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MEEKER | What is a “trail angel” you may well ask? I first learned of this term when our oldest son hiked the 2,500 mile Appalachian Trail in 2009. As a mom who had never heard of the “AT” I was freaked out by our son (freshly minted college graduate) heading into the wilderness alone. I imagined him getting eaten by bears, breaking a leg, falling down a mountain side, and never returning.
Being a “thru hiker” means about six months of constant hiking from Maine to Georgia. On your back you carry your life — food, tent, essential water, and little else. Jason didn’t even take his cell phone because there’s no place to recharge it and it weighed too much. That is a devoted hiker, calculating every ounce being carried and living on just the essentials.
Jason’s hike is always on my mind this time of the year when he completed the entire Appalachian Trail on Dec. 12, a snowy, cold Georgia day. My dad died in Indiana the following day as we had anticipated, and these dates are always a weird juxtaposition of joy and grief for me.
Fortunately, Jason found two hiking buddies, and one had family living near Atlanta. This Georgia trail angel family would visit our sons on the trail, deliver food, provide a comfy motel night, and lots of TLC.
Many sorts of trail angels exist. Some pick up hikers to drive them into local towns for re-supply. Others provide overnight housing (a bed, not the sleeping bag again). Many leave water along the trail where local drinking resources are scarce. Sometimes there’s food, cash, helpful directions, or just encouraging notes left in caches.
I came to realize that our son was being watching over by many angels (“all day, all night looking over him” as the spiritual hymn says) along with support from fellow hikers. He was far safer out there on that remote trail than he would have been in downtown Denver.
These angels are strangers, just doing something to help someone else without any expectation of recompense. I did become good online friends with the mom of the Georgia family who picked up our son at the conclusion of the trail. We’ve never met in person, but she and her family will always be very special to me for all their many kindnesses and we remain in touch.
My belief is that our world consists of many more trail angels than bad people. I will be forever in debt to all these kind people who supported our son whose names I will never know. I learned a lot from our son’s hike about how kind the world can be.
In Meeker, we have “trail angels” too — lots of folks who reach out into our community with help, support, food, money, and prayers. My husband and I have been blessed these past weeks as we struggle to overcome COVID by so many caring people, near and afar. I know this caring goes on year-round, but we are especially grateful while facing this serious illness.
It’s the Christmas season so let’s try in this very tough year to find the joy in the many caring folks in our lives. I remain ever grateful for the trail angels who supported our son 11 years ago and us today.
Special to the Herald Times