Every year, thousands of hikers attempt to complete the 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail, stretching from Georgia to Maine, but only one-in-four are able to conquer the mountainous terrain that has an elevation gain and loss equivalent to hiking Mt. Everest from sea-level and back 16 times.
Hikers typically carry only three days of food and sometimes run short, as they endeavor to reach the next town to resupply. Fortunately, trail angels sprinkle their magic along the way to provide weary hikers food, drink, and a comfy chair in which to rest.
Michele Staudenmaier had never heard of trail angels or trail magic before her son Zach began a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) in March. Zach told her how hikers so appreciated real food and drinks from volunteers, nicknamed “trail angels” by the hiking community.
And so Michele decided she would become one such angel.
She and her husband Dave, had already arranged to stay in Airbnb’s along the A.T—in Georgia, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Maine—during the 6 months Zach had planned to hike.
There are many remote places where the trail crosses a road, which offers a perfect place to set up some ‘trail magic’—a term coined by long-distance hikers to describe an unexpected occurrence that lifts a hiker’s spirits. There, typically an hour or so from any town, she would often encounter other trail angels spreading their own magic.
“I was very surprised”, said Michele, “when I realized there was a massive community of volunteers that spend their time and money to support Appalachian Trail hikers. I had no idea!”
An average hiker will burn as much as 600 calories per hour hiking up and down mountains carrying a 30-pound pack—and they are always ravenous.
One time Michele cooked and wrapped 50 hot dogs to serve along with chips, fruit, sweet treats, sodas, and Gatorade.
Another time she served up buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken and pasta salad to delighted hikers. Typically as many as 20 or 30 hikers come through and spend a half hour or so resting, eating and telling stories of the A.T. before resuming their hike.
One hiker had completely run out of food the day before and expressed undying gratitude while quickly devouring six hot dogs.
Another said “you have no idea how good this chicken tastes after eating camp food!” It is unusual to have any food left over from a trail magic excursion.
Michele looks forward to spreading more trail magic and hearing the stories from hikers and other trail angels as she works her own way towards Maine.