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Pamela Fagan Hutchins | Earth Angels

Not Debby — this is a bullfrog on the Trail, tucked into a muddy footprint. I think he believed he was invisible.

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.

We were HERE.

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.


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21 Responses to Earth Angels

  1. all i can do is smile after reading this. thank you.

  2. Sandy Webb says:

    Wow! I believe that no good deeds go unnoticed. Kinda what goes around comes around. I just loved this story!

    • Pamela says:

      It gives me shivers to think of all the good out there, the love surrounding us. There is bad, for sure, but the good far outweighs it, in my experience. But we do need to remain open to it, and makes ourselves part of it. At least that is what I believe.

  3. Bill Dorman says:

    I know it shouldn’t be this way, but is it really safe for a female to hike that trail alone? Is that just being naive?

    True story; I was rushing to an appointment and it happened to be pretty far out of town. I came upon a guy stranded on the road and pulled over. He told me he had run out of gas on the way to a job, so I told him to hop in and I would get him to the gas station (he had a gas can). The gas station was probably 3-4 miles down the road and when we pull in he realized he left his wallet in his car.

    I said ‘too bad, so sad, get your ass out of my car.’ Ok, I really said ‘no problem, I’ll take care of it.’

    He thanked me for the lift and gas expecting me to leave, but I told him I would get him back to his car.

    I could tell he didn’t have a lot of money, so I told him since he was already having a rough day the gas was my treat.

    What I didn’t know until after I had pulled away was the guy had just robbed a bank and he accidentally left the cash in my car. I didn’t go back……

    Ok, that wasn’t real either….imagine that….

    I don’t know what compelled me to stop and help him out, but was glad I did. Maybe I was his angel for the day. I don’t recall getting any specific angel love back, but I’m sure I did at some point in the day; and that part is true……:)

    • Pamela says:

      Bill, you had me going!!!!!!!

      You know, I don’t think it’s truly “safe” to do the trail at all, although I’ll use safe as a relative term. There are inherent risks — weather, animals, terrain, health, injury, illness, and PEOPLE. There have definitely been murders on the trail (9 in its 100 year history, I believe, and none in the last 15 years: see Hazards, Having met Debby, I can say I would be comfortable with her as my hiking companion. And, I would not personally hike alone, whether male or female. I do believe that a disproportionate number of the murders (5 of 9) have been of women, given the highly male composition of trail hikers. But then again women are more often the targets of violent attacks (that are not drug or gang related) in society at large.

      I am not scared of people on the trail anymore than anywhere else. But I would say the AT is not for anyone who is unprepared to fend for themselves against all hazards.

    • Vidya Sury says:

      Urrgh, Bill! For a moment you had me believing the bank robbery!

  4. Vidya Sury says:

    I really would five months off to do the AT! Sigh! Love those Trail Angels, Pamelot! I would definitely do that! How awesome would it be if Hansel and Gretel had walk the path strewing chocolates. A bit of an overdose, eh?

    But I loved hearing about your credit card and phone. I’ve experienced those.

    I totally believe in doing what I can if I am in a position to do it. (Old jungle saying – thank you, Grandma!) Long ago – we had hired a placement consultant to recruit market research officers for our office. She delivered as promised, but the office did nothing to speed up her payment. Well, she couldn’t pay her milkman with promises and when I walked into the office one day and saw her sitting there, she told me what was happening. Or not happening, in this case. Now, I am a sucker when it comes to women getting the short end. So I talked to the office head. And it looked like she would have to wait forever.

    I did the only thing I could think of – gave her a personal check. She was very grateful – embarrassed to accept it – but life intervened. She left. We became friends :D. Two months later, she insisted I attend an interview at one of her client’s offices – for a totally different position from what I was in. I was a sales/marketing manager and she had recommended me as a trainer and personnel facilitator. Well. I got the job. I took it. The salary was 10x what I was drawing. This is a very special incident for me because, not only did my good deed come back to me tenfold, but turned out to be a recurring tenfold in addition to career growth.

    • Pamela says:

      I can completely picture you doing this, and it gave me goosebumps. I love your positivity and your generous spirit.

      When Eric and I do the AT, I’m going to let you know so you and your husband can come too :)

  5. Terri Sonoda says:

    I’ve had so many “angels” in my life, too many to mention. Not all of them happened because of something I had done, but you have to start somewhere right? Maybe they happened because of what someone else did, I don’t know…but they were indeed, angels. People are good. I believe that.

    • Pamela says:

      I think so, too, Terri. People are good. A few are bad, but they are the exception, and odds are we won’t cross their paths. And, if we do, well, then it was just our time. Eric and talked about this a long time last night as we planned our AT for his 60th birthday year (11 years from now), and talked about safety. We decided that if our number is up, it’s up. There are many more Angels than otherwise out there.

  6. when i heard this story for the first time, i was captivated. such a unique experience.

  7. I read A Walk in the Woods. Thanks for the rec. He talked a lot about the risks/dangers, and about hypothermia. Interesting, sobering. He also talked about Trail Magic. He didn’t refer to Angels, but he definitely talked about the spirit of support and helpfulness and how sometimes people would show up with muffins or cookies that they had hiked in to the shleters for thru hikers. Makes you BELIEVE.

  8. (Actually, I read it aloud to Eric, Gene Soboleski 😉 and it was fun)

  9. Ally says:

    Like you said to Terri, people are good. We only hear about the few bad ones. Thanks for telling us about the good ones, Pamela.

    Pay it forward, karma, call it whatever you like. But I believe when you do good things, good things happen to you.

  10. Eric Hutchins says:

    I am such a huge believer in paying it forward. I have no doubt that (for whatever reason you want to attribute it to) IT COMES BACK TO YOU. And even if it didn’t, isn’t it still such a good way to live? Evin if it is just in how it makes you feel about yourself. I have said this before on your blog, but good yields good, and bad yields bad. You decide.

    And Gene, you and Pamela are kidding around about it, but I know that she and I both believe that the start of our “good” return from this experience was you guys coming and having breakfast with us, it was such wonderful positive experience and (I am serious), one of the highlights that we will remember from the trip.

    With respect to the AT. Our brief hike that day has lit a fire in Pamela and I that is not going to be put out until we actually do the hike, all of it. Knowing “us” as I do, I know this will happen, and I am already mentally planning for the day we take our first step.

  11. I absolutely LOVE this story! Angels. My goodness. What a beautiful weaving of good deeds and heartfelt experiences and gratitude. This is just wonderful:) I’m so glad you shared this story because it makes me excited in so many ways.
    I may have helped a person out here or there but its only because I have been the receiver of a smile at just the right moment or a kind gesture. Those little moments are life changes. Hooray! New faith is at work for me here!

    • Pamela says:

      To me, it’s a matter of consciously realizing that blessings are all around, and that having the chance to do something for someone else is a blessing in and of itself. Angels, blessings, whatever you call it, they are the little moments, the little interations, that change everything. For me, anyway :)

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