This past week the Continental Divide Trail Community lost its original Trail Angel when Nita Larronde passed away. Nita was a legend on the CDT, she had been hosting hikers for as long as anyone can remember at her home in Pie Town, NM known as the Toaster House. This small home located right along the CDT in Pie Town has hosted numerous hikers, bikers, and other human powered travels over the years. Nita not only lived in this home and hosted hikers it’s also where she raised her 5 children, and even gave birth to some at the home.
The entrance to the Toaster House
The Martin Papendick Award in it's permanent home, the toaster underneath was "Allgoods'" Great Aunt and Uncle's form their wedding in 1946
After years in the small house, Nita built a larger home a few minutes away where she lived, but in true trail angle way, she kept the Toaster House as a place for hikers and bikers to use a self-service hostel of sorts. Pie Town is a tiny little town, and the Toaster House has been the only town lodging option for travelers over the years and ask any CDT Hiker about Pie Town and you are sure to get a story about their time at the Toaster House.
If you ever had the chance to meet Nita, there is no doubt you walked away smiling, and saying to yourself, “that is the nicest person I have ever met in my life”. Nita always had a big smile on her face, would give you any help she could, but mainly she just made you immediately feel like one of the family. I first had the honor of getting to know Nita back in 2015 when I was the President of ALDHA-West (American Long Distance Hiking Association-West), that was the year that Nita was recognized as Trail Angel of the year when she received the Martin Papendick Award for Trail Angel of the Year.
Nita Larronde receiving the Martin Papendick Award for Trail Angel of the year in Sept 2015, photo courtesy of ALDHA-West
The Award ceremony at that year’s gathering on Mt Hood was awesome. So many hikers came and shared their stories of Nita’s hospitality, and some of her daughters came to see her be honored for the years of help she had provided to so many strangers. It was a very special evening, and Nita was so proud of winning the award that she carried it with her everywhere she went for the next year. It was then decided by the board of ALDHA-West that the physical award should stay at the Toaster House and to this day the Bronze Boot sits atop the archway to the Toaster House greeting each visitor as they enter.
"Allgood", Nita and "Sweet Potato" standing under the gateway to the infamous Toaster House after a 39.8 mile day.
In 2016 I was thru-hiking the CDT and Nita told me that I needed to let her know when I would be in Pie Town so she could make sure she was there to see me. Once I started on the trail I gave her the date I planned to arrive and she told me she would fly home early from Hawaii just to see me, a true honor. Well, the old “best laid plans of mice and men” got the better of me, and the 2nd night out of Doc Campbells I got sick as a dog. For the next two days I had a fever, and the dreaded vomit and diarrhea combo, my mileage dropped way down, and it became clear that there was no way I would be there when I said. However, a few days of being sick on the trail subsided and they day I said I would be there I awoke 39.8 miles from Pie Town. I told my hiking partner who had been caring for me, “let’s go to Pie Town today”. He said “no way am I doing that many miles…”
By mid-day we were atop Mangus Mountain visiting the fire lookout there and I begged my partner to text our friends already in Pie Town to see if they could meet us somewhere and slack pack us the last 13 miles to town. Well, a lot of things came together and at dusk that evening I walked through the arch of the Toaster House and was greeted by Nita, handed a cold beer and was welcomed into a feast! Nita had opened the freezers that day and pulled out piles of food for my other hiking partners to make a huge meal for the 27 of us that happened to be there. She even cut some fresh zucchini flowers from her garden to be roasted and enjoyed. We sat around all night joking, telling stories and just being embraced in Nita’s love that she had for all. The next day she lent me her old Ford e-350 pickup so me and some other hikers could travel to Socorro to visit the Very Large Array (VLA), and then that evening she came and took a truckload of us out to her friend’s house for a star party. Her friend was an astronomer at the VLA and had an 8’ telescope in their backyard, it was by far the greatest zero day I have ever had.
Nita's beloved Ford F-350, one can only guess the number of hikers she has hauled around in it over the years
I was able to see Nita a few more times since that hike while traveling in the area for work or trail events. It was always a joy to be around her and catch up on life. One thing never changed though; she was still smiling, and she was still the kindest person I had ever met. If someone ever asks me what the embodiment of love is I would say look no further than Nita Larronde.
It was a very sad day this week when I heard of her passing, for I not only lost a friend that I cared about and respected, but the trail community lost one of the greatest Trail Angles ever known. My heart goes out to Nita’s family, the community of Pie Town and all of those who like me are going to miss her smiling face, warm hugs and kindness to strangers and travelers.
God speed my friend and may you now rest in peace…
Nita doing what she did best, making a hiker feel loved. Thanks to 'Greg in Wild" for this great shot form our 2016 CDT thru-hike