CASCADE, Md. (AP) — When Dennis Sewell offered a ride to a hiker 20 years ago, he did not expect to turn into a one-man tourism guide and international ambassador of sorts.
Sewell, 71, said he would not think of hiking the Appalachian Trail, but when he moved from Brunswick to Highfield-Cascade, his house was within sight of the 2,185-mile hiking route between Georgia and Maine. The trail passes through Pen Mar Park next to Sewell’s neighborhood, and he got curious about the hikers who appeared.
“I would see these people coming out of the woods,” he said.
He learned that hikers may take breaks to spend a night in a hotel or bed-and-breakfast and to go for supplies mailed to the Highfield-Cascade or Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, post office. They often want a ride to a store, post office or motel, and a ride back to the trail, said Ragan Mellott, Pen Mar Park attendant.
“A lot of them, when they reach this point, they’re ready for a little break, so they might want to go down to a motel,” Mellott said.
“The local people up here didn’t want to haul them because they stink,” Sewell said with a laugh.
He was not kidding about that. Most of the hikers he has met have been highly educated and many with successful careers, but they all smell bad — really bad, he said.
“Some of ’em stink so bad, you want to tell them to drive the truck, and you get in the back.”
Some people and a local B&B operator will pick up hikers occasionally, Mellott said, “but nobody on a regular basis like (Sewell) does.”
Like the Uber of the AT, Sewell may get a call at any time. Recently, his wife called when he was on his way home from his job as a delivery driver and caterer at Mountain Gate Family Restaurant in Thurmont to say a hiker needed him.
“He was laying down on the side of the road,” Sewell said.
Sewell’s name and number have gone into the hiking community’s collection of contacts, people who do the kinds of things he does.
“He’s listed in the Appalachian Trail book that they carry,” Mellott said. “He will haul them various places, up to about 50 miles.”
“The hikers call you trail angel,” Sewell said.
He does charge for his service, since he may put a lot of miles and hours into the effort. He asks for $20 to go from Cascade to Waynesboro, about a 9-mile trip.
Once he took a woman and her mother — natives of China — from the trail to a Metro station, so they could go to Washington, D.C., to visit their brother/son. Sewell said he asked them how there could be two children in the family, since China had a one-child law.
Their story, told by the daughter, was that when the mother, who already had her daughter, discovered she was pregnant for the second time, she went to Canada. The son was born there and grew up there, and the mother visited from China.
“All the people I’ve hauled are very interesting,” Sewell said.
Even when the hikers do not know English, Sewell said he manages to communicate with them. He has met people from all over the U.S., and, among the other nationalities, he recalled some from Germany and Sweden.
He marveled that one woman he picked up was 79 years old, and she is not the only senior citizen he has encountered.
“You would think it would be young people,” he said.
He may take a hiker to a store or hotel, and bring them back the next day to the spot on the trail they left. He has taken them to the Harrisburg train station, and Waynesboro Hospital, and he waits to make sure they have a room before he leaves them at a hotel.
He has ferried more people than he can recall. Hikers may get his homespun tours of the area’s Civil War sites, Fort Ritchie and parks.
Mellott said he has seen Sewell take several hikers a week during the busy season, which is April through July for northbound hikers, and August through November for the southbound ones.
Sewell never thought it would work out that he would do this for two decades.
“I get such a big kick out of it,” he said.
Information from: The Frederick (Md.) News-Post, http://www.fredericknewspost.com
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