Monday, February 5, 2007

Bill and Orient

I like to hike and camp. It's probably a hold over from my younger days when everything was fun. Sleeping on rocks, cuddling with spiders and reptiles, getting wet and cold and sometimes bit, just so life would feel so good when the discomfort subsides. I was born to ridge runners, and became one my self. I haven't had a lot of luck with long distance hiking, knee and foot problems could slow down a Trojan warrior, and I'm certainly not one of those. I have hiked portions of the Appalachian Trail three times, each was disaster, I would still like to walk the five million steps.

The AT was built in the depression by the CC Corps. The original length was 2200 miles. The trail starts in Georgia and runs all the way to Maine, and has been extended into Canada. There are many people who hike the trail in one grand effort. They are the "through hikers". The legendes include "Wingfoot Bruce" and "Grandma Moses" they have done the entire trail three times or more.

The AT is not for the weak willed or thoughtless. To do the trail start to finish, most folks, begin in April, at the Amicolola Falls State Park in Georgia. The first nine miles to the trail head are all up hill. Get used to it, it happens a lot. The trails criss cross, there are side trails to water and side trails to overlooks. The main trail is marked by a painted white blaze, close enough together so that one will come in sight before the last is out of sight behind. There are cut stone walls to walk on, in places the trail is a few feet wide with a vertical drop on each side. The shelters available along the way are three sided, open to the weather on the fourth. Some, in bear country have a chain link fence across the open side. The shelter on Blood Mountain looks like it was built by Buddist monks. When I first saw it, my jaw kind of sagged open, I rember thinking, Monks? The shelters are about ten miles apart.

Yeah, Yeah, so what? It's all fun when you can enjoy the scenery, and there is some great scenery, but what if you are BLIND?

Bill Irwin was, and is blind. He is the only blind person to ever hike the trail. He did so because of his faith in God.

I was able bodied and had good vision and thought a couple of times my number was up! The idea of walking two thousand miles in the dark, I still shake my head in wonder.

I was heading south on the trail at Hampton, Tennesse when I was introduced to Bill and his Seeing Eye Dog, Orient. It was my great privilidge to shake his hand and pat Orient on the head. I told him, "I wish half the people in my life had half your guts, things would be much simpler." He was spending the night with friends and would pick up the trail the next day.

His story is written in "Blind Courage"

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