4 Wheel Bob Q & A with Director and Producer Tal Skloot
Join us for a question and answer session with 4 Wheel Bob Director and Producer Tal Skloot on Friday, November 17 and Saturday, November 18.
4 Wheel Bob tells the story of Bob Coomber, an intrepid adventurer who sets out to be the first wheelchair hiker to cross the 11,845 foot Kearsarge Pass in the Sierra Nevada.
Bob grew up in Piedmont, California, amid a family of avid backpackers. In his early twenties, he began training to become a police officer, but one day, while hiking in the Sierra he tripped and, as he says, ‘my leg exploded into a thousand pieces’. This was the beginning of a long struggle related to juvenile diabetes and subsequent osteoporosis, and he now must use a wheelchair to get around. After a period of severe depression, Bob recovered and adopted a philosophy of “no excuses,” leading to years of ambitious wheel chair hiking to get his health back.
Kearsarge Pass is a classic high approach into the Eastern Sierra, ten miles north of Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the Lower Forty-eight. The famously steep and prolonged trail to the Pass unfolds with Kings Canyon National Park providing the dramatic backdrop. For Bob in his wheelchair, this adventuring is fraught with danger. He must deal continually with altitude sickness and the threat of diabetic coma, not to mention possible fatal or crippling falls in the steep terrain. The path is often blocked with shattered granite, and Bob must turn his wheelchair backward in order to push uphill using only his arms. Going downhill has its own hazards; the trail is narrow, and his wheels often skid on the loose rock. We gain an intimate, foot-by-foot familiarity with Bob’s herculean effort and with some of the most perilous sections of the famous trail.
Away from the Sierra, Bob is an advocate for the disabled in his beloved Northern California. He takes groups from the wheelchair-bound community as well as war veterans on local hikes, teaching about ecology, animal and plant life, and ways to navigate in the wilderness.
California’s state parks include about 3,000 miles of trails – 80 of the state’s 280 parks have significant trail systems. However, federal and state funding cuts have taken asorry toll on the parks. Anti-tax measures, such as 1978’s Prop 13, have further reduced the level of service. Finding them less welcoming and less well maintained, California’s citizens use the parks less, becoming more sedentary in the process.
Bob is an ardent spokesman for the parks, along with being an experienced and thoughtful outdoorsman. He serves on the Livermore City Council, consulting on accessibility issues and working closely with officials to extend and maintain the trail systems.
This story of overcoming immense obstacles will inspire us to look at our own self-imposed limitations and perhaps reach beyond what we think is possible.
I first read about Bob in a newspaper article back in 2010. My first thought was “That sure puts my life in perspective.” My second thought was, “How the hell does he get up those steep dirt trails in a wheelchair?” I’ve been an avid hiker all my life, and can relate to how simply being outdoors lifts the spirit and connects us to nature and the glory around us. I contacted Bob out of the blue and we met for what was to be the first of many unconventional hikes together.
What stuck about Bob was his easy going, sweet, and gregarious nature. During our first hike, Bob stopped and talked with everyone we met – a kid on a dirt bike, a fellow hiker, a woman walking her dogs and the dogs themselves. He shared a bit about the ecology of the area or talked about his upcoming hikes. I felt like I was hiking with a park ranger – someone who had a deep passion for ecology and who immediately and compassionately connected with others.
Bob, let me hasten to explain, hates being called “inspirational.” He views himself as ahiker and nothing more – one who just happens to be in a wheelchair. I came to see that these hikes and especially the ardous Sierra climbs served two powerful needs for him: to attempt to conquer virtually any obstacle despite his disablity, and to open himself to the natural world and its mysterious ability to heal.
I spent six years hanging out with Bob, and I’m grateful, above all, to have found a marvelous new friend. Like many who come into his orbit, I’ve become more fearless (or is it foolish) in the challenges I’ll accept. I walk in the wild world differently – a man who wheels rather than walks taught me that.
Producer & Director Bio: Tal Skloot
Tal is a skilled producer, cameraman and editor with a credit list of twenty feature length documentaries and narrative films that have won multiple Emmy awards, been broadcast nationally on PBS, NBC, ABC, CBS and appeared in numerous national and international film festivals. Tal is a graduate of the American Film Institute (AFI) and is an adjunct faculty member at Sonoma State University and the Diablo Valley College film department.
Tal Skloot’s feature length documentary film ‘Freeway Philharmonic’ (2010) was broadcast nationally on PBS and toured the globe as part of the U.S. State Department/IDA sponsored American Documentary Showcase, showing worldwide in film festivals and universities.