While on vacation in June in Maine, my husband Eric and I did a day-hike on the Appalachian Trail. (I feel so cool just typing that) It was a 7-mile out-and-back to Sunday Morning Pond from the trail intersection with Highway 16 south of Lake Mooselookmeguntic. The forest was especially gorgeous that morning, and the hike left us itching for more, even despite the blackflies and mosquitoes. Or maybe the itching was because of them. Now on our to-do-asap list? A thru-hike of the AT, south to north. As soon as we have five months off, that is. Target date: 2023 for someone’s 60th.
Anywayyyyyyy, on our way back we overtook a woman hiking alone. Note that hikers on the trail are alike in several ways: huge packs, rank odors, and male in gender. She stood out in her femaleness, but otherwise fit the profile. We struck up a conversation and she fell in with us. She was very interesting so we forgave her the auditory impact on our formerly fresh, earthy, pine-tree scented surroundings.
She had started at the north end of the AT and was hiking ALONE, and had been on the trail for nearly four weeks already. In that time, she’d seen only one other woman, besides me. She slept each night under a tarp in her thermal bag. She was hoping her boyfriend would meet her at the halfway point, but she wasn’t overly concerned with her aloneness until then. She was stunningly awesome.
She also had witnessed one death of a 20-year old male hiker who died of hypothermia when he shucked his pack after a hot strenuous hike and jumped in icy water, and it had hit her hard. She really wanted to go to town (Oquosssic), 11 miles away. Running water. Potties. Restaurants and stores. The possibility of washing her clothes and body. A place to charge her phone so she could call her parents, and tell them she loved them and was OK. She was ready for a break.
When we had satisfied ourselves that she was harmless, we gave her a ride. And this is what she told us. Two weeks before as she had sobbed her way through Maine’s famous 100-mile forest in freezing temperatures and driving rain, she had wanted to give up, but couldn’t. She had a 6-day hike on the densely wooded trail to emerge to civilization (of sorts) on the other end.
Just when she thought she could go no further, she came upon an igloo cooler. On it was a note: From Your Trail Angels. Inside were chocolate bars and Pepsi, on nearly melted ice. She chugged the Pepsi and scarfed the chocolate, tears of gratitude running down her cheeks.
People, there were no roads to the cooler drop spot. No buses. No trains. No houses nearby. Nothing. Friends of the AT had hiked that cooler in just to leave as encouragement for other AT hikers. How awesome is that?
So on this day, she deemed us her second trail angels, because, after the emotional blow of the young hiker’s death, we had whisked her to a welcoming place of respite. She told us to expect Angels to come our way within the next 24 hours, as a result.
Her name was Debby. She inspired us. I hope she reads this someday.
I turned in the rental car the next morning. After doing so, I realized I’d left my phone in a restaurant 10-minutes away. The rental car employee (a company I shall now forever patronize: Enterprise) took me to get my phone in a brand new convertible Mustang that they hadn’t even rented yet. I was leaving from vacation directly on a day-job trip, and going phoneless would have rendered me helpless. All the info I needed for my 8 am meeting Monday (the next day) was on it.
An Angel? I think so.
I got to Chicago. I checked into my hotel and went to my room. Two minutes later the phone rang. It was the front desk calling to let me know that someone had just brought my credit card in from the sidewalk of busy downtown Chicago, to see if it belonged to a guest. I hustled downstairs in time to meet the two women who had done me this good deed.
Angels? Yes, without a doubt.
The magic stopped by the next day, but while it lasted it was astounding. And you know what? I think Debby was our first Angel, out there in the dark woods on the Appalachian Trail.
Have you ever done someone a favor only to have it returned to you tenfold? I’d love to hear about it.
And if you want to read a great book about the Appalachian Trail, try “A Walk in the Woods,” by Bill Bryson.