How This Retiree Became a ‘Trail Angel’ on the Pacific Crest Trail

Retiree Steve “Hamburger Helper” Scarano shares how he came to serve as a “trail angel,” assisting and supporting thru hikers along the Pacific Crest Trail.


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I am Steve Scarano, known on the trail as “Hamburger Helper,” and we are under the bridge of Highway 78, where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses that road. 

A trail angel is a person who helps hikers. And typically, the trail angels will either appear at a prearranged place to provide encouragement, food, drink or medical help, or maybe just appear serendipitously and provide what’s known as “trail magic.” 

But there are trail angels who dedicate three or four months of their lives every year in bringing dozens of trail angels into their home. They provide them lodging, food, transportation to and from bus stations, railroad depots, airports. So we’re pretty humble about what we provide, but we enjoy it greatly. And we know the hikers like meeting us. 

What inspired me to be a trail angel was in 2007, some real dear friends of mine, we knew about when they were going to be going by Eagle Rock up by Warner Springs. And so my wife and I hiked to intercept them, and we had a big backpack full of McDonald’s hamburgers and French fries. 

And we met them under an elderberry tree and shared hamburgers and French fries with them and some of the people they were hiking with. And it just felt so good to be of service to people doing an immense thing that I went back the next year and the next year. And so this is, I think, the 12th or 13th year that I’ve been doing this. 

One of the earlier memorable experiences I’ve had as a trail angel was Sundance here and I were just a few minutes out of Warner Springs—south of Warner Springs. And there was a young lady sitting on a side of the trail. She had her shoes and socks off, and she just had this expectant look on her face. And I just had it in me to ask her how she’s doing. 

As soon as I said that, she started crying. And it turned out that she was just having some kind of emotional and sort of physical meltdown. She was an experienced thru hiker of the Appalachian Trail, so those feelings were probably not new to her. But all she really needed was some emotional first aid, an arm around her shoulder as we sat there side by side on a trail, and some drink that we had for her and some food we had for her. And then put some moleskin on her achy feet, and she was off and running to Warner Springs. 

Another memorable time was there was a younger guy. I imagine he was 20, 21. And he was sitting there on the ground with us at Eagle Rock. And we pointed out that white golf ball thing on Palomar Mountain and told him it was the Palomar Observatory. 

And this kid just got real teary, and he couldn’t believe he was so close to that because, he told us, when he was five or six, his grandpa had taken him there. And he had never been back. And he remembered that experience of being with Grandpa on Palomar Mountain at the observatory, and he just thought it was so thrilling to be so close to it now. 

Serving as a trail angel, I think, has fortified my faith. When I was 18, I met a guy in Idaho at a Red Cross aquatic school I was at. And he said this, and I always remembered it. “Service,” he said, “is the rent you pay for the space you occupy.” 

My faith has been strengthened by my life as a trail angel. I would say, first of all, in Hebrews, as I understand it, we should be ready to entertain strangers because they could be angels. Well, just think of it. Really, who’s the angel? 

I mean, I’m getting a big kick out of meeting these funny people that hike in and purport that they’re going to walk to Canada or somewhere in between. So I mean, really, am I the angel or are they? You know, I mean, I go away fortified because of having met them. 

If I don’t keep my intention on these hikers, you know—like, I’m here to serve you. It’s like I said in the sign here, it’s all about them. I think that’s noble. 

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