Continental Divide Trail #21: Trail Angel Gail

My job as Porter’s trail angel–support and resupply person on his 3,100-mile hike of the Continental Divide Trail, calls for me to be driver, travel agent, computer geek, luggage handler, and social butterfly. I’ve never felt so self-actualized in my life!

Each new segment of my tasks begins with driving Porter to a remote trailhead, where he sets his satellite tracker so I can track his latitude and longitude.

I drive back out and to the next town where I get ready for his next resupply. I unload fourteen of our sixteen pieces of luggage from the car–for Porter: five bags of food resupplies, suitcase of town clothes, computer bag, and for me: suitcase, fitness bag (yoga mat, bolster, block, etc.), household bag (vitamins, medicinals, thermos, etc.), food, laundry bag, car bag (rain gear, water, snacks), and traveling office (laptop, maps, CDT guides, reservation info., reading). The fifteenth bag contains copies of my book,ย I Promise Not to Suffer: A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail,ย that I sell or give away on the road. And the sixteenth piece of luggage is Porter’s backpack, which he’s carrying, thank heaven.

Over the last five months, I’ve unloaded and reloaded the car for twenty-five different lodgings–hotels, motels, cottages, and cabins. I spend a chunk of my time in town poring over maps of the route ahead, reading lodging reviews online, making reservations, and changing reservations umpteen times for the constant changes in our schedule. More often than not, Porter is ahead of schedule because he’s hiking increasingly faster and from 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., so it’s all good.

Each day, I go on a hike of my own, here at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. I also practice yoga and meditate. If there are no hiking trails nearby, I walk all over the town to learn about it and get to know the people.

One of the most important parts of being Porter’s support person is following his progress through pings sent from his satellite tracker to my laptop. I call it “following his dots,” because each dot represents a successive latitude and longitude. If his dots aren’t moving up the trail, he could be injured or his tracker could be lying at the bottom of a river he forded. As long as he has his tracker, though, he can push the SOS button to call Search and Rescue if he’s seriously hurt. In any case, when someone asks “Do you know where your husband is?” I can say with impunity, “Yes!”

Porter also uses his satellite communicator to send me a brief message regarding the day and approximate time of his arrival at the next remote trailhead for pick-up. I set off into the wild blue yonder to look for him. I’ve learned to use the Guthooks app that CDT hikers use to let them know whether they’re anywhere near the imaginary route called the Continental Divide Trail. It’s not the line on a map, I’ll tell you that.

I drive for hours on farm and ranch roads without seeing anyone but cows. They slow my progress on bumpy dirt roads from ten miles an hour to one.

But as Amber says, “The trail angels must go through.”

We retrieve Porter from the wilderness and bring him to his next resupply town, here East Glacier Park, Montana, on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. We celebrate with other CDT hikers, including Maverick, Beacon, and Problem Bear.

56 comments on “Continental Divide Trail #21: Trail Angel Gail

  1. Dear Gail,

    Wow! What a schedule! You and Porter make quite a team!! As for me, I’m leaving for the wilds of New York City shortly which means a strenuous change of pace for me — i. e. now I’ll have to change out of my pajamas!

    Love to you both–

  2. I’m still following and enjoying the Porter, Gail & Amber CDT team adventure! I like this post which gave more detailed information on what all you do! Curious to know approximately where Porter is now. Still heading north through Glacier National Park towards the Canadian border or has he “flip flopped” back to finish Colorado? My husband was able to get a call through last night after being “chased” down off a ridge by a thunder & lightning storm near Berthoud Pass and Highway #40 in Colorado. Maybe Porter and Alan might still meet up if Porter is heading south through Colorado. Alan’s probably the last CDT thru-hiker heading north by now with an ukulele on the back of his pack! ๐Ÿ™‚ The hiking at 12,000 – 13,000+ feet of elevation through Colorado Rockies has been a huge challenge for Alan’s lungs and stamina! He’s finding it very tiring.

    • Ina Sue, Porter is still hiking north toward Canada. I dropped him and two other thru-hikers off this morning at Logan Pass in Glacier National Park, the only way they could get through the burned areas from the Thompson fire and Reynolds fire, but just got word (via Porter’s satellite tracker) that they won’t be able to get to Waterton Park, Canada via Granite and Kootenai as planned because of a new fire on the trail into Waterton. So we’re planning on the Colorado CDT next summer because of the complications of still trying to make it to Canada now. Lots of storms and lightning strikes causing fires not just here but where we’ve been, the Bitterroots, etc. Sending best vibes to Alan!

      • You must have read my mind Gail! I was wondering how those fires have been affecting the NoBo CDT hikers. Many huge fires near the PCT out here in WA state in the area around Lake Chelan and Stehekin have closed down the trail to all PCT hikers, a huge complication for thru-hikers, even with the help of trail angels and park rangers. Due to Alan’s reprieve from the CDT to let the Colorado snows melt, he too will not be able to finish a “thru-hike” in one season. The plan is to come back next spring & summer to complete the northern section of the CDT. Thanks for sending your “best vibes” to Alan. ๐Ÿ™‚ Lot of positive thoughts sent back to you all too!

  3. So impressive and indeed angelic of you to supply essentials and love. 16/15 bags is a lot to haul, and constantly flexing to make the hike a success is huge. Great coordination with the dot-tracking -it also helps you to feel better about leaving him in mysterious places. You and Porter do the ‘parallel play’ and meeting up -so romantic in such grand places. I admire you and Amber’s happy spirit, in town or at Ghost Ranch. Love to you all!

  4. Wow! And I complain when I have to carry more than one bag. On top of all that I know that Porter is the most efficient packer in the world. I guess even the simplest life requires numerous essentials. Would love to be a fly on the wall as you meet all the people in the towns you travel through. Always love your posts but particularly liked hearing about your logistics.

    • Thanks, Ellen, I’m fascinated by logistics of all kinds, and imagine you are too. Porter and I are both super-organized, but this is a different order of magnitude.

    • Andrea, you’re organized yourself so you understand how helpful it is when living five months on the road out of suitcases. Otherwise we’d never know where anything is! Congratulations on your medals in the swimming nationals!

  5. Thank you for sharing it all, Gail. It sounds like such a rich adventure for you both. I wish I could have tea with you in one of those little towns. Good work. You guys are ROCKSTARS. I want your autograph when you get home ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Molly, looking forward to tea in our little town of Boulder! Also looking forward to YOUR autograph in your wonderful forthcoming book, Learning to Walk in India!

  6. It sounds like more than a full time job, but what a wonderful job to have! I really enjoy sharing this adventure with you and Porter and Amber. He looks great and so do you ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. I continue to be amazed upper twenties and hiking faster all the time. WOW.
    Loading and unloading gear and finding him the wilds. WOW.
    Keeping Amber entertained—don’t know how you do it.
    What do hiker who don’t have trail angels do?????

    • Thanks, Jerrie! Hikers who don’t have trail angels can’t change their route on a dime like we need to, in light of all the fires. The remote roads would be a hard hitch for resupplies. I loaded up the car with other hikers and their backpacks along with Porter to drive them around the fire, and now because of a new fire where they planned to cross the border they’re having to hike a lot of extra miles on the Chief Mountain route. If I know Porter, he’ll hike as long as he has to to cross the border on foot. Amber says to tell you she’s the one who has her work cut out for her keeping me entertained, LOL!

      • Hi Gail, Porter and Amber: Thanks for keeping us posted on your adventures. I am a faithful follower though I haven’t let you know. I admire your team work, your spirit of making the most of every situation, even forest fires which are really a pain, not only for through hikers but for the poor souls losing homes and livelihood such as at Lake Chelan (and in Glacier Park where I hiked for years when we lived in Montana.) There is always next year and that will keep us following you for even longer. What will we do when we don’t have one of your adventures to look forward to? Best to you three! And congratulations for keeping on keeping on! Pat

  8. Gail: And, I continue to wonder at the complexity of these details. Like assuring that you have enough gas in the car?? Changing a flat tire??! Minor things like that, in the whole scheme of things. Amber doesn’t look quite up to the task of “assistant to Gail,” on the trail??! HUGSSSS!!!

    • Jane, yes, I’m phobic about having a full tank of gas, and have learned to check the oil, radiator, brake, windshield and other fluids as well as tire pressure. I sincerely hope I don’t have to change a tire in the middle of the wilderness, although I have bear spray handy in case a bear comes to investigate. There’s no cell coverage in the wilderness to call AAA, of course. Amber would have to read the instructions from the car manual aloud to me.

  9. It was great to get more detail in this post, Gail. It’s fantastic how technology helps you and Porter coordinate efforts. On my drives to and from Washington state, I, too separate out thing according to activity. A bag for clothes for the road with all other clothes for the long stay in a storage container, a bag for medications, first aid, and the like, a bag of art supplies and gear, a groceries box, a cooler, and so on. I find unloading at night is a tiring prospect and don’t know how you manage with so many more items to deal with. It’s wonderful that you are doing daily meditation and physical exercise. I’ve found on various road trips by car or motorcycle that one of the joys of the road is talking with local people along the way–it restores your belief that most people are well intentioned, hardworking, and friendly. We need these experiences to counter the daily news stories that stress the outriders. Keep on keepin’ on, Gail. I’m thinking of you!

    • Rosemary, it’s wonderful to know you understand what goes into a road trip–you certainly have had your share! I love hearing how you organize your things for the road. And you’re so right that people are good-hearted, hardworking, and friendly. Some people have very difficult lives and few resources, yet they’re cheerful and kind.

  10. Wonderful use of photos and words to convey a detailed personal account of your experience as trail angel. What a talented lady! My best to you and Porter and Amber for a safe remainder of your adventure.

    • Frank, very much appreciate this comment from a writer of your insight and talents! Thank you for your good wishes, we’re going to make it in spite of the new fire at the border.

  11. I have an idea for your next book: “Diary of a Trail Angel: A Fool for Love Drives Resupply on the Continental Divide Trail.” No need to thank me.

  12. Super post, Gail! You are the Goddess of Trail Angels!!! The next bookโ€””The Modern Day Manual of Survival Tips and Sources of Magical Fortitude for the Otherwise Motel-Weary Trail Angel”??? I love hearing about all your tasks and equipment and baggage. What a glimpse into a yet unknown role and the inner workings of creating SUCCESS against so many odds. I commend you for flexibility to the hilt!

    Safe journeys to you both on this final stretch . . .
    Love, love,

  13. What a fantastic summer you’re having, all in all. Makes me miss the back roads of my youth. Found any good swimming holes along the way? Keep after it, Gail, Porter (and Amber)!

  14. Glad to hear about your routine and non routine. That’s a new one on me; being able to follow someone’s “dots” as they move up the trail/backcountry. Bet that really helps, as well as getting the re-supply pickup point. Wow, you’ve both come so FAR up the trail. I hope you have good weather this coming section. Looks like a good celebration all around.
    I’ve been reacquainting myself with the local trails I love. Go, Gail, go!

  15. Gail:
    I so appreciate your regular updates on Porter’s progress and your related adventures and experiences. This post really gives a sense of your side of the journey. I’m about to board a flight to Bozeman to meet Rob to set out on our annual walk in the woods. Reading your posts since the spring have just increased my anticipation for getting out in the wild and off the grid. Looking forward to your next post. Big hugs to you and Porter.

    • Jean, so excited for you and Rob that you’ll be heading out on your own walk in the woods! We know you’ll have a great time, at once peaceful, fun, and fascinating on every level. We look forward to hearing about it when we’re all back in Colorado this fall. Big hugs to you both from Porter and me.

    • Marjane, wonderful to hear from you, I think of you so often out here! Porter walked out for resupply and I picked him up in Atlantic City near the Merc a couple of months ago. He had a crazy but all’s-well-that-ends-well experience coming out where an old guy with a gun was asleep drunk on a porch so Porter called across the creek for permission to cross into the guy’s back yard so he wouldn’t surprise him and get shot. We’re now in Glacier, close to finishing the CDT.

    • Kellye, I’ll never ever ever forget your and Fritz’s kindness to Porter and me during our hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. Especially you picking me up at midnight at Houston’s airport when I returned bowed but not broken. You guys are the best and we love you and think of you so often!

  16. Gail, A request has come from Alan (FROST). If you see Problem Bear again, ask him if he remembers my husband. Problem Bear and Frost hiked most of the northern portion of WA on the PCT together in 2012. Alan asked me if you would relay greetings. Remember to tell Problem Bear that Frost was the hiker carrying an ukulele. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Ina Sue, absolutely, and when I pick up Porter and Problem bear in Canada I’m sure PB will be thrilled to get these greetings from Frost! Frost might like to friend PB (David Breinke) on Facebook–he has some great photos there. Did Frost ever run into Maverick? I’m picking up him along with Porter and PB. This trail angel thing has been growing!

  17. Wow! what an interesting read this has been. You have such a variety of warm friends, Gail. (Your own support team.)I learned about a lot of new reading material from their writings. I have wondered if you have been adding muscle power with all that luggage handling. Understand about the cow parades you have to join on the back roads. Reminds me of when we lived in Bavaria on Sabbatical Leave for a year and ran into so many cow conventions. I called them “Cows of the World” and took pictures. You are having such unique experiences . Can not forget our SKYPE interview in Estes Park
    Library about them. Our Book Club leader, Sybil Barnes has recently stated that Skype is the future of Author interviews. You are a forerunner in that exciting field also. I too have wondered about the fires. So glad that you have the means of rerouting your wandering husband.. “The male must go through.” so many possible titles for your next book. Enjoy your days. Affectionately. Julianne

    • Julianne, thank you so much for your heartwarming comment! I love your “The male must go through” title, and your “Cows of the World.” I too remember what fun it was to Skype with your book club–such great questions from all of you!

  18. Gail โ€“ what an adventure

    If I ever do a hike like this โ€“ and I’m very sure I would not – I would like you to be my trail Angel


  19. Thanks for that great description of your life as a trail angel. What an adventure the three of you are having. Amber never quits smiling. Loving the photos of the gorgeous scenery.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.