Stumbling upon a world traveler on the Ice Age Trail
By Craig Marx, Editor
When Terry Creekmore and Josh Richards set out to inspect the Ice Age Trail segment near Sherry Cemetery in Langlade County this past weekend, they had never expected to meet a hiking legend. As if by fate, George “Billy Goat” Woodard ran into the two trail volunteers and instantly captivated the onlookers with his seemingly-mystical white beard and yet even more fascinating oration.
Woodard, 77, is a former Amtrak conductor from New England that decided to give up the rail life at the age of 50 and pursue passions he had always dreamed of – the remote sanctuary of the outdoors and its secluded backpacker lifestyle.
“It took me a while to figure it out financially, but I eventually got it done. Everyone told me I wouldn’t make it without this job, but I’ve been hiking professionally for 27 years now,” Woodard said.
The man they refer to as Billy Goat has trekked over 47,500 miles in his nearly 30 years of trailblazing. With hiking trips across Spain from the Pyrenees to the Atlantic to backpacking around Israel, the now septuagenarian has covered a lot of ground. Woodard prefers to travel by himself, even when abroad, as “hiking with others just has too many other schedules to deal with.”
Domestically, Billy Goat has covered four of the country’s 11 National Scenic Trails thus far. Only two people in history have covered the entirety of the nation-spanning trail system, which constitutes nearly 19,000 total miles in length.
One of Woodard’s more lengthy accomplishments included tackling the longest trail on the national scenic circuit. Billy Goat hiked the 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) at the tender age of 69, trekking from Mexico all the way to Canada on a six-month journey.
Woodard’s exploits and travels have garnered him small manufacturer endorsements for backpacks and tents while his remarkable story has been the subject of mainstream coverage, including a feature article in the Los Angeles Times while hiking the PCT.
For a man that has walked the widths of countries in his lifetime, Langlade County’s Ice Age Trail might seem tame. Billy Goat has spent the past week hiking the historic Wisconsin pathway, covering 330 miles of the thousand-mile long trail in slightly less than favorable conditions.
“It’s nice, but it’s just too bad it rained all week though,” Woodard said. “If you don’t have a roof over your head, you’re walking in rain.”
That is where local residents and Ice Age Trail volunteers Creekmore and Richards found Billy Goat. After completing a segment of the trail near Sherry Cemetery, the two men came across the bearded fellow and got to talking. After learning a little about his fascinating journeys and his recent rainouts on the trail, Creekmore asked Woodard if he would care for a hot meal and a place to sleep. Accepting his offer, the gracious host was awarded with the stories of the world traveler that he eventually divulged to us.
The two gentlemen got a hold of me and we met at my office earlier this week. It is not every day you get a chance to meet a rough and tumble backpacker named “Billy Goat” and it sounded intriguing. I did not know what to expect, but I imagine when anyone listens to Woodard recite his travels, they would listen – intently.
“In today’s world, everyone has their iPhone stuck to their face. It’s become an obsession. No one hikes anymore – not even the Boys Scouts. That’s not me,” Woodard said.
Creekmore tends to the trails, but is one of only a handful of volunteers, formerly including his daughter, that help mow the paths and keep up general maintenance on the Ice Age system in Langlade County.
“Things aren’t like they use to be. We really need volunteers to help with these trails, especially young people to help us out and be passionate about hiking again,” Creekmore said.
The Langlade County Chapter will host its National Trails Day Observance Hike on October 1 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information about the local trails, including volunteering, please visit http://www.iceagetrail.org/volunteer/chapters/langlade-county/.