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” 😀) 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 😀.
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?