Billy Goat’s Never-Ending Thru-Hike

Perhaps the most venerated hiker in PCT history is standing beside the large wooden sign that welcomes visitors to Rainy Pass trailhead. George “Billy Goat” Woodard, a retired railroad conductor from Maine, has hiked the entire length of the Pacific Crest Trail eight times and most of the route two additional times.

He is 77 years old and, ever since retiring at age 49, he has hiked roughly 150 days a year. He is not just another backpacker who enjoys being out in nature. No, Billy Goat is nature. Or at least he’s more comfortable in it than most. At an annual gathering of the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West, as younger trail fanatics slept in warm beds inside a comfy lodge, escaping the autumn chill on California’s Donner Pass, Billy Goat slumbered beneath a towering pine tree, using only a scrap of Tyvek for shelter.

In many ways, Billy Goat looks as old as weather itself. His hair, untrimmed since 2004, is an unruly tangle of gray cascading down from the rim of his broad khaki hat, and his long beard, likewise untrimmed, is a bounteous mist of tiny white whorls. The man could reasonably be cast as God in a movie.

But there is something boyish about Billy Goat as well. He’s a slight fellow, only 5’7’’, and jaunty, so that walking behind him you can see the muscles in his wrinkled, gamey calves coiling and springing. Sometimes on the trail, he spontaneously breaks into his signature ditty: It’s a long way to Canada, but we won’t get there today. We’ll walk and talk and sing and play because Canada’s a long waaay awaaay.

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