Hiking Pioneers: George “Billy Goat” Woodard and His Journey on the PCT
Curated expert Hannah K. explores the life and legacy of George “Billy Goat” Woodard, a PCT legend who has hiked over 32,000 miles.
This week’s Hiking Pioneer is George “Billy Goat” Woodard who every year for the past three decades has hiked 150 days per year, clocking a total of over 32,000 miles.
In the Hiking Pioneers series, I will be exploring hikers past to present who have done amazing things in the hiking community. From pioneers who achieved key milestones and helped establish change to present hikers breaking down barriers and setting goals, I’ll be deep-diving into the life, achievements, and legacy of these truly inspiring outdoorsmen and women.
Billy Goat is a retired railroad conductor from Maine who has hiked the entire Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches 2,653 miles, eight times, and he’s done most of the route an additional two times. In all, he has hiked over 32,000 miles, which is equal to the distance around the world, plus some. In his journeys, he has traversed the South and Southwest to the Northeast and the West. He has even crossed the Rocky Mountains four times—twice in each direction. Furthermore, Billy Goat has hiked the triple crown (The Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide) on multiple occasions.
George Woodard left his home in northern Maine, when he was 17 and started working a railroad job, eventually becoming a yard foreman and then working as a conductor for 30 years. By the time he was 50, Woodard retired and moved to live in the woods, desiring an escape from our culture and societal expectations.
Woodard and his wife have made a home in Nevada but for 10 months of the year, he lives primarily outdoors. He sleeps under the stars and carries everything he needs in a pack, eating food that he dehydrates himself. His beard is untamed and wild, earning him his nickname. After retiring at the age of 49, he has hiked 150 days a year.
His PCT Experience
Each year about 300 people attempt to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in one season but only around 60% of those make it. Billy Goat has hiked this trail more than anyone in the world and if he’s not hiking the entire trail, he makes sure to do a section of it every year.
On the trail, Woodard keeps a steady pace of 2mph and only stops to eat. He always ends his day past dusk and in the dark—making sure to cover as much ground as possible. Like many long-distance hikers, Billy Goat is passionate about shedding pack weight, making sure that everything he needs is always under 10 lbs. If you’re looking to shed some gear weight of your own, you can find inspiration here.
For many, Billy Goat doesn’t just enjoy nature, he is nature. Some have described him as the heart and soul of the Pacific Crest Trail. First-time hikers hope to bump into him while on trail to hear stories of his life in the wild. He’s reminiscent of John Muir—from attitude, demeanor, to philosophical values (i.e. very transcendentalist). On trail, he doesn’t concern himself with the “what ifs” of life. This is a philosophy he deeply cares about.
Doing my research on Billy Goat, I’ve come to realize that there is something about him that you can’t learn from just reading about him. Interviewers, his friends, and those who have met him all say that there is an aura, a vibe, a wisdom that he gives off that can only be understood through first-hand experience—not word of mouth. He is a man deeply connected to nature.
His long-term goal is to hike 50,000 miles by age 80. This is a goal that I’m sure he will accomplish. He lives for the trail.
Now, I’m not saying we can all ditch our lives and live for the trail as Woodward has. But what we can do, is commit ourselves to things we love, be genuine and honest to our values, and create a life we will feel proud we lived.