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Trail angels are kind people who let long distance hikers into their hearts. Many are compassionate locals who offer food, showers, rides to town, or housing to wary travelers. Others are former hikers who have received kindness from trail angels in the past and are trying to do the same good to others. Some trail angels are vacationers and travelers themselves, and yet still find themselves in a place to offer something to dirty, smelly, hungry hikers.

Trail Magic at Brown Gap from the Rat Pack, a group of trail maintainers

This summer, I end-to-end hiker the Long Trail, which spans from the Massachusetts-Vermont border to the Canadian border. It the oldest long distance trail in the United States and is considered one of the hardest trails in the U.S. Although my journey on the Long Trail was solo and almost devoid of people, my experience with a couple of trail angels made me reflect on the meaning of a long distance journey. Here is an excerpt from a letter I wrote them:

Thank you for opening your home to smelly, dirt encrusted hikers like myself. The beauty and the majesty of the trail is made all that more magical with clean feet (couresty of your kindness and shower). This is one reason why I hike—to be reminded what it is to be human—and meeting kind strangers and building mutual trust with others is fundamental to the human experience.

Pie Town, NM is a hiker favorite along the CDT due to the kindness of Trail Angel Nita…oh, and pie.

This hike has been mind-changing, humbling, and refreshing. Before I started the Long Trail, my body ached to return to hiking and it tingles with delight to again hear the call of the “Poor Sam Peabody Peabody” sounding call of the white throated sparrow and suck in the sweet smell of the balsam fir. I marvel at lichen flowers and purple spores—and to be so far north, and as it says on Mansfield, revel in the last vestiges of the former ice age.

Trail Angel Dave in Etna, CA on the PCT

No kidding has it been hard, even in good weather, especially to my computer-worn body. Sometimes, the human experience requires being humbled. I learn to respect when stopping ceases to be a choice but a foot’s demand. As difficult as a lesson as it was to grapple with, I know I am stronger, physically and mentally for it.

No kidding has it been hard, even in good weather, especially to my computer-worn body. Sometimes, the human experience requires being humbled. I learn to respect when stopping ceases to be a choice but a foot’s demand. As difficult as a lesson as it was to grapple with, I know I am stronger, physically and mentally for it.