The way grows long and tiresome. Many give up and quit. A few push on and successfully complete the journey. They will tell you that they owe their success in part to a few unknown angels along the way.
The Appalachian Trail is 2,100 miles of challenge. Both the climbs to breathtaking mountain vistas and the steep descents take their toll. For the 3000 or so who attempt to thru-hike the entire trail in one season, the weather varies from snow to sweltering heat. It’s not surprising that of those who set out from Springer Mountain, the southern terminus in north Georgia, only about 1 in 5 makes it all the way to Mount Katahdin in Maine.
Those who succeed will tell you that “trail angels” make a big difference. Trail angels are anonymous supporters along the trail who look for ways to help hikers. Some park at road crossings and freely hand out cold soft drinks and snack cakes, luxury items that hikers can’t carry with them. One hauled his grill up a forest service road to an intersection with the trail and cooked hamburgers for whoever came by. Another brought a stack of hot pizzas out from town to distribute at the trail. Others offer free rides to town for hikers to re-supply. A few trail angels even provide free overnight lodging and laundry services.
Hikers will tell you that the rides and treats are of practical value. But what really helps is the emotional lift that comes with the Little Debbie. From strangers expecting nothing in return, these simple acts of kindness renew faith that there is good in the world. They give hope to a weary traveler. Renewed hope is often just what a hiker needs to keep him going.
You and I may live far from the Appalachian Trail. Yet, every day we cross paths with people whose journey is long and whose burden is heavy. We can’t provide all that’s needed, but surely we can provide something. Each of us can become a family angel, a neighborhood angel, or a school or workplace angel – a person who offers simple acts of kindness, a person with encouraging words to lend, one who helps carry a burden for a few steps along the trail.
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). It’s a long way to the end of the trail.