Trail magic is a term used in hiking to describe unexpected moments of delight from the consideration of strangers. It is the embodiment of the “Practice random acts of kindness” bumper stickers that were popular a few years back. The strangers who deliver the trail magic are called, with good reason, Angels.
Across the two thousand plus miles of the Applachian Trail, magic happens constantly. It ranges from the simple to the extravagant to the life saving. I was fortunate to experience many moments of trail magic. After days and weeks subsisting on tuna, ramen noodles and power bars, I can tell you that happening upon a box of peanut butter cheese crackers in the middle of the forest is sublime. On a hot July day in upstate New York I came upon a cooler of beer. The angel had written in sharpie on the lid, “Hikers, you’re doing great. Keep going.” That lukewarm PBR was the best beer I’ve ever had. This past hot dry summer, the primary water source that kept many hikers going through Pennsylvania were the gallon jugs that angels put on the trail daily.
One day I passed a sign written on a paper plate that said “Trail Magic ahead”. A short while later I passed another paper plate sign that said “This is your lucky day.” A third sign a few hundred yards down the trail said “Seriously”. With this build up, I was hoping for water and maybe a soda or chocolate bar. Instead, I came upon a group of people with coolers and a fire going. They took my pack, offered me a seat and handed me a cup of gatorade that they never let get empty. I then dined on chili dogs with diced onions and grated cheese. This spot on the trail being miles from the nearest road, it was quite some effort to haul all that stuff in. When I asked them why they had done so, the response was it was their way of giving back to the trail and angels that had given so much to them. Eventually, they sent me on my way with granola bars, full water bottles and words of encouragement.
A few years ago, when I still had a job and money, I started a very personal holiday tradition. In the midst of my Christmas shopping I would go to Savers or a Goodwill store. I would get in the checkout line, give the cashier a hundred dollars and ask that it be used to pay for everyone’s purchases behind me until it ran out. I share this not to say I’m a great guy because the act was entirely selfish. The joy I received was my present to myself.
So, while we endure Black Friday, cyber Monday and the building pressure of commercialism, remember the reason for the season. Find a moment to give your own trail magic. Be an angel.