Hiker heroes, Tales from the Trail

Recent visits from Trail Angels

June 7, 2016

I’m trying not to take advantage of the generosity of Trail Angels, to avoid feeling frustrated if I have to wait for more than 15 minutes for someone to stop what they are doing in order to load smelly hikers into their cars to take them into town. When I hear: “You just put your wallet away right now. Getting your mouth next to a juicy burger is just as good as public service. That reminds me, I’ve got some chips right here if you want something to snack on during the ride,” I’m not thinking about taking rides (and food) from strangers, I’m thinking that Doritos are my new favorite chips, and that everything moves so much faster when I’m not seeing it at hiking speed. I have to remind myself that it’s not normal to expect a car filled with refreshing snacks to wait for us at deserted road crossings in the middle of no where. But it’s hard when these things happen all the time.


The Trail Angels I’ve met thus far sound like normal people. They have jobs. They have families. Responsibilities that would prevent most people from adding one more thing to their already overwhelming to-do lists. I’ve tried to put myself in their shoes (not literally obviously, as my callused and fragrant feet would demolish the average citizens footwear), but I have a hard time seeing the payoff for aiding destitute-appearing clusters of hikers. I guess I need to spend more time on the Trail to gain a better understanding of these unusual creatures.


Until then, I’d like to share a few sketches of some recent Trail Angels. I’ve undoubtedly missed several. But right now, sitting in an air-conditioned hotel room with a full belly, and a renewed sense of optimism in the potential for humankind’s goodness, I recognize that a lot of people have helped me to get here and keep me on the Trail. This includes you as well, my supportive readers.



Brothers Dave, Bill and Bob. They loaded me into their plush car even though I had 4 days of mud and stink on me and took me into Gatlinburg. I didn’t have much time to be self-conscious about my appearance (and odor) as we fell into an interesting and intellectual conversation about health-care reform (and hiking). Rather than feeling like a recipient of charity, I arrived in Gatlinburg feeling confident and connected with a trio of interesting brothers who accepted me despite my appearance and dependence on the kindness of others.


Al is what’s I call a “highlight hiker.” He hikes a section of the trail that promises to be interesting, then skips ahead to the next. Along the way, he makes extraordinary efforts to bring a little unexpected Trail Magic to the hikers he visits at shelters. On this particular night, he brought up oil, fresh popcorn and cooked what I consider the best popcorn I have ever eaten. He poured out a batch of perfectly cooked kernels onto an unused camp towel and watched us devour our separate piles (Norovirus had been going around so we took extra precautions not to touch things that would go in someone else’s mouth). He didn’t eat any, instead, he just started making another batch.



Whiskey Will. On a chilly night at a shelter that was several days from town, we were feeling a little glum about the prospect of hiking several more days in the rain, enduring chilly nights, and putting wet clothes on in the morning. Another hiker (named Snow White because she took a nap in a meadow in Georgia when everyone else was hard at work with the serious business of hiking) mentioned that a friend was in the area and might be stopping by. Shortly after, Will arrived, trailing his faithful stead, and looking jubilant. We weren’t as cordial as we should have been. I’m going to say that it was the weather that prompted our chilly reception. Then, this beautiful human, this hero to the undeserving, and champion of lost causes, he pulls out a full bottle of whiskey, opens it, and steps back. By the time the bottle was empty, there were smiles around a campfire, hope smoldered once again in chests previously dampened by bleak prospects. Still makes me want to quote Byron and Keats just thinking about the miraculous change that an unexpected whiskey buzz can induce.



I’m at the Mt Roger’s center outside of a town called Marion with my friend John. He and I are waiting for his wife to pick us up so we can get lunch, preferably something a la Taco Bell. A hiker that we had never met walks by with his pack on. He looks like he’s on his way to the Trail. I say hi, and he asks if we need anything. Uncharacteristically, I say no. He tells us to think about it while he browses through the visitor center. When he returns he asks us again if we need a ride into town. We tell him that someone is already enroute to pick us up, but he offers to give us a ride to Marion anyway. “No problem. I spend more time helping hikers than I do hiking. Last year I only hiked about 20 miles in a week.” We were still content to wait (and let this hiker, named Crow, enjoy a beautiful day of hiking) but I saw his little dog imploring us to provide an excuse for another car ride, so we finally agreed. I’m such a sucker for dogs.


  • Reply Scott (aka Dad) June 8, 2016 at 12:46 pm

    I really enjoy your great stories about the people that you meet on the trail. They all have a special talent and a good story to tell. Keep enjoying the wilderness and the adventures that you’re creating.

    • Reply Gabriel June 18, 2016 at 4:16 am

      Thanks Dad and we will do our best to suck the marrow out of this experience!

  • Reply Bill Doehnert June 8, 2016 at 5:41 pm

    Gabe- Thanks for the shout out, and we love our photo! We really enjoyed our ride and talk with you! We are back to the real world, but I have set your photo of us as my screen saver, and often shut other stuff down and look at it, and it brings me back to the serenity and beauty of the mountains! Sounds like your trip is going well, and hope that is everything you want and need! Bill (of brothers Dave, Bill and Bob)

    • Reply Gabriel June 18, 2016 at 4:21 am

      That’s awesome Bill! I’m glad you’re enjoying the stories as well. I’ve fallen behind on the blogging recently, but only because I’ve been fully engaged in what has become an amazing experience. I look forward to sharing with you in the future, but have accepted that it’s not possible to blog as fast as I’m hiking.

  • Reply Paul Binion June 9, 2016 at 10:25 am

    Great story. I’m hiking slow, 27 miles in three days. Good hostel near Catawba VA, 4 Pines. 0.3 miles off trail, but maybe you’ve been here before.

    • Reply Gabriel June 18, 2016 at 4:23 am

      Yes! Love the 4 pines hostel! Crashing in an open bay garage filled with all the hiker essentials (blow-pops, soda, couches) is the perfect way to recover from Dragons Tooth. I’m still working to catch up with you!

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