oak, the largest coast live oak in Sonoma County,” Dave says. “This tree finally succumbed during a fall windstorm.” Bring lunch and fluids.

Meet at 9:45 a.m., depart at 10 a.m. Entrance to McCormick is through Hood Mountain Regional Park, located at the end of Los Alamos Road, off of Highway 12. $7 parking.

May 9: 20th anniversary hike and farewell barbecue party. The 9.6-mile strenuous hike covers the entire rim of Sugarloaf Ridge State Park from Bald Mountain to the Robin Williams overlook, with an elevation gain of 2,000 feet, lasting approximately five hours. Meet at 9:45 a.m. in the White Barn parking lot for a prompt 10 a.m. departure. billanddavehikes.com

“Dave and I will fire up the grill upon our return to the group campground, and at 4:30 p.m. we will be serving brats to everyone,” Bill says. “In addition to the brats, we will provide buns, condiments, soft drinks, plates and utensils. Please bring a side dish to share. We have over 1,200 names on our e-mail list and approximately 12,000 people have joined our hikes over the past 20 years, so we are expecting a large turnout. If you can’t make the hike, please just come for the party.”

June 6: First Bill and Dave Hike led by Alexis Puerto-Holmes. The 7.7-mile outing starts in Spring Lake Regional Park and winds through adjacent Trione-Annadel State Park, with a total elevation gain of about 870 feet. Meet at the Otter Cafe next to the swimming lagoon in Spring Lake park (393 Violetti Road, Santa Rosa). Plan to arrive by 9:45 a.m. for a 10 a.m. departure. Event is free. $7 parking. parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov

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.

Upcoming Bill and Dave Hikes

March 28: North Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail. Meet at 9:45 a.m. at North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park (5297 Sonoma Mountain Road) for a 10 a.m. departure. The 9-mile moderately strenuous hike will climb 2,000 feet and last approximately five hours. Bring lunch and lots of liquids. billanddavehikes.com

April 11: McCormick addition to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. The 8.5-mile strenuous hike climbs 1,800 feet and lasts approximately five hours. billanddavehikes.com

“Hikers will join others in celebrating the life of Grandmother Oak, the largest coast live oak in Sonoma County,” Dave says. “This tree finally succumbed during a fall windstorm.” Bring lunch and fluids.

Meet at 9:45 a.m., depart at 10 a.m. Entrance to McCormick is through Hood Mountain Regional Park, located at the end of Los Alamos Road, off of Highway 12. $7 parking.

May 9: 20th anniversary hike and farewell barbecue party. The 9.6-mile strenuous hike covers the entire rim of Sugarloaf Ridge State Park from Bald Mountain to the Robin Williams overlook, with an elevation gain of 2,000 feet, lasting approximately five hours. Meet at 9:45 a.m. in the White Barn parking lot for a prompt 10 a.m. departure. billanddavehikes.com

“Dave and I will fire up the grill upon our return to the group campground, and at 4:30 p.m. we will be serving brats to everyone,” Bill says. “In addition to the brats, we will provide buns, condiments, soft drinks, plates and utensils. Please bring a side dish to share. We have over 1,200 names on our e-mail list and approximately 12,000 people have joined our hikes over the past 20 years, so we are expecting a large turnout. If you can’t make the hike, please just come for the party.”

June 6: First Bill and Dave Hike led by Alexis Puerto-Holmes. The 7.7-mile outing starts in Spring Lake Regional Park and winds through adjacent Trione-Annadel State Park, with a total elevation gain of about 870 feet. Meet at the Otter Cafe next to the swimming lagoon in Spring Lake park (393 Violetti Road, Santa Rosa). Plan to arrive by 9:45 a.m. for a 10 a.m. departure. Event is free. $7 parking. parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov

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.

Some are regulars who come every month. Others only make it out a few times a year. The average age lands somewhere between 55 and 65. Around two thirds are women, Dave estimates.

“I asked that question once, naively, of a woman, ‘Why do you think that is?’ and she told me, ‘Well, that’s easy. It’s because this is a safe event.’”

Next generation

When they started two decades ago, they had no intention of building a classic buddy brand, embodied today in official “Bill and Dave Hikes” logo baseball caps. Like Ben and Jerry to ice cream and Bartles and Jaymes to wine coolers, Bill and Dave are known throughout the region for getting people out of the house and onto the trail. And that’s exactly what Sonoma County Regional Parks is hoping to capitalize on.

“I’d love it if we can get 80 to 100 people out on a regular basis,” says Puerto-Holmes, who hopes to use social media to inspire her generation to join the Bill and Dave family. She’ll lead her first hike in June, a 7.7.-mile loop starting at Spring Lake and winding through Trione-Annadel State Park.

But before that, Bill and Dave will lead their final walk in the woods. On May 9, the fittingly strenuous 9.6-mile hike will cover the entire rim of Sugarloaf Ridge State Park from Bald Mountain to Robin Williams overlook, with an elevation gain of 2,000 feet. It’s followed by a 20th anniversary farewell barbecue party, with Bill and Dave supplying the brats.

For their final hike, Bill wants everyone to know they’re trying to beat their all-time turnout record, set back in 2002, when they lured 216 hikers on a Fourth of July trek up Bald Mountain to watch multiple fireworks displays in surrounding cities, then back down the mountain in the dark. It happened to violate several park rules, which meant Bill was “read the riot act” afterwards. But that’s old news.

Now, as they pass on the Bill and Dave brand to the next generation, what advice will they offer?

“Well, just try to be consistent,” says Bill, with a salesman’s smile. “It’s like McDonald’s — love it or hate it, you know what you’re gonna get. You come on a Bill and Dave hike, you know what you’re gonna get. You know it’s gonna be 10 miles or so. It’s gonna take five hours with a couple thousand-foot vertical (climb). And you’ll be with a congenial group of middle-aged people.”

Will they miss their old positions — one in the lead, the other as the sweep?

“It’s bittersweet,” Bill says.

“But 20 years is a pretty good run,” says Dave, who regularly joins other hiking groups every Tuesday and Thursday. “Now we don’t have to manage it anymore. We can just show up and hike.”

Please read our commenting policy
  • No profanity, abuse, racism, hate speech or personal attacks on others.
  • No spam or off-topic posts. Keep the conversation to the theme of the article.
  • No disinformation about current events. Claims of "Fake News" will be delayed for moderation
  • No name calling. "Orange Menace", "Libtards", etc. are not respectful.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine