Gifts of the Trail Angels

September 18, 2007

A few years back I spent three months hiking on the Appalachian Trail.  I knew that I would be spending most of my time walking on a footpath, taking breaks to eat and rest, doing whatever needed to be done to make my way north.  What took me by surprise however were the people that populate the mountain trails and smaller towns.  I soon came to realize that this epic hike would not fall only upon my shoulders because I relied upon them for safe passage.  They were the shopkeepers that had food I could buy for supplies.  They volunteered to keep the trail passable, cutting away fallen trees and moving sections that had been washed away.  Here I was thinking that I was doing all of the work and yet there were so many hidden hands that made my existence possible.

Within the ranks of these generous folks were a blessed few that took the giving to a whole new realm.  We hikers affectionately called them Trail Angels.  My first encounter with an Angel resulted in a crisp apple on a cool spring morning.  Sometimes I came across a cooler in the woods, stocked full of strawberries and sugar, peanut butter sandwiches and cold sodas.  A nice note attached that welcomed us to the feast.

I needed to hitchhike into town to replenish my stock and never failed to find that kind person that would bring me into town.  On one occasion a minivan stopped and the woman who got out opened up her side door and along with the two youngsters strapped into there seats we made our way to first the grocery store, post office and then laundromat.  Finding out how long my clothes would take to wash she picked me back up an hour or so later and dropped me off back at the trailhead.  Amazement does not adequately describe my state of being.

I’m not sure how so many good folks became clustered along the length of the Appalachian Trail.  I lost count of all of the singular instances where someone went out of their way to give me a helping hand.  I do know that we long distance hikers are a needy group (did someone say buffet?) and quite possibly the universe matches that need with an overflowing generosity.  Years removed and I am still in awe of the gifts given by the Trail Angels.

There are more gifts to be found on Writer’s Island.


12 Responses to “Gifts of the Trail Angels”

  1. What a beautiful meditation on gifts from strangers! I read a book some time ago called “Walking to Canterbury” about the author’s tracing of the route of the Canterbury Tales, and was inspired by similar stories of encounters with kind strangers. Thank you so much for sharing this story – it made my day brighter. 🙂

  2. Restores ones faith in human nature! Great tale of a great trail!

  3. Tumblewords Says:

    I had no idea! Thank you for an amazing gift!

  4. Jo Says:

    Oh this piece is special! I love what they do, how you described it and the last four lines: wow!

  5. awareness Says:

    What a wonderful name for them….trail angels. Great story Matthew.

    I found the same kind of angels while backpacking through Europe years ago. whenever I was in need of some help or a signpost of some kind, one of these angels appeared to provide.

    they are hidden everywhere………these angels……..they carry grace in their back pockets to sprinkle on us.

  6. Matthew Says:

    thisgirlremembers- thank you for the kind words! I will have to look up that book, it sounds good.

    keith-thank you, yes humans can be pretty great sometimes

    tumblewords-your welcome and thanks

    jo-your words are always filled with kindness, thanks!

    awareness-yes the name trail angels grew on me quickly. I’m glad you came into contact with angels while in Europe–I knew they were not only along the Appalachian Trail 🙂

    And yes they are everywhere, sometimes even here in the blogosphere…

  7. sister AE Says:

    A friend of mine thru-hiked the AT a number of years ago and kept a journal as he went. He later typed it up so that we could all read it (good thing, since I’ll never be doing that myself!) and his stories definitely included Trail Angels and other helpful types (and lots of all-you-can-eat-buffet stories). The folks who go out of their way for the nice-but-smelly strangers just passing through…

  8. Kimberley Says:

    Human beings are such amazing creatures. Nice to read a story about our capacity for compassion rather than the doom and gloom I find in news broadcasts. Thanks for sharing your “trail angels” with us.

  9. gautami Says:

    I liked taking this trail along with you. This is such a warm post.

    There are more good people than we realise.

    I just read a post on this trail.

    He is another amazing person who writes about his travels and trails.

    You can check him out here:

  10. Lea Says:

    I too, had no idea that these angels existed! What an amazing find on your wilderness trek. It is such a fine example of the kindness and generativity that we can give to each other, a true gift indeed… Thank you!

  11. Matthew Says:

    sister AE-I think all long-distance hikers have a brush with an angel, glad to hear your friend had similar experiences.

    Kimberly-Thanks, yes we should celebrate what is great in our world.

    gautami-Thank you for the kind words and the link–I enjoyed being back on the trail with sage.

    Lea-Thank you, there are some fine folks in the mountains! (And everywhere else:)

  12. Tag Says:

    Very cool! One of my lifetime goals is to hike the Appalachian trail and I have heard about those Trail Angels. I met some over here while checking out a small part of the Pacific Crest.

    Thank you for sharing the beauty of their generosity!

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