By Barry Barbe

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir

John Muir was one of the original renaissance men. And his name is synonymous with the outdoors, conservation, and education as to the importance and preservation of the wild lands of the United States. More comfortable in the wilderness, and with a keen sense of observation and the documentation of the smallest details of nature, Muir wrote and lectured to the public and congress on the importance of our natural resources, and the connections created through them.

For Bob Manning, John Muir is not only an inspiration, but in many ways a reflection, if not a mirror of work and passion 100 years later.

“The John Muir Trail from Yosemite to Mount Whitney has to be one my most memorable and meaningful hikes we have done.” Bob explains. “John was so passionate, intelligent and eloquent about his work and insightful about the human nature as one cannot help but be inspired by his work.”

When John says “we” he is referring to his wife, Martha, who has been his companion through life and on the 100 walks/hikes described in their three books, “Walks of a Lifetime” which chronicle the couple’s adventures side by side. High school sweethearts, the couple have a shared passion for adventure and education and are advocates for encouraging people to immerse themselves in nature, by simply taking a walk.

His father a marine biologist, Bob spent his early life on the water on the coast of Maryland. Later, after college and enlisting with the U.S. Coast Guard, Bob’s eyes and mind were opened to new experiences and the outdoors while stationed in San Francisco.

“My college friends would have selected me as the least likely to become a college professor. But once I got to California and experienced Yosemite, and the outdoors, I became enthralled and immersed in the importance of this national resource and treasure.” Bob explains

Bob went on, continuing his education, and receiving his doctorate and creating a career that spanned over 40 years at the University of Vermont on the teaching on the history, philosophy and management of the National Parks.

“I decided after receiving my doctorate that I really should work in my field of study prior to teaching it. So I spent a period in the field and later, once I reached tenure at the University of Vermont, I spent four year-long sabbaticals with the National Park Service, as well as hiking around the country and world.”

With roughly 15 or so walks under their belts, the couple began to realize they had something unique to offer as to their perspective and experiences as they walked through life. Their series of books documenting their experiences encourages others to do the same.

“There may be confusion as to the difference between a walk, and a hike, but all of the experiences we describe are at a pace and level of difficulty that most anyone can enjoy them.” Bob explains.

“People will occasionally ask my wife what we talk about while out on the trails. And honestly, it can be about anything. It could be about nothing.” Bob continues.

“When you are walking these paths you are not always alone. And we have very deep conversations, or simply enjoy the experience together of being outdoors and taking in both the vastness and the most delicate of details of being outdoors. And there is ample opportunity to meet other hikers who are taking the same path, and creating their own experiences.”

Bob and Martha have personally experienced all the walks outlined in their collection.

Their first book, “America’s National Parks” is filled with walks from Acadia in Maine, to Zion in Utah. In between are over 60 different experiences paired with the history and detailed descriptions and photos of the landscape. “Walking Distance” and “Walks of a Lifetime” follow with walks over six continents.

Along the way, the reader is encouraged to not only experience the trails, but to participate in their conservation through support of local cleanup and maintenance programs and the National Park “Friends” groups that can financially support the work of the Park Service.

There is no better way to experience the outdoors than to walk. Walk through your neighborhood, the Prescott National Forrest, or something as adventurous as the Comino de Santiago, the Pilgrimage trial in Spain, which took Bob and Martha seven weeks to complete.

Along the way create memories, reflect on life, make new relationships and enjoy the simple luxury of the tapestry that surrounds us.

As to the difference between a walk and a hike, “The hikes in our wheelhouse are not less than 50 miles, and not more than 500. Some take a couple days, and others longer. By using the term walk, it becomes less intimidating. And by walking at a normal pace, you’re able to experience the beauty that is present as you are present.”

There is no better place to begin the experience than Prescott. With the National Forrest, local trails, and the Grand Canyon nearby, it’s simple to get out, join a hike group or start one on your own with a companion.

It’s not the distance, it’s the experience.

For more information: extraordinaryhikes.com and check out the Peregrine bookstore on North Cortez.

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