The Best Way: El Camino de Santiago by Bill “Skywalker” Walker – A book review…of sorts

“Really, babe, I think you’re gonna like him.  He’s a great communicator.”

2 years ago Scat and I had opted to hike from Woody Gap to Neels Gap, spending a cold night on Blood Mountain, rather than join the girls for the Amicalola Falls AT Celebration/ Backpacking Clinic.  I wanted to go to the event…just not at the exclusion of a walk in the woods.  While Scat and I trudged uphill through snowdrifts 2 and 3 feet deep, Dana and Ma Fred attended some great presentations. One of their favorites was Bill “Skywalker”  Walker.  Not just aware of, but sharing my addiction to AT narratives, Dana bought me a copy of Skywalker’s book, Skywalker: Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail.  She even had Bill autograph it. He wrote “Wayseeker, Katahdin is a mere 5 millions steps away.” Gotta love that! Like a kid at Christmas, I couldn’t wait to tear in. I quickly discovered that my high school diploma and limited college experience had not prepared me for the vocabulary I was to encounter…closely. Progress slowed to a crawl as I repeatedly reached for my Webster’s. Now, I realize that hackles are rising on the necks of Skywalker fans as you poise to fire off scathing e-mails. Well, let me have it…but at least finish this little review before doing so. I just didn’t enjoy it. I’ve been forthright about my sketchy education. I will most certainly confess that I have no right to pass judgment on another writers work.  Even that last statement implies that I see myself as a writer and makes me uncomfortable. Nonetheless…I just didn’t like it. C.S. Lewis has taught me that much…to be honest about my likes and dislikes. There were some good, even great moments but as a whole it was…and is my least favorite AT narrative. There, I’ve said it…and I pray Bill never reads this.

Flash forward to this years event. Digital recorder in one hand and event schedule in the other, I dragged Dana all over Amicalola Falls. (Not that she minded.)  Presenter after presenter entertained, educated and provided fresh new content for future All Who Wander podcasts.  We had a blast!  As I scanned the schedule I noticed something:  Skywalker’s presentation would be in support of his latest book and thru-hike…on the Camino de Santiago! What?!  I’d just discovered the existence of this ancient pilgrimage a year or so ago. I had waited impatiently for Emilio Estevez’ film on the Camino, The Way to come to Redbox since we had just missed one of the limited showings in Asheville. With my distaste for Bill’s writing warring against my confidence in my wife…we went…and were not disappointed.

Bill was absolutely charismatic.  His animated gesticulations, his passion for the Camino, his wry humor and engaging personality not only held my attention but struck fire to my imagination…enticing my heart to that ancient path and awakening a longing to walk this pilgrimage as well. My experience with the real Skywalker was as dissimilar to my experience with his book as it could possibly be. I thought, “Now, here’s a guy I’d like to share a trail with.”  I even began to re-examine my original assessment.

Just a few weeks ago all three of Bill’s books in Kindle format were free on Amazon.  I downloaded all three. I immediately dove right into his narrative on the Camino, The Best Way.  The very first couple of pages gripped me, It seemed so different from what little I remembered from his first offering.  I yelled to Dana, who was in  another room, “I like it!  This is really good!”  She laughed. Then I wondered…what changed?  Had Bill’s writing improved? Had he gotten an editor? Maybe.  Maybe it was the fact that I had met the real Skywalker and been captivated by his authenticity and his love for the Way. Maybe it was me that had changed.  Maybe both.

Well, since this is a book review…of sorts, I should give you my take.  The Best Way is part trail narrative, part travel guide, part history book and all Skywalker. I’d recommend that you pick it up on Kindle or some other e-reader format because The Best Way is also part vocabulary lesson.  Along with liberal splashes of espanol, Bill has continued his use of words unfamiliar…unfamiliar to me at least.  Whether Bill is trying to impress us with his expansive knowledge or he’s struggling to find words to express what can sometimes be almost inexpressible, I can’t say.  I can say that having a “close-encounter” with the real Skywalker has given me a whole new take on his books.  So would I recommend The Best Way?  Only if you’re willing to have a sehnsucht for hiking the Camino awakened in you.  (That one was for you, Bill.)

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13 Responses to “The Best Way: El Camino de Santiago by Bill “Skywalker” Walker – A book review…of sorts”

  • Bill Walker:

    Honest to God, that’s a heckuva’ review! Perhaps YOU should have been the one writing the books, not me. I am sorry that my AT narrative ill affected you. All I can say is that I really was as bad as I described in the book. Honestly. I never had hiked before, and it showed. I was also a slow learner, and a bit of a coward to boot. So there’s some requisite humility. The book is as much about what NOT to do, as what to do.

    I’m glad that this book on the Camino de Santiago better affected you, and invite you to attend the presentation on Friday at 12:30 of Trail Days. Will endeavor not to bore. The Camino really is a new way to travel.

    Sounds like you and your wife are great members of the trail community. Let me go know, as I need to look up the word ‘sehnsucht’ (You can bet it’s going to be in this next book I’m writing on height!).

    • Wow! I can’t believe you found this so quickly! Unbelievable. You honor me with your response and kind words, Bill. Hopefully one day, like you, I’ll see my dream of an AT thru-hike fulfilled and that of a book as well. If it ever actually happens you’ll have to review my first offering. Turn-about’s fair play, right? (I’m a little nervous…hee, hee…hee.) You say you were bad? You probably haven’t the time to peruse this site but if you did you’d find that most of my blogs chronicle my weekend misadventures. Screwing it up is kinda my M.O. Makes for great stories, though, huh? I truly did enjoy “The Best Way” and honestly learned some priceless spiritual lessons because of my encounter with the person of Bill and how it affected my perception of the Bill revealed in his book.

      As long as my employer will give me Friday off, I’m hoping to hike into Damascus from the junction of the AT and the Creeper. My plan is to arrive in town around lunch. I can’t think of a better way to kick off Trail Days than to attend your presentation.

      The Trail community has been kind and gracious enough to embrace us as it’s own…and we’re yet to be thru-hikers. More spiritual lessons.

      Looking forward too seeing you in Damascus.

      Dodadaghovi…until we meet again, my brother.

  • Hammock Hanger:

    Well, having hiked the AT and the Camino I have to go in search of “The Best Way”. Sue/HH

  • Looks like you’ve started something David! I happened upon this blog because my Google Alert tool found it. This is like a gathering of old friends, since I know both Hammock Hanger and Skywalker personally.

    Bill’s writing, if it is anything, it is honest. I’ve never enjoyed reading about failure as much as his work because he doesn’t make excuses. He just tells it like it is and keeps walking. I read his book before my hike of the AT and was glad I did, it was inspirational, humorous and entertaining. What more could I ask of a good read? There are so many AT books out there now it is becoming a genre unto itself. Keep bringing them on, I’m finding each and every one has it’s own personality and story. Each author IS hiking their own hike.

    “K1”

    • Thanks, Dennis. Welcome to the conversation. Yours is one of the few I haven’t read. It was just recommended to me by a thru-hiker friend (Bat) and I haven’t had opportunity to pick it up yet. Looking forward to it.

      I have to agree wholeheartedly. Nothing like self-deprecating authenticity to endear me to a writer. Brokeness is common to us all. Being honest about that is an attractive quality. I’ve often walked into bookstores and asked them where there trail narrative section is. I’m usually responded to with a “Who farted?” look. Then I’ll say,”You know…like “A Walk in the Woods.” Then they show me all of their Bryson books. It’d be nice if there was a genre devoted to trail narratives. Thanks again for the comment. Will I get to meet you face to face at Trail Days this year?

      • As much as I love Trail Days and the hiker crowd, I have a big book signing event in Dayton, Ohio on the same weekend. Thanks for the comments and enjoy the book. At least we (the others here) have bragging rights, Mr. Bryson didn’t finish the trail, we did, or are working on it.

        K1

  • One question I have often wondered about is WHY hiking narratives are so popular. When you think about it, who wants to read about what an insurance salesman or car mechanic does every day. But time after time, people approach me to say they have read my Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, or Camino de Santiago book. “How did you choose this particular book?” I usually respond. “Oh, I read all the AT (or PCT or Camino) books,” is a frequent response. How lucky we hiking authors are. I recently read that 80% of books never sell even 500 copies. Barack Obama’s first book, Dream of My Fathers sold 225 copies (that same book has now sold 2.5 million).

    But again, the question is WHY? My best guess is that people like reading about things that are: 1. intense 2. different. Trail narratives are both. These are people telling the story of their life journeys. The ancient Greeks defined happiness as “full use of your powers along lines of excellence.” Indeed, an Appalachian Trail thru-hike allows a person to use to full capacity their mental faculties and physical prowess. Along the same lines, it gives the average person (and that is truly what I am–a middle-aged person of average abilities) the opportunity to do something extraordinary. Let’s face it, walking the length of the country through difficult terrain with a backpack strapped on ain’t normal, folks.

    One final aspect of trail narratives I would point out is that it is often the blunders, or misfortunes, that make the book. You agonize over them when they happen. But they sure make for great regaling when it’s all over. For that reason, mortals should not shrink from relating the story of their lifetime journeys.

    Bill Walker wwww.skywalker-pct.com http://www.thebestwaycamino.com

    • Hi again, Bill. (Love seeing you here, by the way!) As a self-confessed hiking narrative junkie, I can only speak for myself. I live vicariously through the stories of others. An AT thru-hike has become for me not just a dream but an obsession. A mortgage and aging parents ensure that this dreams fulfillment won’t be in my immediate future. Section hiking and narratives pacify and, strangely, simultaneously fan to flame the longing. My book shelf is filled with them.

      Thanks again for your contribution to the conversation, my friend.

      david longley

  • Hi y’all! I was looking for a blog by Bill Walker and I found this instead. I am completely tickled that Bill the Man himself has commented here!
    Bill, I just downloaded and read all three of your books back to back. Frankly, now that they are over, I feel sad – like I’ve lost a friend. I always feel the same way when I watch The Wizard of Oz. I was so taken into your world I almost felt that I had done the walks with you. The type of adventures you had completely captivate me, but at this late date, I have to be content at living vicariously through authors like you. I love to hike but I really like a hot shower, a hot meal, and a clean bed, too!

    Call me a romantic, but I was SO hoping by the end of The Best Way, that you’d surprise us with having found the love of your live on the walk.

    Hey, David, I don’t want to leave you out! I must admit that I frequently looked up the definitions of words while reading these books but with a Kindle that was easy. I never mind having my vocabulary stretched. I think that is a good thing!

    • Deane, welcome to the conversation! Don’t be mad. :) (I’m reading the Wonderful Land of Oz right now) And I agree, my vocabulary could use a little stretching as well. I’m so spoiled by the dictionary function on my kindle I’ve actually tried to move a cursor to the front of a word in a good old hardback I was reading! By the way, I’m trying to talk Bill into doing a little guest blogging here. I even promised to make it easy. We’ll see…

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