The Man Who Walked Through Time


Colin Fletcher (1922-2007)

Today I got into a conversation with my co-workers on the subject of footwear. It’s not something I talk about very much, so I surprised myself how much I was influenced by the thinking of one man some thirty years ago. The man was Colin Fletcher, an indefatigable hiker who wrote several books about his long walks, most notably:

  • The Thousand Mile Summer (1964) about a walk from Southern California by the Mexican border all the way to the Oregon border—along the ridge line of the Sierras.
  • The Man Who Walked Through Time (1968) about his hike along the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.
  • The Complete Walker (several editions) in which he talks about the gear you need (and what you don’t need) to walk long distances.
  • The Man from the Cave (1981), about his researches tracking down a man who lived in a cave in the Desert Southwest and left many of his belongings behind.

From Fletcher, I learned to wear only socks that have wool content, the more the better. And I learned to buy only those shoes whose soles and heels would wear like iron—which is why I am partial to Rockport walking shoes and various well designed hiking boots and shoes.

For many years, shoe salesman lied to me about my size. At best, I wear a size 9-1/2 shoe (American) EEE, though I can wear a 10 EE. Most shoe stores, however, stock only D-width shoes. Rather than lose the sale, they will sell me a size 10-1/2 D or even an 11 D, which leaves about two inches of storage space between my toes and the leading edge of the shoe or boot. Needless to say, I avoid shoe stores like the plague. It’s L.L. Bean or OnlineShoes.Com for me.

Being reminded of Colin Fletcher, whom I had forgotten for so long, I remember the happy hours I spent reading his books and paying close attention to his advice. Much of his hiking advice is now a bit dated because of the recent influx of new materials that have revolutionized the gear situation for camping and hiking, but the basic information was solid; and Colin tested it all himself the hard way.

If you can find any of Fletcher’s books, you may well find yourself falling under the man’s spell. I particularly recommend the first, second, and fourth books I listed above. The Complete Walker needs to be substantially revised, though I have no plans to get rid of my fourth edition copy.