Today we sit down with another member of our awesome hiking community. She’s one of the lucky few that get to make the trail her home all season, all the while wearing a pretty epic patch on her sleeve.
Meet Bridget Williams, trail name Giggles. She spends her days as a Ridgerunner on the Appalachian Trail, practicing and teaching how to Play. Protect. and Preserve. the public lands we love. Her trail resume includes thru hiking the AT in 2017 NOBO and the Colorado Trail in 2018 SOBO.
As the Chotchkie’s restaurant manager would say in the timeless classic movie Office Space, “We need to talk about your flair.” Wearing the Ridgerunner patch portrays a leadership role, not the authority figure that many of us may resent and avoid. Leadership is not telling others what to do, it's inspiring them through your own actions. Ridgerunners carry valuable knowledge, have credibility built through experience and time on trail, and show integrity through a set of core values that guide what they do everyday. Let’s once again gain some insight straight from the horse’s mouth.
Public Lands Coffee: Surprise! This interview begins with a challenge. In 5 words or less, define what a Ridgerunner is.
Giggles: Leave No Trace Educator OR Steward of the Appalachian Trail
PLC: What section of trail are you responsible for? Is there a portion that’s your favorite? Why?
Giggles: My main focus is Gulf Hagas, a blue blaze trail just off the AT, sometimes called the “Grand Canyon of Maine” - a bunch of waterfalls and gorges formed by glaciers. It’s a 7.5 mile hike that attracts thousands of day hikers every summer/fall. I usually see around 100 or so day hikers a day on the weekends attempting the loop. So on the weekends I sit by the West Branch of the Pleasant River, that connects the Gulf Hagas parking lot and the AT.
My favorite part in the 100 Mile Wilderness is Antlers Campsite. It’s my favorite campsite on the entire AT actually. I don’t really know why beside the fact that it’s on a lake and you’re surrounded by pine trees. Great sunrises/sunsets, prime place to catch the stars. It’s just magical.
PLC: Describe an average day for you on the job.
Giggles: I provide information to day hikers and make sure they are prepared for the hike to hopefully prevent people from getting lost/injured etc. It can be pretty entertaining because you have to ford the river to get to the other side of the trail. It’s been a pretty shallow river ford this season with the water being no higher than your knees. I also talk to all the thru-hikers passing through and if they are headed north, I make sure they have a plan for Baxter State Park and are aware of their regulations. If they are headed south I make sure they stop by the ATC Visitor Center in Monson which is a great resource for all hikers alike and to also take the Kennebec ferry. Gulf Hagas is within the 100 Mile Wilderness ,so on the weekdays I hike up and down the AT within the 100 Mile. I pick up trash, abandoned gear, count hiker numbers, disperse illegal fire rings, occasionally bury human /dog feces (yea it’s pretty gross, dig a cat hole man and go way off trail!!). I talk to a lot of thru-hikers on these stretches but I also see a lot of people who section hike the entire 100 Mile Wilderness.
I just did a stretch from Abol Bridge to the KI Road (70ish miles) this past week and saw well over 150 NOBOs, it’s busy season! I try to teach Leave No Trace by example - packing out my trash and others I find, hanging a bear bag etc. It’s important that all hikers follow Leave No Trace, so that future hikers can have the same, or even better experience out on the trail. We each have to do our part to maintain and preserve the trail.
PLC: What is the biggest misconception about your role/life on the trail?
Giggles: Well I usually have to explain to everyone what a ridge runner is and what I do (almost every time with day hikers, most thru-hikers by now know what a ridge runner is).
PLC: A lot of hikers think you have their dream job. What would you say to them?
Giggles: Yea, it pretty much is. I mean, most people go into debt and quit their jobs to be hiking on the trail everyday for five months… and I’m getting paid to do that. Yes, there are some ugly parts to the job like burying human feces like I mentioned before, picking up others trash, ENDLESSLY talking to everyone you meet on the trail (I mean that’s not so bad, but when you’ve seen and talked to well over 150 people that day it can be tiring). It’s a dream and I love being out there but it’s no “walk in the park.”
PLC: What advice would you give to someone aspiring to become a Ridgerunner? Any important skills or training they should develop/acquire?
Giggles: Mostly just have some sort of long distance hiking experience, be comfortable hiking and camping alone often, and be able to talk to people.
PLC: Are there any mistakes that you see hikers make regularly, that make you just shake your head
Giggles: Illegal fires, especially when there’s a sign posted saying “kindly no fires here.” Also people not packing out trash or leaving gear at shelters, and hikers not burying their human waste/toilet paper.
PLC: How about a POSITIVE experience that totally redeemed your faith in our species?
Giggles: I mean everyday talking to hikers. I think people getting outside generally seem to be good people. Most people go outside to enjoy nature and escape from the world… I think that’s the best kind of therapy right there. I truly believe nature is medicine.
PLC: Your love of the hiking must have led you to become a Ridgerunner, so what do you do now with your leisure time? More hiking?
Giggles: The last couple months I’ve been doing more hiking on my days off, HaHa. I’ve done a lot of hikes around Monson, Greenville area. I just hiked some in the Whites a couple weeks ago and most recently did a loop in Baxter State Park that was absolutely amazing. I usually do a lot of these trips with the other Ridgerunners in Maine. We’re all really good friends and also it’s nice to have people in all my pics. I’m a photographer so going on these trips are prime photo opportunities.
PLC: I want to be like you when I grow up. Where can I find additional information and Ridgerunner job postings?
Giggles: Maine Appalachian Trail Club or Appalachian Trail Conservancy websites
PLC: Bonus Question. A trail angel and a trail volunteer get in a fight. Who wins and why?
Giggles: Trail Volunteer. Someone said it’s really easy to give back to the trail by doing trail magic, it’s a lot harder as a trail volunteer but the trail is the whole foundation, without maintenance and volunteers there is no trail and thus no hikers and thus no trail magic.
Giggles: I encourage others who thank me for what I do to donate or volunteer for the Maine Appalachian Trail Club or their local trail organization.
PLC: SAME, SAME! Even the smallest bit helps!