How to South African-ize Trail Magic – General

Trail magic is any gift received by hikers on the trail. It can range from ice at a trail head at time of a heat wave, water provided on a section of trail where water is scarce, cold drinks left in a cooler box on the trail, full on eat-as-much-as-you-like feasts provided, special favours like being fetched from the trail and taken to where the hiker needs to get to for whatever reason (like medical care needed, an outfitter needed, etc).

Trail magic is offfered by trail angels. Trail angels can operate as a group (church group, hiking club, family, group of friends) or individuals (often these individuals have hiked the trail themselves). Trail angels can spread their magic once or twice or a few times per year (like setting up a feeding station per occasion) or regularly (putting out water on the waterless stretch on a daily basis). Some trail angels are constantly focussed on being available to help hikers in need of assistance. They either meet hikers who they then continue to support where they can (as Iceman has done for us and is doing for a few other hikers too), or have their phone numbers listed at trail heads or outfitters stating that they are happy to help hikers with whatever is needed while the hikers are in that area.

All of these people, however they operate, have something in common. They are net givers, caring, and mostly have some affinity for (i had to google whether to use “with” or “for” šŸ˜€) the trail.

Having been on the receiving end of abundant trail magic, I have spent a lot of time (while hiking) wondering how to pay it forward when I get back to South Africa.

The key is that there is a specific group of recipients (the hikers) with needs (hunger, thirst, stranded, sick) and that the magic is a gift, not an entitlement. You cannot rely on it (not carrying enough food thinking you will get a meal from trail magic, not carrying enough water thinking somebody will provide) but when you get it it lifts your spirit. It makes you stronger for the day not only because you are fed/hydrated better than you would have been, but you know that somebody out there care about you and your indulgent mission.

Back to South Africa. There is so much need. Homeless people, hungry people, lonely people. Yes there are charities giving formal support. But can we create a format of trail magic which wouldnt necessarily change the lives of everybody, but which can occasionally, for that day, lift the spirit of a few people?

Whenever I start thinking of options I immediately think of all the reasons it wont work. Trail angels dont do that, they dont pick you because you are worthy/deserving, they pick you because you have a need. And then they joyfully help you without conditions. The church groups don’t say you are only welcome if you are religious. Uhm…I guess the hiking club only welcome you if you hike šŸ˜€.

I often think – when it’s raining and I’m soaked, or when I’m hungry, or when it was still cold and I was freezing – how I have to endure these things because I CHOSE to come on this journey, but how many people in the world and specifically in South Africa, have to cope with hunger and no protection against weather elements because that is what life is like for them. I would like to figure out a form of trail magic to lighten up the day of some of these people occasionally.

It’s hard to hike well when you are hungry. It’s probably as hard to learn if you are starving. Maybe a deserving recipient will be a school where children from poor households are schooled. I realise taking enough sandwiches to feed even one class for one day won’t change their position on all the other days.

Then again, trail magic from one angel on one day doesn’t get the hiker to Mt Kathadin in Maine. But it does make that day a better day for the hiker. And as trail magic became a phenomenon around the trail with many participants, that uplifted spirit on one day becomes an uplifted spirit on 3, 5, 8 days a month. And over the time, in combination, it does help the hiker to Mt K.

So maybe one person feeding one class of poor kids at a school one day a month/term/year will lead to another person doing the same, and another….and maybe in the end it can contribute to a better outcome for the kids.

I would love to hear any other ideas/suggestions you may have on the topic. I realise it’s harder for you as you read about trail magic but haven’t experienced it. But I have spoken about it so often a you should by now have a sense of it?


5 thoughts on “How to South African-ize Trail Magic – General

  1. It’s difficult to get past the “why it won’t work” … Sheer scale for one reason. The trail has a limited set of hikers. A very very small number may feel entitlement. But even if they did, because they’re hiking, they move on so the expectation doesn’t remain in one location. The biggest challenge in SA (or anywhere with a need) would be the management of expectations, of entitlement… Not necessarily of the people needing it most, but of the chancers catching on and wanting to abuse it, then start dema it…

    I agree that if a way can be found, just a small spark is needed to have a rippling effect…

    Sorry, no ideas yet… But great post xx

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  2. The “spirit” of paying it forward is a combination of anonymity and surprise (lack of expectation) and “smallness” of gesture – in the good sense. Not trying to save the world, but to uplift one person in one way on that day – and not giving a hoot whether appreciated or expected or whatever’ed. And your trail magic completely personifies that. There are so many ways! The western world had their “leave a book with a note why love it on a park bench” scenario that lives on; SA had its “leave a sarmie on Wednesdays on your wheelie bin for the guys that dig thru for a meal” scenario that lives on. I’m sure other shelters have same but out my side of the world can buy vouchers at R20 per ticket that can hand out to homeless that gets them a meal, shower and bed for a night at our local shelter. When I’ve had one on hand but been in Sandton guess what the response was? – “God bless you lady, I’ll pay it forward to my mates wife that side”

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    1. ….and if other shelters DONT have such a system in place, putting one in place for them and marketing it would be a wonderful thing šŸ™‚

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  3. The first time I read about the trail angels, my first thought were Caregivers. Caring for an elderly, or the sick, whether it be 24/7 or only specific days, is challenging. It is the most interesting job but as challenging as any person can tell working with people. Family and friends often express their gratitude to a Caregiver for what they are doing. Nevertheless, I stretched my mind in how to actually express gratitude in a more ‘tangible’ way. ‘Time off’ is a rare commodity for a Caregiver. Off times means running errands to stock up on personal things, etc. Hence ‘time off’ does not necessarily mean ‘off’ in a relaxing way. Making ‘time off’ worth their while, would be standing in for a Caregiver for an hour or two but lots to consider before it can actually happen. (Circumstances, etc) Another ‘trail treat’ for example could be a gift voucher of some sort, i.e. manicure/pedicure, massage, etc. A heartfelt ‘thank you’ goes a long way, but showing it in a ‘tangible way’ gives a feeling of ‘its all worth it’. Suppose a place to start for instance, would be at Retirement Homes, yet not forgetting the ones you pass by in a shopping mall pushing an elderly in a wheelchair, assisting an elderly in the street or at a restaurant, etc. Although one might not know the person by name, a small gift goes a long way as Ria confirmed. Caregiving is letting go of ‘self’ and trail angels is a reminder that says ‘Thank you for passing this way. We appreciate you’.

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