[Video] One Wing in the Fire: An AT Trail Angel Documentary

Rob Bird is what you call a trail angel: Someone who goes out of their way to help hikers along their journey by performing acts of trail magic. He is as dogged as the hikers he supports, shuttling dozens to and from the trail each season and allowing them the luxury of a shower and a bed, all for free. His home is a rotating menagerie of people infected with the brazen notion of hiking nearly 2,200 miles through 14 states.

Watch the film here, and read more about it below.

I first met Rob during my 2018 SOBO thru-hike.

I had hiked into a small Massachusetts town on the promise of a three-dollar shower at the local gym, and was clean for the first time in a week, when I noticed a few of my fellow hikers standing next to a white van. As I approached, I saw the words The A.T. Friendly Van printed on its side, below a large decal of Casper the Friendly Ghost.

I had heard about this van. “If you see it,” hikers said, “get in.”

I didn’t get in, but I did stay in touch. Rob spends the better part of the year in Tennessee, and he offered me a place to stay when I got to that point. Sure enough, Casper was waiting for me when I broke out of the woods.

I finished my thru-hike, jobless and nearly broke, but newly inspired to chase a dream I’d let go dormant. I was going to make a documentary.

That winter I took a job in the kitchen of the Pinkham Notch visitor center, the same kitchen I had ordered lunch from when I passed through during my hike. I washed dishes, saved up, and in 2019 I returned to the trailhead to capture the trail angel phenomenon.

I wanted to make a film that AT hikers could show their friends and family and say, “This is what it was like, this guy helped me out.” For me, the Appalachian Trail experience was as much about the things that happened when I stepped off the trail as it was about hiking 2,200 miles.

This project would not have been possible without the graciousness of Rob and the hikers who let me share a piece of their story. Their tenacity and goodwill is what inspired me to see the film through to completion.

One Wing in the Fire  is currently in consideration for film festivals across North America, from the Smokies to Vancouver Island. Watch it, share it, and let me know what you think.

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Comments 7

  • Angel : Sep 18th

    Thank you for making this documentary it is fantastic. You really captured his spirit. We usually hear about a few well known trail angels so this is my first time meeting Rob. Best of luck on the festival circuit! I have a feeling you have many more amazing films in your future.

    • Steamboat : Sep 21st

      Badass film. AT18 and watching this brought up so many feelings. Thank you for sharing.

  • Rich (F-Ward) : Sep 18th

    Thank you for such a perfect documentation of Mr. Rob Bird. I almost cried watching this, bc Rob touched my heart so deeply when I hiked the A.T. in 2018. When it comes to people, he is the best of the best. Rob will never say he deserves a documentary, bc his soul is humble and kind…but anyone who has received his love knows that he is a special man who is worthy of all the credit this documentary gives him. I can’t wait to visit him in Erwin, TN this October, and play a little guitar with him! Seriously man, this video made my heart swell 3 sizes! Thank you so much for the work you put in to it!

  • Mike Grady : Sep 18th

    I worked for Rob at the Shell station when I was growing up in Dalton. Living in an AT community as a kid is odd. It’s always there, but not something you really notice. The constant flow of hikers coming through was just normal. “Hey Rob 5 more just came through,” was a call if make more than the call down tomAngelinas for a sub. I came to appreciate the AT community more when I left town to pursue a career as a photojournalist. Seeing these two worlds collide is awesome! Rob Dogg is one of the most compassionate people I ever met. Not a push over by any means (especially if the books were off at the end of the night). Whether it be the hikers or the kids he managed at the Shell, he’s always willing to open his heart and arms to people. It’s makes me wicked happy to see someone take the time to tell part of Rob’s story, and I hope people see his kindness to hikers as something we can all practice each and every day.

  • Tom / Detail : Sep 21st

    Well done. Rob is a remarkable guy. Met him in 2018 at precisely the best time – a hot New England day and his cold sodas made the next climb possible. Thanks for doing the video and Rob, thank you so much for what you do. Also met Tripod this summer at Grafton Notch while doing TM there, If you’re reading this Tripod- hello!

  • FM : Sep 26th

    I’d like to honor two trail angels who helped me out almost a decade ago on my thru-hike–Vladamir Broz AKA CAPT V formerly of NJ, and Mary K. of Adams, MA.

    CAPT V is the famous trail angel who was a gunship pilot in Vietnam and clandestine Air America pilot and he’s deserving to be permanently recognized as a historical part of AT legend. He’s moved to Ohio and is now in his 80’s, so he will probably no longer be servicing the trail. This man who was servicing water jugs on NY 17 during a drought year treated me to a sub in a NY deli down the road and loaded my pack with treats to boot. Whaddaguy!

    Mary has taking a liking to assisting hikers between Cheshire and North Adams, MA. She housed me for two days when my Cheshire resupply was delayed. She’s wise to wierdos, so don’t any of you get any ideas.

    On occasion, when I am able to get to the AT in late spring and fall, you may also come across an eccentric fellow who will in like manner provide treats and water to hikers passing his basecamp. I happily remain anonymous.


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