Remember the old cartoon St. Bernard with a root beer barrel strapped under his chin? He would appear from nowhere to rescue other cartoon characters by digging them out from under the avalanche, (shake up) then pour the stranded climber a martini, then pack up and run off to get help. That St. Bernard was a Trail Angel.
Several of the books I've read to research the AT mention Trail Angels but all make it sound as if Trail Angels are rare.
In the short time that I have spent on the Trail, I have encountered more Trail Angels than expected.
I'd like to start off by thanking my own personal Trail Angels. First, I'd like to thank Mom. Not just for the rides, but for not getting too stressed out and for being a bit of a cheerleader. And Dad, who this year sent a Bonus check for my birthday to cover "unexpected expenses" on the Trail. I insisted that I did my research and didn't need that. But as you know, after my first sad day on the Trail I did have an unexpected train ride home from GA. Once again proving that "Father knows best."
I also got rides from my sister, niece, nephew and cousin. These rides range from train station pick ups to backwoods drop offs. Some of these rides were very time consuming and I appreciate all of them.
Also, I would like to thank my cousin George and my friend Steve (the computer gurus) who are both responsible for this website.
Another big thank you to my friend John (who is like a brother to me.) He has carved out a space in his home where I have stock piled six months worth of trail mix, mini tubes of toothpaste, soap, Q-tips, batteries and other supplies. John is in charge of my mail drops (to keep me resupplied.) His military background was also helpful in the planning stages of my hike.
I would also like to thank my other sisters and the rest of my family. Partly for their moral support, partly for not calling me crazy and having me institutionalized (OK they call me crazy, but I am still out free) and partly for the rides I'm going to hit them up for on future section hikes.
This is my built in support system-- my own personal Angels. The amazing thing about Trail Angels is that they are not family, not friends. They don't know you. They don't have to do what they do. And sometimes they don't even know they are Trail Angels.
You may remember back to one of my earlier posts about my "shake down" experience at the outfitter at Neals Gap in GA. On that day all the hikers coming through were treated to a picnic. An outreach group took the time to buy hot dogs, hamburgers, cheese, rolls, an assortment of condiments and cold sodas and bottled water. They cooked to order on the grill and served like pros.
One of the hikers picked up a pamphlet from under a rock at the back corner of the table. He said, "Aha! I knew there was a catch. When does the preaching start?"
The three servers just laughed. One of them said something like, "There will be no preaching today, only serving. The pamphlets are there for those who are drawn to them. If you want one take it, if not just leave it under the rock. We just think people should be nicer to each other and this is our way of setting an example."
The hiker folded the pamphlet, put it in his pocket, thanked them again for the food and went back to eat with the other hikers.
In the whole time I sat there enjoying the picnic, the servers never mentioned God or their ministry. And they never once suggested that anyone take a pamphlet from under the rock which was fairly well hidden. You really had to be drawn to it.
On that same day, after shakedown and after the picnic when I was ready to return, my ride wasn't able to come for a couple hours so I was going to have to hang out. But a "local" who was buying fishing gear at the outfitter offered to take me back. He said he had heard a lot about this "Hiker Hostel" place and has been meaning to stop in and take a look. This would be a good excuse.
So he and his son loaded my gear into the Jeep and off we went. That's two Trail Angels and I hadn't even started yet.
On my first day at Amicalola Falls State Park, while hiking up the approach trail I took that tumble. Two other hikers (with full gear-- probably not just day hikers) caught the action. They were by my side before I got up. Had I needed more attention there is no doubt they would have stayed to help me. They were Angels in Training.
My favorite Trail Angels so far are Antonini (sorry if I butchered the spelling) and Matt. I mentioned them in the "Breaking the Rules..." post. Let me remind you.
I woke up in Kent State Park, broke camp and then was sitting by the waterfall consulting my maps when I was approached by two hikers that weren't hikers. They were Trail Angels. Sound familiar?
When they approached I thought for sure I was in trouble. These guys were clearly NOT hikers. I thought maybe they were detectives of some kind. They were over dressed (I'm talking crease in the pants and jewelry-- over dressed) and one of them actually had on shiny dress shoes.
After a friendly enough greeting and some small talk, we got around to what we were each doing in the woods at such an early hour. I told them I got dropped off at the wrong place (which is true) but I neglected to mention that it was last night and that had they showed up half an hour earlier they would have caught me stuffing gear into my backpack.
They told me they were in town looking at investment properties. They looked at some place the day before and were planning to see one more later today. But they woke up early to see this beautiful waterfall (my waterfall) in Kent State Park that they had been hearing about.
What are the odds of two investors hearing about a beautiful waterfall and then being interested enough to make it a point to stop there early in the morning, to find the only other person in the woods is a misplaced hiker consulting maps trying to figure out the best way to get across the river?
I'm thinking very slim odds!
As you have probably figured by now, my Trail Angels did transport me across that river. I was extra careful to not rip the leather interior of the Audi with my backpack and gear. We stopped at an outfitter who pointed us toward a Blue Blazed trail right off the road that connected to the AT. The outfitter said, "Follow the blue blazes for about 45 minutes to an hour until you come to the white blaze. Turn right if you want to go to Maine and left to go to Georgia."
They also asked about the local fishing and then we were on our way.
Thank you gentlemen. I hope your investments worked out well.
My next encounter with Trail Angels was not as bizarre but definitely still worthy of being Angels.
In a previous post I wrote about the Orange Blazed Detour where I met John, who owns the auto repair garage. John was nice enough to let me "plug in" to charge my cell phone. I had been out of contact for three whole days. Unfortunately, he did not have any AA batteries.
John is the kind of guy who really gets a kick out of helping the hikers passing by. He has this great idea for a way to set up shower stalls behind his garage. It sort of works the same way as the car washes at gas stations. Come inside to get your access code, then plug it into the keypad to open the shower stall. I would have paid for a shower at this point and I had been out less than a week. Unfortunately, the town is giving him a hard time about getting permits for that sort of thing.
While I was sitting there waiting for my phone to charge (and probably looking like a vagrant) I was chatting with Phil as he was artfully detailing the cab of a huge work truck. The truck was interestingly a contrast of itself. The back looked like your typical flat bed tow truck with a winch, built in tool box and all the grease you would expect on this type of vehicle. But the cab of the truck was shiny red and looked brand new. I bet the owner/driver washes his hands before climbing in, and doesn't allow his passengers to eat, drink or smoke in the cab.
We got to talking about the bridge and how it is open for cars but closed to pedestrians. Obviously it won't collapse if I walk over it (even with the extra 40 pounds of my pack.)
What I learned from Phil and John is that the company doing the work on the bridge was just fined hundreds of thousands of dollars by OSHA for safety code violations! Well that's all I needed to know. These guys are rule breakers too. They would appreciate my civil disobedience. Even better than that... when I got to the bridge, there was no sign saying that the bridge was closed to pedestrians.
The only way to know that pedestrians are not allowed on the bridge is the small sign found coming out of the woods at the road crossing. So if, for example, someone had dropped me off at the garage to start my section hike at the other side of the road-- I would never even have known there was a detour.
I got a few stares as I walked across the bridge but no one tried to stop me.
When I was a kid, my grandfather used to tell me, "Look like you know where you are going, act like you belong here" whenever he was sneaking me into places that we weren't supposed to be. Apparently I have acquired his "stealth-mode" talent. A couple years ago, I totally snuck into a hospital well after visiting hours were over, to visit my sister when my nephew was born. I wandered up four floors through several wards and passed doctors, nurses (who are the most difficult to sneak by!) and maintenance people. No one ever really stops me anymore.
Anyway, thank you to John and thank you to Phil. (I'm still waiting to see your auto detailing web page!)
If any of you find yourself in western CT and need to have your car detailed... I would vouch for Phil. Although, I didn't see John's handiwork, I'm sure he is equally as skilled in auto repair.
Now if we could harness the power of "Trail Magic" and spread that into real life, we would be living in a whole different world.
Long live Trail Magic and Random Acts of Kindness!
I encourage everyone to do one Random Act of Kindness this week! Good Luck.
Peace and Love,