Gratitude simply gushes when I consider my community of supporters on the Appalachian Trail, and I’m talking about people supporting me as a Ridgerunner, not as a hiker! The list of “trail angels” on my hike from Maine to Georgia in 2007 would comprise another whole list!
Since April, 2010 for a three-month season each year, I’ve been working for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy with the main task of “talking with hikers on the 80-mile stretch of the trail between the James River and Rockfish Gap.” That position has the catchy title of Ridgerunner.
First, I’m grateful that Joe Parrish hired me for the job, on the recommendation of my hiking partner, John. Then, there’s Angie Sheldon, his assistant, who took care of my timesheet, and then became my supervisor for a couple of years. Now, it’s Kathryn Herndon, who’s taking the ridgerunning position to another level by keeping me informed and in conversation with more aspects of trail management than I had previously been involved with. Andrew Downs has been an easy director to work for, teaching me diplomacy by his own example when a couple of challenging policy issues have come up.
The way that the Appalachian Trail Conservancy operates is through partnerships with other agencies whose jurisdictions the trail traverses. My agency partner is the Glenwood – Pedlar Ranger District of the US Forest Service. For the past five years, they have been the best partners ever! In fact, my USFS partner representative, David Whitmore, was awarded Best Trail Partner in 2014! He and his co-workers have certainly earned it, in my opinion!
When I have arrived each year in April, ready to get on the trail, they’ve welcomed me into the staff house most warmly and with excellent living conditions. I’ve been grateful to have such a nice house for my days off, especially the past two seasons when I had moved away from my home in Atlanta! The Forest Service has also provided me with a shuttle out to the trail and back each week. They’re always prompt and have picked me up at convenient trailheads all through my section! We have a great way to keep in touch as well. That’s with an inReach satellite device that allows me to send and receive short messages via text or email. It’s very helpful in the areas of the trail that lack cell service.
For my first three years, I had my own designated USFS contact, Roy Powell. He was the one I called for shuttle service. Once I even called him at home late at night when I had decided to do a night hike out of cell range into a remote shelter. I wanted him to know that I was down there and to expect my call in the morning when I got back into cell range again. He thanked me for letting him know! I really have felt like one of them, being treated just like they would each other when they go out to fires!
I’m also grateful for the other USFS staff at the Glenwood-Pedlar Ranger Station. Tina, Kathy, Tiffany, and Lyte always greet me at the office, plus handle my mail, keys, and messages. This year, they even helped out with shuttles! In other departments, USFS staff have welcomed and supported me too. Aaron even fixed a flat tire on my Toyota and straightened out my bent trekking pole. I think I’ve met every one of the regular staff there, and at least eaten lunch with them on my days off. I enjoy going down to the Ranger Station office for lunch to join in the friendly socializing. Without “my” Forest Service folks, Ridgerunning would be a lonely job! Instead, it’s been something to look forward to every year!
Complementing the Forest Service as a partner agency are the AT trail clubs that maintain the trail in my Ridgerunning section. My section has THREE of them: The Old Dominion ATC, The Tidewater ATC, and the Natural Bridge ATC. Each club manages their respective sections uniquely, but all are dedicated and generous with their time, skills, expertise, and passion! I’ve made friends in each of the clubs and have enjoyed participating in maintenance trips and picnics with all three of the clubs. I won’t even get started naming individuals in the clubs for this essay, for there are a dozen or more in each club whose friendship and support I’ve experienced. A general bow of gratitude will have to suffice right now! So, here’s a hearty THANKS to ODATC, TATC, AND NBATC!
In addition to the Forest Service and the Trail Clubs, there’s also two individuals I want to thank for making my Ridgerunning seasons fulfilling. That’s Lois and Earl at The Dutch Haus Bed and Breakfast! Since my first year as ridgerunner when I first went down the mountain near Montebello, VA to take a night off the trail without going back to the Ranger House, I’ve enjoyed their generosity. It’s been a mutually beneficial relationship between me, the Ridgerunner and them, the B&B owners. Their place always has plenty of hikers for me to meet, thus doing my job! I have often steered hikers to their B&B when they ask about a place to stay near the trail. Even though they’ve closed the business for the time being, to focus on their own traveling, I’m still welcome to take time off the trail at their place. Lois says, “There’s a room with your name on it! You’re part of the family now!” I’m deeply grateful to Lois and Earl for our friendship, both on and off the trail!
Just in time to fill the void that was left when The Dutch Haus closed, Nancy Rinkenberger has opened a new hostel in the same section of the trail! Of course Three Springs Hostel has its own uniquely wonderful qualities, and I’m just getting familiar with Nancy and Marcia there. Still, I’m grateful to have yet another warm and friendly place to visit along the Appalachian Trail in Virginia!
Ridgerunning on the Appalachian Trail has been a satisfying and fulfilling way to step into my dream of Joyous Prosperity – earning my living hiking! Even though, as Karen Lutz, my Appalachian Trail Conservancy trainer, admonished, “you don’t get paid for hiking!” I am still deeply grateful that hiking can be the VENUE for my dream to be fulfilled.