Blog : Willem Lange and Windows to the Wild Age with Grace

By Mike | Apr 30, 2015 | in

By Mike Bizier

For many New Englanders, there is no greater joy than being in the outdoors. People of all ages from around the region feel an unbridled sense of freedom and inspiration while on the many mountains, trails, and waters scattered across the Northeast.

One man who enjoys sharing New England’s natural wonders with others is 80-year-old outdoor adventurer Willem Lange. As the host of the New Hampshire Public Television (NHPTV) program Windows to the Wild, Lange is a guide for viewers as he hikes, paddles, and climbs his way across this distinct region. With a gray beard, years of experience, and friendly demeanor, Lange is the embodiment of the classic American folk hero.

NHPTV will celebrate both the 10th anniversary of Windows to the Wild and Lange’s 80th birthday on Saturday, May 30 at the AMC-Highland Center at Crawford Notch. Guests will receive signed copies of Lange’s latest book Words from the Wild, a DVD collection of Lange’s eight favorite episodes, and an orange paisley bandana- a well-known staple in Lange’s hiking attire.

Born in Albany, New York in 1935, Lange was instilled with a strong sense of exploration and discovery from an early age.

“When I was eight, we moved to Syracuse, right on the edge of town,” Lange recalls. “In those days, beyond us was just green and woods and abandoned quarries; it was a young kid’s paradise. So I got outdoors a little bit, and then the neighbor across the street asked if I wanted to go to a Boy Scout meeting. I didn’t really much want to go, but he had a Model A Ford roadster, so I went,” Lange says.

He immediately fell in love with the Boy Scouts, and it fueled his adventurous spirit for years. However, his time in New York was cut short in 1950.

“I was a difficult and imaginative child. Eventually the juvenile corrections system decreed that I would be going away to a school of either the state’s or my parents’ choosing,” Lange says. “They picked one in Massachusetts. I’ve lived pretty much in New England ever since.”

Lange’s love of nature continued to grow in his new surroundings, and he joined outing clubs in high school and college. After earning his bachelor’s degree in 1962, he taught high school English, quenching his thirst for adventure during summers as an Outward Bound instructor. From 1968 to 1972, he served as the director of the Dartmouth Outward Bound Center.

Lange’s tenure at Dartmouth inspired him to form the Geriatric Adventure Society in 1973. “A group of us instructors were sitting down at the end of a course and remarking what a great trip the kids had just made, a four-day hike through the wilderness,” Lange says. “We wondered, ‘How long would it take us to do that?’ So we took off, and we did it in about six hours. We thought ‘Gee, there’s life in the old gang yet! Let’s do this every year!’”

The Geriatric Adventure Society is still going strong, and has splintered into different sub-groups. Since its founding, some members have gone on to paddle the icy rivers north of the Arctic Circle, while others have trekked the Himalayas and even skied the 200-mile Alaska Marathon.
“You do what you can at each age,” Will says. “When I was in my 20’s, I ran trails, like the Appalachian and those in the Adirondacks. As you get older, you hike, which is not quite as fast. As you get even older, you canoe a lot because you can sit down and do that. I can canoe 50, 60 miles a day still, but I would hate to walk that far again, which I could at one time. Your tastes change as your abilities change.”

After recording commentaries for Vermont Public Radio, it was only a matter of time before Lange made his TV debut.

“I heard there was an audition for a host for a NHPTV and New Hampshire Fish and Game show called Wildlife Journal,” Lange recalls. “I went down, did the audition, and got the job. I couldn’t believe it.”

When that series ended, Lange became the host of a new NHPTV series called Windows to the Wild. As host of the program, he's done episodes on land, sea and air.

“I’ve pretty much done it all. I’ve done sports car racing, and they’ve even had me hang gliding, for God’s sake,” Lange chuckles.
A true people-person, Lange’s favorite part of the show stems not from the adrenaline rush he gets from the activity, but rather the folks he meets on the trail.

“Almost everybody stops to talk,” Lange says. “That to me is an awful lot of fun; I never meet a stranger.”

Will is also an accomplished writer. His feature column, A Yankee Notebook, focuses on his experiences and his take on various issues. “I’ve been called a leftist, pinko Communist for some of the things I’ve written,” Lange laughs.

Along with his column, Lange has written nine books spanning a variety of genres. His newest book, Words from the Wild, includes 25 columns that relate to his experiences on the Windows to the Wild shows, as well as photos.

When asked what keeps him going on the trail, Will says, “It never really occurred to me to stop going. I have a lot of friends who still do it and they’re my age and older; I guess you could say that 80 is the new 50. “It’s something that we do and would hate like the devil to give up, so we just do it.

“It’s important to me that people who used to do a lot of outdoor stuff and have given up because they are ‘too old,’ see that they’re not too old and get back at it. I get letters from people who’ve been inspired to get up, get out, and get going. That’s what I’m about and what Windows to the Wild is about.”  

Windows to the Wild airs Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. on NHPTV; all episodes are available online.
To learn more about the program,
www.nhptv.com/windows
Read Will Lange’s weekly column at
www.willemlange.com/Yankee_Notebook
To bid on a hiking trip with Will, click
here.