22 April 2014

Trail magic

Trail Magic is defined as a random act of kindness, often from a stranger, meant to encourage and relieve thru hikers during their journey.

In the spring of 2006 I was living in Franklin, NC. Right smack in the middle of some of the greatest trails around - Bartram & Appalachian Trail being my personal favorites. I had made the transition to being more of a trail runner than road runner & I spent many fine hours training on them, as well as the less occasional hikes. Although I thought I understood a little about the thru hiker mentality, I really was not much of a backpacker & did not know anyone who had thru-hiked or even section hiked. In the hottest days of the summer I had offered encouragement, S-tabs & Gatorade to hikers who seemed to be struggling, but did not "get" the concept of trail magic.

Then on Easter we figured it out.

My daughter Lynz & I had made way too many cupcakes for our annual Easter luncheon after church so we were taking about a dozen back home with us. Since it was a gorgeous day, I decided we would go over by Standing Indian & start down the AT, handing out cupcakes as we went. Little did I know the impact it would have not only on me, but also on my 11 yr old daughter! She was no stranger to the area trails as I started bringing her with me on inspections of AT shelters when she was 5 &  had introduced her to trail maintenance workhikes the year before.

But this was different! 

We did not meet too many hikers, but everyone we met stopped & had a cupcake (or two!).But what was even better was they took the time to talk to us & shared their experiences. It was an eye opening experience for both of us & possible planted the seed for a future thru hike of our own? And try as I might, I cannot describe how much enjoyment these simple little cupcakes seemed to bring to the hikers. Maybe the sugar? Maybe just the randomness of it? Who knows, but it was good!

Thus our Easter tradition began! Sure, we missed a year here or there, once when Lynz was sick & a couple of years when we lived in Colorado, but we still manage to get on the AT most years. We try to pick different locations each year, mainly to maximize where the most hikers may be as well as their proximity to a town. I feel the impact is greater when they have been out for at least a day or two. Depending on whether Easter is early or late also affects the potential wildflowers!

Trail north from Dennis Cove - 2011


Trail south from Devil Fork Gap - 2012

Overmountain shelter - 2013

Trail south from Iron Mtn Gap - 2014

We have stayed with the cupcake theme for Easter - they are easy to make, fairly portable & require no special utensils to eat. The design is constantly evolving as well.

Once I signed up as a section maintainer for the AT it was a logical progression to start adding trail magic to my maintenance work hikes. I started taking an extra cooler loaded with cold sodas & a couple of beers to leave in the barn for thru hikers while I was on the trail working. Eventually I added local delicacies such as moon pies to the mix. In the heat of summer I like to take some popsicles on dry ice. It's pretty cool to see thru hikers passing by with bright orange, red or blue mouths !

There has been alot of discussion in recent years about the popularity of trail magic. Some hikers feel there is too much & that is has become an "expected" experience along the trail. I know I do see alot more these days, from folks who leave bags of candy at the barn (plus a trash bag for all the wrappers I will have to clean up later) to the box of apples & Easter candy that we passed on the trail today while giving out our cupcakes. I try to follow the recommendations of the ATC ( Suggestions for Trail Magic ) & Leave No trace principles as best I can & encourage others to as well. It may be for somewhat selfish reasons, but I also like to be there in person to hand out the goodies! Plus, by collecting the trash immediately, it saves cleanup time later for me or some poor trail maintainer who may have that section. 

All in all, I think most of the thru hikers I meet are appreciative & I hope to keep the special randomness alive. When it's my turn to thru hike I will be keeping an eye out for that good karma!

I will close with images of a couple of my favorite thank you notes, although truly - the smiles on peoples faces are all the thanks we will ever need!


1 comment:

  1. What an awesome way to celebrate Easter! I think I'd be willing to hike 2,500 miles to have one of those yummy looking cupcakes..hahaha! You gals do rock!