Wiffer’s Wayside is really just a condo. But for hikers trekking across North America on the Continental Divide Trail, it’s truly a luxury hotel.
Sharon Henschen of Sidney, Ohio, is well-known to the hiking community as “Wiffer,” a trail name she was given because of her keen sense of smell. She makes her vacation condo – two miles north of Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort – a home away from home for hikers in need of rest.
Henschen is one of many trail angels who exist along the Continental Divide Trail.
Being a “trail angel,” a title bestowed by her son, Jason, after he planned his 3,100-mile hike from Mexico to Canada, has proved to be a perfect fit for Henschen, who is in her fourth year of offering up motherly love to those in need.
In June alone, Henschen housed 21 through-hikers, anywhere from one to three nights, as they rest and take advantage of the hospitality she offers.
Hikers are about 800 miles into the trail when Henschen greets them at Stony Pass, a half hour’s drive from Silverton, in her bright orange Jeep.
Being a part of the hiking community is a role Henschen happily accepts. Meeting new people and knowing she has been one stop in their journey to Canada, accompanied with all the great trail stories she hears, keeps her motivated. She finds that no two hikers are alike.
“There is no real profile to the hikers that I have had because I have had them from age 20 to age 68,” she said. “I’ve had them from every occupation under the sun, but they all love hiking. There is a passion with challenging themselves by being out there in the elements and having to think everything through.”
The four years of doing this has given her some insight into what a hiker might want.
“The first thing I ask when we walk in the door is what they want first: a shower or a beer,” she said.
Henschen supplies hikers with a change of clothes, a comfortable bed, a laundry room and, of course, a multi-course, high-calorie meal.
Henschen can host up to five comfortably, but that’s not a rigid limit. This season, nine hikers stayed one night and lined their bodies and packs up wall-to-wall.
“They were so helpful and so clean that by the time I got down from bed, they had put the sofa bed away and were entertaining themselves with stories from the trail,” she said.
Jelly Bean, who always carries jelly beans in her mesh pockets, was a through-hiker who stayed with Henschen for two nights. She found out about Henschen from Jason Henschen when she was hiking the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail. Other than word of mouth, Henschen can be found in Yogi’s Continental Divide Trail Handbook, and she also leaves her card in Pie Town, N.M., a common stop for Divide Trail hikers.
Another duty of Henschen’s is keeping a fully stocked “trail magic bucket” at Stony Pass. Trail magic buckets are left throughout the trail and contain different goodies; Henschen keeps hers full of chocolate, a trail log and her contact information.
Jelly Bean, interviewed at Wiffer’s Wayside last month, said Henschen stands out among trail angels. Her fridge is stocked full of ice cream and “growlers” from local Durango breweries; hikers couldn’t be happier.
Henschen does everything possible to keep guests comfortable, and she lets them call the shots during their visit. Travelers decide what to eat, where to go and how long they want to stay.
“It’s like staying at my mom’s house, I just keep getting treats,” said Jelly Bean, who will be a grandmother this year. (She did not reveal her true name, preferring to stick with her trail name during her trek.)
Henschen keeps two hiker boxes in her living room where travelers can drop off food they no longer need, books for others to read and leftover fuel that weighs down packs.
Keeping on schedule is of utmost importance in through-hikers’ minds. There is a race against time to hit Glacier National Park before cold and snow blow in, and budgeting and planning ahead can never be taken too seriously. With the trip taking an average of four to five months to complete and costing at least $3,500, straying from a plan is not a good idea, Jelly Bean said.
A haven such as Wiffer’s Wayside helps relieve some financial burdens when on the trail. Henschen asks for nothing in return. She applauds hikers for helping with chores and being grateful.
Henschen finds that the biggest problem she has is actually getting the hikers to head back to the trail. The hikers get so refreshed and are so comfortable that they give Henschen a big hug and have a hard time saying goodbye, she said.
Henschen has headed back to Ohio this summer. She is traveling to Israel next June, and plans to take summer 2014 off as trail angel.
No doubt, Continental Divide Trail through-hikers are hoping she returns in 2015.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Emily Griffin, a summer intern at The Durango Herald, is a Fort Lewis College student.