Trail angels are people who help long distance hikers achieve their dream of hiking a long trail. Help may take the form of cans of pop chilling in a stream, a cooler full of snacks left along the trail, a ride into town. Sometimes they will even invite you home and let you take a shower, wash your clothes, have some dinner and even spend the night. Some towns sport trail angels extraordinaire: people that have almost a calling to help hikers. Some even have “trail angel” listed on their business cards.
In one town I met such a trail angel. He offered a ride to the motel outside of town that I wanted to stay at because it also had a laundry mat nearby and a grocery store for buying food for the next section of trail. He gave me his business card and said to call him when I wanted a ride back to the trail. The next day I called him, left a message on his cell phone and proceeded to check out. When I turned around there he was.
A woman that I had been hiking with was meeting her husband and was staying another night. I wanted to wait for her but all the rooms in town where full. He said that he was caretaker of a cabin in the woods that I could stay at. He wanted to show it to me. We drove into the woods but some blow downs blocked the way. I told him I planned to stay at a hostel down the trail a ways.
I was hanging out in town talking to another hiker when he drove up. He invited us home to his house for dinner and said that he would drive us to the hostel afterwards.
We went back to his sparsely furnished apartment and he fixed a wonderful and generous dinner of steaks, salad, and ice cream for dessert. But he started drinking whiskey while he cooked. By the time dinner was over he was drunk and we knew that the only way we were going to get to the hostel was walking. About then it started to monsoon and even though the man was getting weirder and scarier by the minute we didn’t want to forge out into the rain.
He said we could stay there. I soon tired of his rambling, pulled out my sleeping bag and tried to sleep. He rambled on about being summoned to the White House, and how he was a restaurant critic and other crazy stuff. He talked about two hikers who had spurned his invitation and said people like that make a person want to wait 50 miles and then hire someone to jump out and slit their dog’s throat. He rambled on to the other hiker long into the night. At first light I hurriedly packed up to try to get out of there before the trail angel woke up. The other hiker gave me a thumbs up and did the same. I left a note thanking him for dinner and his hospitality and walked away.
It wasn’t long, before I see the guy driving up asking me where I was going. I told him I was heading back on the trail and that I didn’t need a ride or anything. I met the other hiker at the register, a book where all the hikers where putting in their e-mail and snail mails address as a way for people they had met on the trail to get back in touch with them. He was erasing his address, afraid that the trail angel would stalk him further. He said it made him think more carefully about who he took hospitality from.
On the trail, life is beautiful and grand. The people you meet are people who took a big leap and are living out their dream. When meeting someone like him, it’s like finding your twin, that you never knew you had, locked in the attic, pasty and weird.