Monday, March 16, 2015

6. Trail Angels

Trail Angel: noun, A perpetrator of trail magic AND BEYOND

EXHIBIT A: Beth and Bernie

Dumptruck and I were in our rain gear, doing laundry in one of the motels in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, when a lady stranger with blonde hair suddenly poked her head into the laundry room. I looked up at her, smiling, and she grinned back.

"How are you guys doing?" she asked brightly, clearly very excited about something.

"Great!" Dumptruck responded. 

"You're thru-hiking, right?"

"We sure are!"

"Well, when you're done, pop upstairs to our room. We've got sandwiches, resupply material, first aid kit supplies, whatever you need. Tell all the other hikers you know!" 

Then she was gone.

Dumptruck and I looked at each other and shrugged. We grabbed our other hiking buddies and headed upstairs. We were greeted by none other than Beth and Bernie, trail angels renowned for providing indescribably generous trail magic every year at Newfound Gap in the Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg. They fed us freshly made-to-order sandwiches, gave us hot coffee and hot chocolate, and were like beautiful, impossible mirages that we must have hallucinated after being almost murdered by the Smokies several times over.They had gigantic tupperware bins filled with ever manner of hiker desires, including freshly made baked goods. They told us that they were from Florida, and had found immense joy from bringing trail magic to AT Hikers every March/April. The pair of them have a spectacular dry humor that makes me cry with laughter.

Apollo, Beth, Bernie... and Hotdog in the corner.

The best moment was when we were all sitting around the kitchen table kibitzing, and someone said "Don't call me late for dinner!"

Whistle suddenly blanched, her mouth dropping open.

"OH!" she cried out. Everyone stopped talking and looked over at her, as a smile spread across her face. "Don't call me 'Late for Dinner'! Like, a name! I finally get that! I've heard people say that all my life and I never understood it until RIGHT NOW!"

There was silence, then Beth said with all kindness, "Well honey, at least you're pretty."

Some of the supplies!

More of the supplies!

The next morning, Beth and Bernie loaded all five members of Shanty Town into the back of a pickup truck, drove us to a grocery store, and patiently waited until we completed all of our shopping, and then drove us back to our motel. We couldn't even begin to understand that level of profound generosity. I did all I could, and took used trail guide pages, duct-taped them together, and made a giant card for them from Shanty Town. They accepted it with the graciousness of parents accepting poorly-made macaroni art from their slightly demented children.

In their logbook, I wrote the address for this blog, hoping maybe they'd follow along. They've done far and away, way more than that. They have been supportive, energetic, hilarious cheerleaders for the entire length of the trail, and the entire writing of this list. I can say with all honesty that there were several times that I considered giving up this list, just because of how demanding it is in regard to time in my chaotic life. But then, somehow, Beth and Bern would leave me a perfectly timed little note, and I would be flooded with belief in myself, and belief in finishing what I started. These are two people who believe so wholly in the goodness of others that they go out of their way to shower kindness on complete strangers. Through this, these complete strangers become friends.

So, thanks. I don't really know what else to say, because I might short out my keyboard with my tears.

EXHIBIT B: Miss Janet

This is Miss Janet
This is "The Bounce Box", her van

This is the bum of the Bounce Box
Miss Janet is Appalachian Trail Angel legend. She has dedicated seven months of her life every year, for years, to slowly and arduously drive from Georgia up to Maine, waiting at every town, helping out hikers, and asking for absolutely nothing in return except maybe a few dollars for gas. She drives hikers to the hospital, drives them to the grocery store and back and finds free places for hikers to stay for a night. She laughs easily. She doesn't just chuckle or giggle, she laughs, her whole body an expression of joy, tossing her head back and shaking her red hair, like a goddess of mirth. Her mere presence makes hikers treat each other more kindly and go out of their way to help one another. 

I'm not really sure what particular story I can share about her. She helped us out in Erwin, TN, she helped us out again just before our 4-state challenge, and again before we went over Moosilauke. It was impossible to predict when and where she might appear, but it really did feel like being watched over by a guardian angel. She somehow, miraculously, remembers the vast majority of hikers she meets, even though she must meet thousands every single year.

Miss Janet is someone who gives herself completely to holding your hand when you need it, and letting go when she knows you're ready.


There are infinite other trail angels we met along the way: Tom in Dalton MA, Fig in Maine, Bill and Cathy, every person who gave us a hitch, the older gentleman camping with his family who made us breakfast, everyone who have us encouragement either in person or through the internet, our own families. There was the completely random bro-camping party just after the Greyson Highlands, of middle aged dudes who clearly had been friends since high school, who had set up an immense smorgasbord of junk food. All my hiking buddies were using full Snickers bars as utensils to shovel pudding out of pudding cups into their mouths... I took one bite and that was the moment I swore of snickers for the rest of my life.

Trail Angels meet you once and stick with you for the rest of your life, because they remind you how much of a positive impact you can have on anyone and everyone you meet. All you have to do is choose to be present.

Clever Girl


  1. Dear sweet girl, you should never give up writing. Maybe pace yourself a bit but never stop, whatever the format.
    Those ragged AWOL pages are framed and hung in a place of honor in our home.
    May your little house grow and grow and grow.
    Thanks for letting us come along for the ride. Love, Bern

    1. Thank you so much Bern, all of that means the world to me.

  2. Speaking of Fig, he just left last week to begin his 4th thru-hike of the A.T. We'll have to swap stories when he gets back.

    1. Whoa! That's awesome!! We'll definitely have to connect!

  3. I hate that Bern wrote to you first. Love you guys! Beth.

    1. Haha, he's just too quick! Love you too <3