Paying Your Appalachian Trail Shuttle Driver
A radio station runs continuous ads for a local prison looking for new guards. They make the job sound simply marvelous, but I wonder — if it’s such a great job, why do you need to advertise? The pay is about $30,000 a year, roughly the same as unskilled kids want to flip burgers at $15 an hour. Naturally, that all made me think about how much Appalachian Trail shuttle drivers make.
In 2016, the Infernal Revenue Service calculated that it cost about 54 cents per mile to operate a vehicle — after you pay more money to buy it — “based on an annual study of the fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile.”
Ask the average hiker how much they should pay an Appalachian Trail shuttle driver and you’ll get a variety of answers.
- Nothing, of course! I am on the adventure of a lifetime and I’m on a strict budget!
- I think it’s fair to help pay for their gas, and maybe an extra quarter to vacuum my crud from their vehicle after I slather it with mud, ticks, stink and dirt.
- Up to $20, no matter how far they drive me — and my dog. And friends.
- It’s all negotiable, based on how much cash I have and how many beers and pizza I need.
- At least $15 an hour for their labor, at least 54 cents per mile for the trip, and a nice tip.
The shuttle driver whom (oh, yeah — who knows grammer, baby) I know best is Ron Brown, loosely based in Ellijay, Georgia. Ron actually lives on the gravel roads near AT trailheads in Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and farther north, when he is needed.
Depending on the weather, Ron says he drives between 80,000 and 100,000 miles a year. The IRS figures it costs about $50,000 a year to pay Ron’s cost of maintaining his Toyota. Ron wears clothes, eats food regularly, lives indoors and has other expenses. Ron does not seem to be on the highway to wealth and fortune. As with other shuttle drivers, his is a labor of love.
If you are fortunate enough to get a dedicated Trail Angel, like Ron, they’ll make sure you’re prepared to hit the Trail. They’ll take your picture and ask you to let them know how your hike goes. They’ll probably even give you a quick hug (if you ask) before you start.
Please Note: Do not expect Appalachian Trail shuttle drivers to hug you once your hike begins. They are wonderful people, but they haven’t lost their sense of smell. Thank you.
Does that mean you should cheerfully fork over any amount a shuttle driver asks you to pay? No. This is America! You are free to comparison shop, look for a better deal or learn to levitate yourself (and your pack) from one place to another and not pay a dime to shuttle drivers.
Appalachian Trail shuttle drivers provide a valuable service getting you to the Trail, around closures and off the Trail — where and when you need them. They “earn their salt” and their gas money and wages. In my humble opinion.