Meet a Trail Angel: Helping Appalachian Trail Hikers

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Janet Hensley has quite the experience helping Appalachian Trail hikers

Janet Hensley grew up just outside Erwin, Tennessee near the Appalachian Trail. When she was a child, her mother fed passing hikers, and although the townspeople never “really knew or understood what we were doing”, the acts of kindness deeply touched Hensley, who is now better known. of the AT hiking community as “Miss Janet.”

From a young age, Hensley watched closely how the trail brings people together from all parts of the world, and that community spirit inspired her to continue helping hikers hike the 2,200 miles AT. She now spends up to nine months a year living in her van, a sticker-covered touring vehicle called the “Bounce Box”, donating her time as a dedicated trail angel, often transporting early hikers. trails to hostels.

New groups of hikers typically begin their spring trip at Springer Mountain in Georgia, the southern terminus of the AT As they begin the strenuous trek north to Mount Katahdin in Maine, Hensley, which previously had a backpacker hostel before transitioning to van life, can be found wandering nearby, ready to lead weary backpackers to a trailside town for rest and hot meals.

After many years of practicing trail magic – doing generous gestures to help hikers move – Henlsey observed that hikers underestimated the rigors of life in the woods for about six months. The best way to provide help therefore varies.

“Trail magic can be anything that makes you happy or gives you something you needed, and you didn’t know you needed it,” she said. Whether it’s a “rainbow, water, shelter, city ride, you’ll know when you’ve got it.”

Hensley also tries to educate hikers on proper trail etiquette. Since the start of the pandemic, national parks have become extremely overcrowded, stressing natural resources with litter and congestion, so Hensley is giving those inexperienced on the trails advice on how to properly clean their campsites or dispose of waste.

“Leaving no trace is a big deal,” she said. “When you’re there, you (eventually) realize that you’re not visiting the woods, you’re living in the woods. Then you realize the respect and simplicity that fit into your daily life, and you make better choices for the environment.

While she spends much of her time serving others, Henlsey admits that being around the TA is where she feels most comfortable, revealing, “I only feel normal. when I’m in the woods.” And as the world grapples with divisive discord, she says the hikers she meets on the TA are helping her restore her faith in humanity, adding that they are “incredible, grateful, humble , enthusiastic and extremely entertaining”.

Photo courtesy of Janet Hensley

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