During the latter part of the 80’s and well into the 90’s, I worked in a Christian retail store in El Paso, TX. One day an older gentleman walked in asking for the book buyer. He had just written a book about hiking the Appalachian Trail with his dog. I was not a hiker then so I had no connection except for hearing about the AT as a child on trips to the Smokies with my parents. There was nothing out of the ordinary about this man except for the fact that he was blind. It was my first encounter with Bill Irwin and his faithful companion Orient. It would be over 10 years before our second encounter.
A few days before Halloween 1999, I had stopped at Mountain Crossings at Neels Gap. It is the only building which the AT goes directly through, not to mention a great outfitter on the trail that has helped countless hikers over the course of its rich history. On the day I stopped in, many of the staff were talking about someone who would be stopping by shortly for a visit. Bill Irwin was in the area and was coming by. I didn’t miss the opportunity to meet him again, albeit under considerably different circumstances. My first meeting with him was the first time I had ever heard of anyone thru-hiking the Trail. Now, I found myself spending more time on it, and helping to maintain other trails as well. I too had caught the hiking bug.
Three days later, on Halloween night, I was atop Springer Mtn. Georgia. I had seen the northern section of the Trail, had hiked various places in the middle, and now I was at the southern terminus. All that was left was to fill in the gaps. A thru-hike was not financially possible at that time so I relished in spending time as a section hiker. The AT had become a familiar place for me and over the next few years, I would find myself constantly returning to its peacefulness. I would work on it and live on it. It had become a part of me and I of it.