Inspiration feeds on itself. Just days after putting out a post about the death of Bill Irwin, one of the most inspiring thru-hikers of all time, I was on Springer Mtn. There, I met a gentleman named Hawkeye. Let me tell you why Hawkeye is 2014’s Bill Irwin award winner. This 67-year-old NOBO was with his girlfriend who — amazingly — is also his kidney donor. Years ago, Hawkeye had a new kidney installed. He has also battled heart disease, but he seems oblivious to these problems. He was hugging his sweetheart goodbye and heading for Katahdin. She’ll support him along the way. Hawkeye is a tough hombre but also a very decent, gentle spirited man. I hugged him and his friend, wishing them well. March 24, I hiked south from Woody Gap and ran into him again. He was in high spirits and ready to tackle the rest of Georgia. God go with you Hawkeye. You’re my favorite hiker this year. Stay vertical and keep walkin’ all the way to the Big K!
So, another Appalachian Trail icon has soared to that big trail up in the sky. 73-year-old Bill Irwin has left us, but talk about a timeless legacy — boy, has this guy got one. I suppose the most celebrated of all AT thru-hikes was Earl Shaffer’s, the first one. But Bill Irwin’s hike with his seeing eye dog, Orient, has to rank as #2 on the all-time list. I never met Bill, but I’m told he was a great speaker, a gentle soul, a man of faith and an all-around tough son of a gun. Anyone who encountered him came away impressed with what a nice gentleman he was and amazed that a blind man could make it from Georgia to Maine on a trail that is often overwhelmingly challenging for well-conditioned 20-somethings with perfect vision. He took many falls and suffered substantial injuries during his 1990 hike, including broken ribs. But he and his faithful canine companion kept the faith. Bill leaves this world — and his favorite footpath — better for having lived on them.