The Power Of Walking

Whitaker--Walking--Sunday Morning
This story originally aired on Jan. 21, 2007.

Walking is just so natural, so ordinary, so instinctual, even a baby can do it. But there's walking and then there is Scott Williamson's kind of walking.

To call him a "walker" would be like calling Luciano Pavoratti a crooner or Michael Jordan a mere ballplayer. Williamson is a walker extraordinaire. He is what is called a yoyo.

"That phrase is used because I'm starting in Mexico, hiking northbound to Canada and turning around and headed all the way back, so it's mimicking the motion of a yoyo," he told Sunday Morning correspondent Bill Whitaker.

Williamson hiked 5,310 miles from Mexico to Canada and back, traversing the wild and wondrous Pacific Crest Trail, the West Coast cousin of the shorter, more famous Appalachian Trail in the east. In the small but growing world of long-distance hiking, Scott Williamson is a rock star.

"The trail's over 2,500 miles long, but it's only about a foot and a half wide," he said. "So it's a very small community of people who know about me."

He started his trek at the Mexican border May 22, 2006 and hiked 191 days — more than six million steps — over mountain peaks, across raging rivers, through three states, wearing out 13 pair of shoes.

"I average 500 miles per pair," he said.

Williamson is the only person to do a yoyo before; he completed his first one in 2004. Filmmakers caught up with him at various points along the way of his second trip and are shooting a documentary, "Tell It On the Mountain," which will be released this spring. They also gave him a camera to capture his extraordinary solo journey. Along the way, he encounters not only jaw-dropping beauty, but also snakes, scorpions, bears and bugs.

"I like to say it's the greatest unplanned adventure you'll ever have," Williamson said. "I think just the adventure of it brings me out here and the challenge to push myself 5,300 miles. Your body gets into incredible shape."

Who doesn't want an incredible body, especially these early days of the New Year when almost everyone wants to trim that holiday fat? But New Year's resolutions often melt away before the pounds do.

"It would be nice if we could get motivation from this man who walked 5,000 miles, but somebody's going to look at that and say, 'My god, I can't do something like that.' But you don't have to," Bob Girandola, a professor of exercise science at the University of Southern California, said. "They only have to do a fraction of that."

Girandola teaches, and some might even say he preaches, the gospel of walking. He put Whitaker on a treadmill at a steady pace of three miles per hour — about the pace Scott Williamson walked. It builds up your heart and burns calories. It can even boost your brain power.

The health benefits of walking increase exponentially the steeper the climb. But for most Americans, the only thing on the rise is their size. The average American adult weighs 25 pounds more today than in 1960. Two out of every three adults are overweight or obese.