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Lange: Trail Magic

The Appalachian Trail enters Vermont coincident with the Long Trail and follows it for one hundred miles. It peels off near Killington and heads east to Norwich.

And as thru-hikers arrive in the Upper Valley, two friends and I – Scott and Austin – sometimes set up shop as Trail Angels near Orford, New Hampshire, to dispense what’s called “trail magic” – hotdogs, cheeseburgers, and cold soft drinks – to passing hikers.

Photographs of the AT are taken from dramatic overlooks, and thru-hiker wannabes envision two thousand miles of open views. But it’s mainly a green tunnel paved with rocks and slippery roots laid bare by decades of tramping feet, and long stretches of mud.

North-bounders here will in a few miles start up Mount Moosilauke, the first of the 4000-foot White Mountains - the roughest part of the trail, where most hikers will average less than ten miles a day .

South-bounders will find easier terrain through southern New England and New Jersey – although, as one hiker said, “You look ahead of you when you get a view, and there’s a bunch of mountains, and you know that, whoever built the trail took it right over the top of every one of ‘em.”

A trail name i s de rigueur , and you don’t give it to yourself; other hikers confer it according to your appearance or performance. W e’ve met Nova (from Halifax), River, Four Years, and Librarian (because, as her namer says) “she’s bookin’!”

We greeted a south-bounder named Flyby , who never took off his pack. Another wanted to sit and talk. He’d broken up with his girlfriend the day before, after they’d hiked together all the way from Katahdin.

One woman ha d spent the night on Mount Cube freezing while thunder rumbled . And one arrived as we were closing up for the day . But he still got fresh fruit and a goodie bag.

Everybody had a story. They’d all quit jobs, or were hiking between school and going to work. Some had retired, like Tigger, who carried a stuffed toy.

The popularity of the AT has diminished its solitude. But it’s still the same slog – one foot in front of the other for months – that it was for Scott, Austin, and me; so it’s the least we can do to join the hundreds of other Trail Angels all along its length in providing a little magic along the way.

Willem Lange is a retired remodeling contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in East Montpelier, Vermont.
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