For Cassie and Jordan Timpy, their trek along the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail had its challenges from the start. Beginning in Maine, they faced the trail's toughest mountains, endured its longest unpopulated stretch and had to sit out two weeks after Cassie developed a painful case of tendonitis in her foot.
Appalachian Trail through-hikers Jordan (r) and Cassie Trimpy join "trail angel" Lynda Hart and granddaughters
But then they stepped out of the tunnel of green in West Hartford and found a welcome sight: the two-story house and long porch where Lynda and Randy Hart and their grandchildren greet hundreds of hikers each year with what's known on the AT as "trail magic."
"The trail kind of works like a game of telephone," Jordan told me Friday morning as he and his wife finished a cold drink and prepared to resume their southward trek. "People tell you, 'Hey, when you get in West Hartford, there is a trail angel."
The Hart's place is hard to miss: There's a huge AT symbol affixed to an outbuilding and tiny faces calling out cheerful hellos. A West Hartford native, Lynda has lived next to the town library since 1977. She and her husband have been welcoming hikers with bagels, cold drinks, a dry porch and a porta-potty for as long as she can remember.
The only year they couldn't do it was after Tropical Storm Irene destroyed their home in August 2011. "We had one year when we couldn't do trail magic," she said. "It was hard to see them walk by."
Once the house was rebuilt, the magic resumed. The Timpys, photographers and videographers who travel the world documenting the work of non-profit and faith-based organizations, said told Lynda they were grateful.
"Coming up here and coming on your porch, it's a real morale booster, a real pick-me-up," said Jordan, whose trail name — "Canon" — reflects the professional camera he generally has slung around his neck.
Cassie's trail name is Goldilocks, for obvious reasons. She sat in a chair while Lynda's 3-year-old granddaughter, Alice, offered some helping in trying her bootlaces — followed by a vigorous high five.
"We've made some good friends from countries we didn't even know existed," Lynda said. "If we're cooking dinner, a lot of times we'll plan for a dozen."
"If you can do something nice once a day for someone," she added, "it's a good thing."