The Appalachian Trail, which stretches 2,000 miles across Georgia to Maine, is one of the most well-known trails in the United States. Every year, thousands of hikers take to the trail to hike it in its entirety—a trek that takes somewhere between five to seven months.
Hikers carry everything they need on their backs, including several days of food. They walk over ten miles a day with sometimes more than thirty pounds on their backs. The journey takes a physical and mental toll on even the most fit of individuals, but there are kind individuals out there who try to lessen that load.
Individuals known as “trail angels” take to the trail to leave food, drinks, and even places to sit for exhausted travelers. Some are family members. Some are hikers who already vanquished the trail. Some are simply individuals looking to put kindness into the world. But when Michele Staudenmaier’s son, Zach, decided to take to the Appalachian Trail, she knew she wanted to be his angel.
“Trail angel” Michele Staudenmaier. Credit: Dave Staudenmaier.
“I was very surprised 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!” Michele says.
She and her husband, Dave, arranged Airbnb’s along major stopping points in Georgia, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Maine. These were the perfect times to leave a little “trail magic,” as hikers call it.
Given the amount of calories these hikers burn—usually 600 calories per hour—Staudenmaier’s made it her mission to provide these people the good meals they’d been severely lacking. Once, she provided the hikers chips, fruit, drinks, and 50 hot dogs. Another time, she brought buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken and pasta salad.
Hikers enjoying the fruits of their labor. Credit: Dave Staudenmaier
As many as 20 or 30 hikers came through Staudenmaier’s makeshift camps for the day, all of them positively gracious for her act of kindness. For some, it’s a refreshing change from dried foods. For those who might have run out of food, they are especially grateful.
Michele Staudenmaier was rarely the only angel spreading a little magic. More often than not, other trail angels would make the trek out to provide hikers some respite from the harsh elements. People just like her would bring food or seating for hikers—much needed with their sore feet and empty stomachs.
Her son is not done walking the trail, so Staudenmaier isn’t done either. She looks forward to continuing to sprinkling her magic over the trail and hearing stories about the travels these brave hikers face every day.
Michele Staudenmaier with hikers. Credit: Dave Staudenmaier.
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