What is a Trail Community?

I don’t think you can thru-hike the Long Trail without benefiting from the trail community in some way. By “trail community,” I mean the hikers out there sweating their way up the mountains with you. But I’m also talking about people who provide support along the way. Trail Angels, as they are called, perform acts of kindness to hikers. Often, they are complete strangers.

Trail Angels might not fully understand their super powers. Their acts of kindness on a good day is an added boost to a hiker’s spirit. Those moments are stored for your not-so-good days. Trail Angel kindness on bad days can be the deciding factor about whether a hiker keeps hiking, or calls it good.

From start to finish I was lifted by other hikers and Trail Angels and wanted to highlight some of those moments and people with you. Unfortunately, I didn’t photograph everyone but will try to at least mention them.

Here we go—from south to north:

“Trundler” (LT 2018) drove me to the Southern Terminus at the MA-VT line, three hours from my home, and hiked the 3 miles in to the actual start of the Trail.

Miss Janet, from Tennessee, usually supports hikers on the Appalachian Trail but was supporting a couple of Long Trail hikers this year and “being a Vermont tourist.” It was 85 degrees (in September!) so she gave me a cold drink at Route 9.

My good friend, Matthew Sylvester (sorry Matt! Forgot to take your photo...), drove his wife and my close friend, Deb (pictured above), to Stratton so she could join me for a few days. He also brought my planned resupplies and turkey club sandwiches for lunch! Ahhhh....real food.

This is Lacey. She’s hiding under her canoe, but she’s the Stratton Pond caretaker. She plays an important role in protecting the fragile shoreline area of the pond, doing trail work, and maintaining the privy. People like her make all of our hiking experiences more enjoyable.

My friend, Dick Andrews, hiked up from Route 11 for an impromptu visit. He was an excellent and informative companion, pointing out old kiln sites and abandoned wells. We were fortunate to see a momma bear and two cubs at the base of Bromley Mountain.

This group is of my trail friends—Extra, her mom and her dad— Poppa Chili (because they are eating chili he hauled up for dinner)—Forward, and Joe Cool enjoying sunset on the Bromley Mountain summit. These people made me smile in their own ways and conclude that there was a good vibe on the Trail this September. And, there was.

Above is a better look at Poppa Chili and his exceptional daughter, Extra, sitting in Peru Peak Shelter.

A bunch of trail friends posing for a photo at the edge of Griffith Lake the day of the American Parkinson Disease Association Optimism Walk.

CHEETOS! Trundler hiked in a bag of Cheetos, as I did for him on his LT thru-hike. Super light weight...and the best. When else can you feel good about sitting with a friend and “chain smoking” Cheetos? Deb and I polished off the whole bag. We didn’t offer a single one to our trail friends.

Thank goodness the Cheetos weighed nothing because a bottle of wine doesn’t.

This is Brian. He was the Little Rock Pond caretaker. We had a wonderful chat about many things. When I told him why I was hiking the LT he immediately said, “What can I do to help?” I told him he was doing it by educating hikers and protecting the trail. It was his first season and, at that point, he felt he was living the dream.

These ladies were featured in another blog post but the encounter was so nice and inspiring to me, I wanted to include them in this post too. Strong women! I wish The Groovy Sisters had appeared—what a photo that would have been.

My friend and former coworker, Kevin Hudnell, was thru-hiking southbound and we ran into one another just south of Middlebury Gap. His intention was to hike four 25-mile days when he got to Route 4. He offered to assist me up north, nearer to his home, when I got closer to Corliss Camp. Thanks! I’ll be there in about 15 days! 😊

Matt Krebs—another friend and former coworker—took an afternoon off to hike with me. It meant a lot because he’s a busy guy with three young kids, and had to drive some distance to meet me.

Album cover? That smiling face is my dear friend Nika Meyers (also known as Early Bird). She was visiting from Colorado and surprised me. She and her friend, Koolaid, tried to find me the day before but missed me. Their effort to try again was touching and made my day (which was already turning out pretty great).

Lars Botzojorns and his puppy hiked with me from Sucker Brook Shelter to Middlebury Gap, through the pine-fir forest. The smell was incredible. It’s one of my favorite things about the Long Trail. I learned it’s one of Lars’ too.

Extra—meet Early Bird. A couple days earlier I told Extra she reminded me of my friend Nika. Both are artists. Both love food and cooking. Both love the garden. Both are full of life. Nika (who I thought was in Colorado...) appeared on the trail and while we were hanging out in the sun, Extra popped out of the woods.

I’m posting this photo because it makes me happy. You can’t see it well, but Nika is wearing a batik bandana I made for her and I am holding mine (in the same pattern). We have the same jackets too! A big difference between us is that I took 27 days to hike the Trail and Nika took 6! (Yes, she holds the women’s, unsupported, fastest known time.)

I posted about The Hoon and Vintage before too. But I can’t give The Hoon enough kudos for his Parkinson’s fundraising efforts in the New England Parkinson’s Ride. His cycling team raised $40,000. Inspiring!

Ike and Ezra were not outfitted in the latest gear and I thought maybe they were new to backpacking. Everyone has a story. These two were hiking a scenic stretch of the trail and stopping to paint along the way.

Trundler made me turkey wraps, brought me breakfast sandwiches, hiked with me, brought me to the start of the trail, picked me up at the finish, and was an all-around excellent Trail Angel. We’re standing on the Mount Abe summit—a favorite place for both of us.

I just like this photo. A barred owl was calling in the distance and I told this young woman how to identify it. Who Cooks For Youuuu...? Who Cooks For Youuuu...all? Natural trail magic.

”Ripple” is enjoying sunrise from the deck at Stark’s Nest. He dedicated his hike to his grandfather who lived with PD. We had a moment together, sharing our connections to PD. And admiring one another for carrying our loved ones with us as we hiked.

To the far right are “Border Patrol” (also known as Jean Tufts) and hiker extraordinaire, Cecelia Elwert. They met me at Lincoln Gap—each with thoughtful Trail Magic. See close up below of the basket Jean made!

Homemade cookies...fresh tomatoes. There was also a salad in a ziploc bag.

Tim Macke and Ram Verma hiked a couple of days with me. The second was a very strenuous 10-mile stretch over four tough peaks, with Camel’s Hump at the end of the day. Someone needs to check the mileage from the summit to Bamforth Ridge Shelter because it says 3 miles. It felt closer to 6.

Ram is making a taco with fresh and delicious ingredients that Tim packed in. Of course, Tim’s trail name is now “Taco.” We made a fire and warmed the tortillas on the fire pit rocks or draped them over a stick held above the flames. Above. And. Beyond.

“Ranger Ray“ was on patrol, and hoping to run into me. Our paths finally crossed near Montclair Glen Lodge, just south of the Camel’s Hump summit. It was a brief, but happy encounter and great to see him. Ranger Ray just completed the New England 67 (that’s all the peaks above 4,000 feet). A major accomplishment! Thumbs up to you Ranger Ray!

My brother, Kyle, and his friend, Michelle, met me for a resupply in the Camel’s Hump parking lot. Those containers held massive breakfast burritos. They also brought real coffee. (You’ll see them again later. They met me the next day to hike the remaining 72 miles to the border.)

My old school friend, Cindy Farnum Gallant, told me her nephew was on the Trail and hiking southbound. “He might be barefooted!” I glanced up from packing my resupply in the Camel’s Hump parking lot and saw bare feet. ”Are you Nils?!” Yup. I saw a photo of him later, and he was wearing shoes. I’ve wondered what point on the trail made him give in. He finished though, so congratulations are in order!

Did you see Michelle in the photo above? Or did your eyes only register the number of tiny wines and cans of beer? We had a little 200-mile celebration at the Twin Brooks tenting site, just before Mount Mansfield.

Michelle whipped up the most beautiful and delicious gin and tonic I’ve ever had.

Close up. Blueberries. Fresh mint. Lime. As gin and tonic is my drink of choice, you can imagine how pleased I was.

Great friends, Brian Clark and Barbara McAndrew, hiked in to Twin Brooks to visit and handed me a bag of homemade M&M cookies. My friends know me well.

I found a bag of Peppermint Patties hanging from the back side of my tent. It was dark out and I asked who left the bear bait?! It was a gift from my Mom, who shares a love of the patties. Kyle attached them to my tent but thought he hung them at my doorway and that I would see them. Thanks Mom!

On Saturday, September 26, Linn Syz and a group of women walked up the Mount Mansfield Toll Road with the hopes of catching me. It was the same date that Linn and Rhoda Chickering (who was ill and unable to hike that day) hiked to the Mansfield summit, across the ridge, and down to Smugglers’ Notch for Peaks For Parkinson’s 2010. Linn called Rhoda from the summit so I could say hi.

Also on the Mansfield Summit that day was Border Patrol and my old friend Ginger Basa. The summit was a zoo with too many people so we had a quick visit. I don’t see Ginger too often so it was fun to see her. She had some words of praise for what I was doing and delivered them in such a genuine way, I walked across the ridge feeling good about my mission. (I’ll be honest—I went back and forth in my mind at times wondering if I was accomplishing anything.)

The week before my hike started I went for a hike with Ed O’Leary and left a resupply box with him. He met me at Smugglers’ Notch after Mansfield. We were a little behind schedule so I blew into the Barnes Camp parking area, stuffed my food bag without too much thought, and dashed off into the woods. My gratitude to Ed for driving from Albany on a Saturday to support me was not fully expressed that day. But it was sure there Ed.

”Trail” after a rainstorm.

Ram—hiking partner turned Trail Angel— helped us after the storm. Not only were we wet, I miscalculated the amount of food Kyle and Michelle would need and shorted them a day+. Not good when you’re hiking in tough terrain and conditions! Ram came to our rescue at a road crossing with the missing food, and doughnuts, and hot coffee... We also dried our tents in the car. What a gift to have a dry tent.

Trail Angel John Predom, met Kyle, Michelle, and me at Hazen’s Notch unexpectedly (he was due to meet us later in the day at Route 242 before Jay Camp). Lightbulb flash in my brain! “You guys! We could slack pack...” (Slack packing is when your pack is shuttled up trail so you don’t have to carry it.) Michelle did a little happy dance. I’d never slack packed before but had nothing to prove. We loaded the bed of John’s truck and were on our merry way. “See you later at Route 242!“

Here’s John again, this time at Jay Camp. He hiked in Vermont craft beer. Another hiker arrived and John offered him a Heady Topper. I’ll never forget the stunned look on his face. “I’m being offered a Heady Topper in the middle of the woods in northern Vermont? Hell, yeah.”

I know it seems like all we did was drink, but there were many, many drinkless days for me. It’s become a tradition for me to have a Guinness at the border. Trundler packed them in. It was the perfect end to a mostly perfect hike.

Wild Things!

If you’ve read this far, you should have a good sense of what the trail community is. I have to say—this time the Trail Angels outdid themselves, going out of their ways to make Peaks For Parkinson’s 2020 special for me.

Trail Magic comes in all sorts of forms.

It’s an offer to hike dinner in to you, even if it didn’t work out—like John Zaber did.

It’s hiking a side trail to the Long Trail to try to meet you—like Gretchen Adsit and Border Patrol did—even though I had hiked past already.

It’s carrying the extra weight of a tent fly that was left behind and trying to catch up with you—like Pete Saile did.

It’s the texts you read in your tent at night with words of encouragement. If you told me you were proud of me—I guarantee my eyes watered. Ten years ago my mother told me how proud my father would have been.

Just about everything on the Trail feels magical. It’s a magical place, with magical people. That, in a nutshell, is the trail community.

Many hikers leave the trail after receiving random acts of kindness from complete strangers and try to think of ways to “pay it forward.“ I’d like to think of Peaks For Parkinson’s 2020 as my way of paying your kindness to me, forward.