To the Trail Angels out there!

Do people really understand what a difference it makes when they take time to assist a thru hiker?

I’m going to do my best to provide some level of understanding as to how important these folks are to our journey along the trail.  Thru hikers refer to these folks as “trail angels” and the gifts they give us “trail magic”. 

Trail magic! This was found in the most wonderfully random place!

Trail magic! This was found in the most wonderfully random place!

Initially when I started hiking the AT I didn’t truly comprehend how wonderful trail magic was.  It seemed folks made a really big deal over the fact there was a cooler by a road and it had soda and granola bars or apples in it.  I just didn’t really get it.  I was well into my hike (a month) when it clicked.  It wasn’t JUST the soda, the granola bar, or the apple.   It was that someone had taken the time to bring these items to the trail for us.  Items which we may be craving but couldn’t justify the weight of, or maybe just needed.  I happened to be hiking behind the “bubble,” a large group moving about the same pace along the trail.  By being behind them I often discovered empty coolers or just a lack of trail magic.  When I leapfrogged over a section I was suddenly IN the bubble and trail magic was abundant.  I started taking time to write notes and leave them in the cooler or box, making sure the trail angel knew their good deed was appreciated.

Making the leap north got me back in the hiker bubble. (Guest appearance by Soul Eater)

Making the leap north got me back in the hiker bubble. (Guest appearance by Soul Eater)

Trail angels come in so many forms and each one provides a different kind of magic!  I have had some crazy things come my way.  I had a remarkable couple take me, and another hiker, into town and then out for a steak dinner and ice cream!  I had a woman hand me her car keys and tell me have it back by 3!  I’ve been given a ride to town and provided with food for my dog!  Rides to the trail! Rides from the trail!  An awesome group of weekender’s who fed us s’mores and a hot breakfast!  Folks who have taken care of No Shame for me!  Pizza delivered to us, a group of cold, rain soaked hikers! Water! I’ve had my tab covered at a resturant!  Was given butter! Had my hair braided!  A charging station for electronics!  Had another hiker hand me their Snicker’s bar! Soda shared!  Invited me into their home!  Trash carried out!  Water given to me! Oranges! A good conversation! A chance to share my joy and my journey! Well wishes! The list goes on and on.  These individuals and groups are what make the trail so wonderful and creates a unique tight knit community.

A group of trail angels!

A group of trail angels!

When you’re on the trail you are depending on the kindness of others to help you complete your journey.  It’s moments like these when someone gives a part of themselves: time, food, energy, kindness, that your humbled and reminded just how remarkable the world is.  Items you don’t get everyday are treasured on so many levels.  I had the opportunity to order out while at a shelter on trail.  I’d expressed how exciting this was to a couple who were out for a day hike.  The woman paused, looked at me, and stated with an air of disapproval, “I guess it’s the little things.” Why yes! Yes it is, thank you very much!

Thanks for letting me help lighten your load Dave and Michael!

Thanks for letting me help lighten your load Dave and Michael!

Here’s a perspective.  When you arrive at a road crossing and town is 4 miles away you can only hope someone picks you up.  Imagine having walked 8 miles to arrive at the road with hopes to get in and out of town before dark.  Walking 4 miles will take about 1 1/2 hours with a full pack, depending on the hills and road condition.  Once in town you need to resupply and whatnot, about an hour or two of stuff.  Back to trail it is.  Without a ride that’s 5 hours of your day gone.  You’ll arrive back at the trailhead with maybe an hour or two of light left.  When someone gives you 15 minutes of their time you earn 2 1/2 hours of your time.

This hitch saved us more than a 7 mile walk to town!

This hitch saved us more than a 7 mile walk to town!

As hikers we are non judgmental,  we don’t care if you have trash in your car (we haven’t showered in 5 days), if you’re in a truck (the back is probably the best spot for us, do to prior reason), if you’re only going halfway there (if our feet can be saved a half mile of walking it is a gift), if you only have room for two (we’re hikers we’ve trained to fit into incredibly small spaces).
Many of us enjoy sharing stories of our journey with you, the trail angels.  We want you to be aware that you’re an integral part in our story.  Without you I’m sure our stories would be full of pain and suffering, “we stood by the road for an hour in the rain waiting for a ride and finally gave up”,  “it was 95 degrees out and all the water sources were dry, we had to carry water for 13 miles”, “I had to eat cold oatmeal again!”, “I never finished the trail because it was to challenging.”

My Katahdin summit picture - but don't be fooled I'm still on trail hiking my leapfrog!

My Katahdin summit picture – but don’t be fooled I’m still on trail hiking my leapfrog!

I don’t know if this has even come close to truly expressing my gratitude (and that of many other thru hikers) for the wonders of the trail, its magic and angels!

Keep on trekking!

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Comments 5

  • Avatar
    Peter A. Kopher : Oct 28th

    It was very nice running into you on the trail yesterday! Hope you’re enjoying a day off!
    All the best, Peter

    PS Here’s the shot from inside Jim Murray’s life-saver-of-a-cabin.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Gator Tater : Nov 18th

      ahhh Jim Murray’s!!! that is a little piece of heaven hidden away! I wish I’d had the time to stay a day!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Kerryfsu : Dec 2nd

    I am trying to figure out how to be a trail angel on the AT for a weekend with my family. We have two young kids that could hike 2 to 3 miles from a Trail head . Any recommendations on a place in Georgia/ time of year where we would run into through hikers that would be happy to have a meal made for them ?

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Gator Tater : Jan 18th

      People start hiking mid march through the beginning of May in GA. April 1st is one of the most common start dates for hikers. With that said it would all depend on that years hikers. If you are planning to hike it to provide “trail magic” be realistic about the type of food you can make/bring. Hikers LOVE burgers (veggie burgers), hot dogs, sausage, veggies. Soda is also a HUGE hit on trail.
      There is Blue Mountain Shelter just south of Unicoi Gap, on GA 75. If you’re willing to hit up the GA/NC border Standing Indian Shelter is about a mile out from Deep Gap USFS 71. I recommend shelters as they will have fire rings if you’re thinking you want to cook a meal. Aside from those specific places ANYWHERE you want to set yourself up and provide trail magic is much appreciated. I had someone sitting at their car at Unicoi Gap and almost ran the last 1/4 mile because we could see him from the trail. Another option is to park your car and leave a cooler by it with a sign saying “TRAIL MAGIC” – if you leave a notebook hikers will often leave thank you notes or blog info.
      I hope this helps and you’re able to experience some of the trail!
      ~Gator Tater

      Reply

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