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Originally published Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 3:32 PM

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An Oregon "Trail Angel" helps long-distance hikers

86-year-old man has assisted more than 200 hikers this year on the Pacific Crest Trail

The (Bend) Bulletin

BEND, Ore. — For almost a month, William Wood hiked the Pacific Crest Trail with a mangled, flapping shoe. He used sewing supplies to try to keep the shoe attached to the sole, but it kept coming apart as he trekked up to 20 miles a day on his quest to hike from Mexico to Canada.

Meanwhile, Wood's hiking partner, Jamie DeGemmis, was in serious need of a new sleeping bag that would keep him warmer during the cold nights in the high mountains. At Oregon's Odell Lake, they knew they just couldn't go any farther. They needed to get to the town of Bend, Ore., to resupply, but it was about 65 miles away.

Wood and DeGemmis knew just who to call.

Since they started on the trail in April, they heard about a special volunteer who helps hikers in Oregon. This helper, one of about a dozen in the core group of Trail Angels, was renowned for his kindness and willingness to help. They made a call and sure enough, last Thursday, Lloyd Gust drove out and picked them up. He hauled them into town, took them to resupply and helped them find a bite to eat and a place to stay. The next morning, he returned them to the trail bright and early so they could continue on their way.

"It was a godsend," said DeGemmis. He says what Gust did, driving so far, was the most anyone had done for them during their trip.

From June until the first of October, Gust says he is "on call" as a Trail Angel. He dedicates most of his time during those months to the hikers, driving hundreds of miles each day in his Chevrolet Cavalier, bringing the hikers into town to supply stores or a doctor's office. The payment for all of his efforts? "The tremendous reward of these guys saying thank you."'

Gust doesn't say how much of his own money he spends on his efforts each year. He does say it's "worth every penny."

As of last Thursday, he has helped 208 hikers this year. Gust has been doing this work for about 12 years now, and truth is, there's no one else quite like him.

Brenda Murray is the office manager for the Pacific Crest Trail Association, which is based in Sacramento, Calif. She calls Gust the Trail Angel Extraordinaire. And at 86, he is the oldest of the Trail Angels. Murray calls him dedicated and humble. "Honestly, he is the sweetest man," she said. "He's an extraordinary human being."

Gust maintains a water supply for hikers at Windigo Pass. He also places signs and business cards at the PCT trailheads stretching from Windigo Pass up to Olallie Lake. "We heard of Lloyd before we even saw the signs," said Wood.

"By the time hikers get here, they've done nearly 2,000 miles," said Gust. They often need new supplies. That much walking is also hard on peoples' bodies. Gust makes many trips to the doctor with hikers. Many get giardiasis and suffer the consequences of diarrhea. Gust teases hikers, like Wood and DeGemmis, about contracting the parasite, which can be avoided by filtering water.

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"You can't just kick the cow pie away and drink the water," Gust jokes.

He encounters a few unusual situations each season. This year, Gust helped one man who had such bad shin splits, he had been trapped in his tent and couldn't move for two days. When Gust saw him, the hiker's dirty face was streaked with tears from the pain. Gust took him to the doctor and then to the airport to fly home.

In June, he got a call from a woman whose son was stuck at the top of McKenzie Pass. He was traveling with a mule, which had slipped on the lava and become cut and injured. Gust traveled up the pass with a horse trailer and rescued the pair.

"Trail Angels are a big part of the trail. We couldn't do it without them," said Wood.

Murray says Trail Angels all love the trail and know the hardships faced by the hikers doing it. She sees great kindness and giving in the community of hikers and Angels. "They put faith in my fellow man," said Murray. She believes some Angels do end up saving hikers' lives and, for the most dedicated, "their lives are centered around hiking season."

In Oregon, Gust stands out especially. Murray says the organization is in serious need of more volunteers in the state. "We'd like to have more Lloyds."

Gust loves the PCT and he knows it well. He knows the highest points, the tricky turns it takes and the trouble spots. He also extols its beauty. His favorite stretch of the trail is between Mirror Lake and Timothy Lake near Mount Hood. He recalls walking through green meadows with wildflowers up to his knees.

Gust has hiked every inch of the PCT, but it took him 45 years to do so. He finished up the last remaining miles — a close-to-home stretch between McKenzie and Santiam passes — just five years ago. He hiked many sections with his wife, Barbara, who died about five years ago. "She loved that area a lot," said Gust.

Together they traveled the world, raised three children and explored nature. They also helped the PCT hikers and adopted a stretch of the Old McKenzie Pass Highway, which Gust still maintains. He says he's been up to McKenzie Pass about 5,000 times, and from all the stories he has to tell — from cleaning up beer cans and diapers to meeting wonderful people and seeing beautiful vistas — it doesn't seem like an exaggeration.

Gust enjoys receiving thanks from hikers. "It's very rewarding to hear nice comments."

If hikers offer him donations for his efforts, he sends the money to the trail association. He also enjoys getting to meet the hikers, who come from all over the world. DeGemmis hails from Boston and Wood comes from Fresno, Calif. Gust has encountered hikers from Scandinavia, Bolivia, Canada, Cambodia and London. He doesn't meet many people from Oregon, probably because once in their home state, those hikers have friends and family to call for support.

But those far from home know while they are in Central Oregon, they have someone to help them.

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