In my previous post, I suggested Michelle Ray’s How to Hike the A.T: The Nitty-Gritty of a Long-Distance Hike as a holiday gift for a friend who is just getting into hiking or dreaming of a thru-hike. It’s a good primer for not only the Appalachian Trail, but for backpacking in general.

I have another A.T. book to suggest for yourself or a friend. Anyone who has hiked any sizeable distance on the trail will tell you that there is a very definite A.T. community and that the pathway is just as much of a social experience as it a woodlands adventure.

For nearly a decade, Winton Porter has been the proprietor of Mountain Crossings at Walasi-Yi Center, a hikers’ hostel, small grocery store, and backpacking shop with an extensive selection of outdoor equipment and books. What makes it special is that it is at the base of Blood Mountain in Georgia, about a three- to four-day hike from the trail’s southern terminus on Springer Mountain. The Appalachian Trail passes through the breezeway between the hostel and the store, so Porter and his employees meet the bulk of northbounders when they are still green. With a writing style that has won the book a number of awards, Porter introduces readers to his life in Just Passin’ Thru: A Vintage Store, The Appalachian Trail, and a Cast of Unforgettable Characters (Menasha Ridge Press; www.menasharidge.com, 888-60-HIKES).

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy says it is the best A.T. book to come along in a decade. My thought is that Porter not only provides a glimpse into the trials and tribulations that beginning thru-hikers experience, but he also lifts the curtain for outsiders to learn about the colorful, interesting, and atypical individuals who populate the culture of  long-distance hiking.