This article previously appeared in the Fall 2023 Long Trail News. It was written by Chloe Miller, GMC’s Communications Manager and Long Trail News Editor.
Midafternoon, Monday, July 10. Several inches of rain have already fallen at Thais Gherardi’s hiker hostel, Wicked Waystation, as she eases her old 15-passenger van along Forest Service Road 71, trying to reach seven soggy and frightened hikers who hiked out from Story Spring Shelter as catastrophic flooding headed for much of Vermont.
Thais finds the road barricaded. Without cell service, she worries they’ll wonder where she is. She sends seven texts, to no avail, but then connects with a hiker’s Garmin InReach satellite communicator. She backtracks, stops at the Stratton Fire Department to check on roads, and finally reaches the hikers a few hours later.
At the hostel seven miles from the LT/AT crossing of Kelley Stand Road there’s no power or water, but the group is grateful to be safe and dry.
“Thais housed us and hauled water in and took us to places to charge and shower,” said “Won’t Get Up – WILL!” (the trail name of one of the hikers). ”She was nonstop for 48 hours. She fed us and made sure we were all healthy and strong enough to go back on trail once it was deemed safe. She was definitely a calm in the storm.”
What is a Trail Angel?
Trail Angels take many forms, all magical to a weary long-distance hiker. They pick up hikers hitching into town; provide grassy campsites, hand out cold drinks or snacks at trailheads; and come to the rescue in a myriad of ways, big and small.
Many trail angels fly under the radar, crossing paths serendipitously with hikers just when they need something most. Some provide trail magic regularly, like shuttle driver Elizabeth Ingram Paashaus and hostel proprietor Thais. They share a deep appreciation of the community and connection between the trail, its hikers, and its neighbors.
“While hiking the Long Trail in 2019, we fell in love with the trailside communities in Vermont. Everyone had some connection to the trail or hiking. As hikers, you always want to give back in some way,” said Elizabeth. She and her family decided to move here, landing in Montgomery in 2021.
Thais’s journey to the Long Trail was similar. Her family lived in a New York City suburb, commuting an hour each way. In 2018, they moved north seeking more community-driven lives.
“We had the opportunity to purchase an old farmhouse, and wanted to create a socially and economically meaningful project. That’s where the hostel came from.”
When hikers take “zero” days (rest days) with her, she introduces them to her small community near Stratton Mountain, taking them to farmstands, festivals, concerts, and more. For a fee she also provides warm beds, hot showers, and laundry facilities.
Elizabeth and her husband Adam provide shuttle rides, mostly to and from the northern half of the trail, often connecting Burlington Airport and the northern terminus. Using Google Calendar and texting, often over several days, they help with the logistics and changes of plan needed to get everyone where they need to go.
A Saving Grace
So what’s so special about driving back and forth on Vermont’s winding roads, and offering other help? Hikers and trail angels agree it’s providing what a hiker needs most when it’s least expected.
In 2021, thru-hiker Joshua “Pace Car” Johnson fell and broke his finger approaching Haystack Mountain, 20 miles from Canada, with minimal cell service. Elizabeth texted his parents to coordinate a pickup, and drove him to a hospital for a finger splint late in the day. Pace Car pitched his tent on Elizabeth’s family land that night; then they returned him to Hazen’s Notch to finish his end-to-end hike.
“I was elated to not have to cancel my hike so close to the finish line,” he said. “The generosity of others was the most memorable part of my hike.”
Hiker Katie Houston says, “During my time on the Long Trail, trail magic made me grin from ear to ear several times over. One day I realized I’d dropped my phone’s charging cable somewhere over the course of the 14-mile day. I quickly hopped on the Facebook Group for the Long Trail and posted a vague request for assistance from a trail angel. Within an hour, Thais hatched a plan to leave a cord in baggie at a trailhead 12 miles north with my name. The next morning, I was back in action without a step out of place.”
Click through the post below to see the delivery.
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The generosity of the hiking community, trail angels, and trail neighbors is boundless. Thais says that after the flood, Stratton Mountain Resort offered showers and electricity to hikers and neighbors. And hikers staying at her hostel did Thais’s laundry and chores once power returned, unasked.
Of course, the real magic is connections: “Before I started shuttling hikers, I thought of trail magic as chocolate and Gatorade,” said Thais. “But there are so many precious moments. So many singular conversations and healing moments between guests and me. Maybe it’s because you’re likely to never see that person again, so you feel comfortable sharing certain things, but the beautiful moments of people opening up, and showing trust in me, that is what trail magic means to me.”