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  • Writer's pictureBeverly Stoddart

HARRISON FLODIN: Trail Angels on the Appalachian Trail - Part 2

“I got Lyme disease, bit by a tick while I was in Pennsylvania heading south and got flu-like symptoms. My knees and my back were sore anyway, but they became excruciatingly painful with miles to go. I just had to suck it up. I had eight or ten miles to get to a road and get to town. Once there, I got a ride in and went to a doctor with a trail angel named Mary.

A trail angel is someone who selflessly helps hikers on the Appalachian Trail. They offer food, rides, assistance without compensation or concern all up and down the 2,200-mile AT.

Trail Angel Mary, of Duncannon, Pennsylvania, is Mary Parry. Harrison described her as a kind of an older woman who used to be homeless. Even at that time in her life, she would buy bananas to give to hikers when she was down-and-out. Mary got into the trail culture and is listed as an angel in the trail guide that Harrison used on his hike. When he met her, she had an apartment over a bar and a camper van. Harrison had already passed through Duncannon, yet, she came to pick him up and got him to the next town where there was a doctor. Afterward, she took him back to her apartment. He stayed with her one night, where she fed him and gave him a warm, dry place to sleep for the night on a ‘rickety couch,’ with the smell of smoke from the bar below infiltrating her apartment. The next day she dropped him back at the town near the trail.

“I needed a few days of rest and still have the checkout slip from the bed-and-breakfast place that I stayed at while recuperating. They had a cheap deal for hikers like $20 a night. I ended up taking four days off. When I started feeling better, I needed to get back on the trail and was fine after that.”

Tom Dickey was another trail angel Harrison encountered as he was coming off a trail near Sugar Loaf in Maine. He found a Gatorade and a business card sitting on the path. A note on the card read, “If you’re an AT hiker and need a ride or a place to stay, give me a call.” Harrison called and got a ride to town from Tom on a cold, rainy day. Tom had said he could stay at his house, and he’d cook him dinner and do laundry. Harrison said, “Okay. He bought beer, did laundry, and then offered to slack-pack me the next day.”

“A slack-packer is where a trail angel drops you off at one point on the trail with a day-pack, not your full heavy gear. You can then do twenty miles or so, faster and unencumbered with weight. The angel then meets you at the designated spot down the trail and has your heavy pack so you can then continue your hike.”

“You have to trust people,” Harrison said. “I got a free beer and a hot meal.” It turns out that Tom is a retired Coast Guard officer and lives in a cabin in Eustis, Maine.

Mousetrap was in the town as well, and Tom offered to let Harrison take his car and go pick up Mousetrap. They came back, and he cooked breakfast for both hikers. He ended up slack-packing for both of them. The kindness of strangers is magical, which is why they call them angels.

When, however, was the last time you got into a white van with a stranger offering candy? On the Appalachian Trail, you don’t think about it; you just do it. That stranger is a trail angel. A note on a thread I found online was from JoryCones81. She wrote, “The only white van I've been excited to see.”

Rob Bird is originally from Boston and is a retired police officer from Massachusetts. Harrison had been hiking south in Tennessee when he met Sherpa. She had spent time in Nepal and was a SOBO hiker along with Ohioan, Delta. They had been following Harrison for a while trying to catch up with him, which they did a couple of days later in the Roan Highlands. The Highlands “includes the world's largest natural rhododendron garden and the longest stretch of grassy bald in the Appalachian range.” Harrison had been excited to see one of Tennessee’s most beautiful places where the naturally grassy summit is thick with vegetation and spreads across the view. Mother Nature, instead, gave the three thru-hikers 40-mile-per-hour winds and socked in by clouds and rain. They got to a trail shelter and on the next day started again. Sherpa and Delta were ahead of Harrison. When Harrison got to a road, there was a white van with Delta’s head sticking out the back. He told Harrison there was candy, soda, and food inside this nondescript white van. Harrison got in. Rob Bird was at the wheel, and he started driving. Rob drove them to his house, where he cooked for them, and then the foursome watched a Patriots football game against the Carolina Panthers. It turns out a lot of hikers have stayed with Rob. And the white van? On the side is a picture of a Casper-the-Friendly-Ghost type character with “The AT Friendly Van,” printed on the side.

“Trail angels were one of my great memories. They would come out and leave things on the trail for thru-hikers. One night I had hiked all day, and it had been raining, and I got into this shelter, one of those lean-tos, about 10 pm, beat up and exhausted. Someone had left a 12 pack of beer. Oh yes. I sat there and had a couple of beers.”

Harrison is considered a purist hiker. Meaning he walked every mile of the trail.

“There was at most 1/10th of a mile I might have missed. My mom and dad would meet me and resupply me. They wanted to go for a drive and bring the dogs. Dad came down and hiked with me in Virginia for a couple of days. I had met another hiker along the trail, and somehow, we had gotten in contact. His wife had been supplying him along the way, and we linked up with them. She drove my dad back to his car.

“Would you define blue blazes, white blazes, and yellow blazes?”

“White blazes are what the AT trail is. You follow the white. Blue blazes are a side hiking type trail, but often those are shortcuts, and people would say, “Oh, you blue-blazed.” The yellow blaze is if you got in a car and got someone to pick you up and hopped a big portion of the trail. Yellow like the lines on a road. I white-blazed the whole trail.”

“When you were in Western Massachusetts, did you see Mount Greylock? I read Mt. Greylock inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick when he saw it in the winter.”

“That’s interesting. I did not know that. I did hike Mt. Greylock, but I don’t remember it looking like a whale. Melville spent a lot of time out in that area.”

“I read the hardest mile of the trail is Mahoosuc Notch in Western Maine. Yes?”

“Or you could call it the most fun mile of the trail. However way you want to look at it, it’s a unique mile that takes a long time to hike. If you were hiking a normal easy mile trail, it would take twenty or thirty minutes to hike. I hiked Mahoosuc with Mousetrap, and we had a great time. I don’t remember exactly how long, but you are climbing under boulders. You’re going through little caves. Sometimes you have to take your pack off. You’re at the bottom of a ravine, and there’s still snow. You’re in these caves. It’s in Maine right at the New Hampshire border. It’s difficult, but it’s fun. It’s a step away from just walking just putting one foot in front of the other.”

NEXT: Trails End and Texas Oil Fields

Getting resupplied by the family. Harrison with best friend, Houston.

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