Trail Magic and Trail Angels

new shoes

New shoes on the PCT, thanks to our friend Chris that sent Matt a new pair along the way

One thing that kept me motivated was trail magic. There was nothing more inspiring than absolute strangers helping us out along the way without any conditions or expectations of something in return.
Before I recount some of the amazing trail magic we received, let me explain how I came to truly understand the power of trail magic. About 4 years ago, when Optimist and I were out for a day hike in the Shenandoah’s along the AT, we met an AT thru-hiker. Since Optimist had already thru-hiked the AT, he was on the lookout for thru-hikers all day, so he was ecstatic when he met one. We had packed some lunch for the day, including pretzels, cheese, apples, and potato salad, and Optimist quickly offered up all of our food to the hiker, and of course the hiker graciously accepted. I was kind of disgusted that he gave away ALL of our food for the day, so I hiked on while he chatted with the thru-hiker. I just didn’t understand his fascination and love for thru-hikers, especially when it meant giving up all of my food to them. Once Optimist caught up with me, with a pep in his step for giving trail magic, I expressed my anger in him giving away all of our food for the day. He tried to explain why it was a good thing to give our food to this stranger, but I kind of tuned out and stopped listening to him and held a grudge for the rest of the day.
Fast forward to the trail, where I finally realized just how hungry and thirsty I could get after hiking for days on end, and I saw that what Optimist did years back for that AT thru-hiker was one of the best things in the world for that guy. The light bulb when on; it all clicked, and I finally understood what trail magic was, and why it’s so amazing and appreciated as a thru-hiker.
The first 700 miles were tough because of the lack of water, but it would have been much, much harder had there not been trail angels who stocked water caches during most of the driest sections. On the first day of our hike, Optimist and I started out with just two 32 ounce Gatorades and figured that these would take us to at least the first water source. We hadn’t actually read the guidebook or the data book about the first day, until we arrive at Hauser Creek, our first listed water source, at 16 miles and saw that it was bone dry. Both of us were out of water by that point, not realizing that “Seasonally dry” in the Southern California portion of the data book really means, “Don’t ever count on this water source, as it’s most likely so dried out that you wonder if there is ever really a season when it has water” so we looked to the next water source at Lake Morena, 5 miles away up a big hill, and it was already 6:15pm. I thought to myself, as I’m sure most other hikers did on that first day, “What did I get myself into.” We got up the climb, only to find a huge jug of water left for thru-hikers, so we each chugged a liter and were easily able to make it down the hill into the campground. But we thought to ourselves, who in the world would climb this hill (as it’s a hill either way going south or north) just to leave water for thru-hikers? A trail angel, that’s who.
Some of my favorite trail magic was those wonderful coolers tucked behind bushes, usually near a paved road or highway. All I craved during those hot, sweat- inducing climbs up and down the mountains was fresh fruit and pop, Sunkist pop to be exact. All along the trail we were graced with coolers of energy bars, fresh fruit, water, pop, beer (though we didn’t partake), chocolate bars…so much good stuff, all from trail angels that for some reason or another care about thru-hikers. I imagine the best-filled coolers were from hikers themselves, as they knew exactly what we were craving along the way.
The trail magic that Optimist and I received personally was really amazing. Our family and friends were wonderful in sending boxes of goodies to post offices along the way, so it felt like Christmas every time we entered a post office, because there was no telling what we’d get in the mail. It ranged from homemade trail mix from Grandma, to chocolate covered espresso beans and specialty Indian meals from our Moms, to energy bars and candy from old co-workers, all the way to trivia from Optimist’s brother and a friend. We also received letters, postcards, and even spending cash! We never felt more loved and supported than when we were walking out of the post offices, laden with 4-5 boxes and a stack of letters.
Optimist and I had a bit of legendary trail magic that doesn’t happen often. While in Southern Oregon, we stopped in at the Hyatt Lake Resort, which was about ¾ of a mile off trail, and we ate pizza and ice cream. We ended up talking to a few people about the trail while we were packing up our things and getting ready to get back on the trail, when a man walked up to us who had been sitting outside as well with his wife, daughter and her boyfriend. He asked us where we were going to stay that night, and we said, “I don’t know, somewhere on the side of the trail after we hike for a bit,” and he said that his family had two vacation cabins on Hyatt Lake, and one was empty, and would we like to stay in the empty one for the night (our jaws dropping as we hear his generous offer). Would we like to stay in a vacation cabin, on a lake, in a bed, with a hot shower and laundry?!?!?! YES! After we got over the initial shock of the offer, we happily accepted, and he drove us to the cabin while his pizza was being made. It was one of the best nights during the trail, as later they drove us up to a fire tower to watch the sunset (and see amazing views all the way to Crater Lake), they made a bonfire and we all sat outside and talked for quite some time, and then made us a huge breakfast spread of waffles with homemade jam, syrup, quiche and coffee. It was definitely trail magic of legendary status.
As if that wasn’t enough, 3 days later, we reached Crater Lake. In the data book, it says you can send mail drops to the Crater Lake Lodge, which is less than a mile off the trail, and we even called the Lodge to confirm the mailing address. We had given this address to our friends and family as well, so there was a possibility of us receiving care packages in addition to the food we had sent ourselves. The data book had also told us there were meals and groceries at the Crater Lake Lodge. We had 28 miles into Crater Lake that day, and got the miles in by 5pm to make sure stuff would still be open when we got there. Many other hikers stopped 7 miles short of Crater Lake that day at Mazama Campground, as it was rumored there was an all you can eat buffet, but we quickly passed the side trail to the campground, as we were hopeful for what was awaiting us at the Lodge.
We first arrived at the small café and souvenir shop located a few minutes away from the Lodge and thought to ourselves, “I really hope this isn’t the ‘Meals and Groceries’ mentioned in the data book,” as there were no groceries other than Snickers bars, and the meals were expensive, ready-made salads and sandwiches. We shrugged off the lack of meals and groceries and made our way to the Lodge where our packages were awaiting us, only to find that the address listed in the data book was incorrect, and a phone call by the Lodge’s manager to the Mazama Campground discovered that our packages were all at the Campground, 7 miles back…and there was no public transportation between the Lodge and the Campground. Just to pile it on more, I had sent myself new shoes in our box of food, and desperately needed them, as duct tape was holding up the soles of my hiking boots at the time. Suddenly things were looking really, really bad, and as we stood in the Lodge’s entryway, we caught a whiff of our body odor and realized that we should sit outside and contemplate what to do, rather than receive dirty looks from clean Lodge employees and even cleaner Lodge guests while we stood in the lobby.
While we were sitting outside in front of the Lodge, about 30 cyclists rode up and were lining up their bikes and getting ready to go into the Lodge. We talked with a few of them about what they were doing, and found out they were all part of a group cyclist tour of Oregon, and we told them about how we were trying to thru-hike the PCT. We had only been chatting with a few of them for just 5 minutes or so, when a couple that was part of the group, with whom we’d only exchanged a few words with, approached us and politely asked, “What would you say if we bought you two a room at the Lodge for the night?” It was another true jaw-dropping experience, as we’d already looked at the prices of the rooms (just for the fun of imagining a room for the night) and knew how expensive they were. We felt a little guilty accepting, as we knew the price of the rooms, but the pull of how tired, dirty and hungry we were was too much and we happily accepted. While the husband was checking into a room for us, I talked with the wife, and she recounted a hiking trip she did with her daughter in Spain, and how they would arrive dirty and smelly to hotels along the way and would be snuffed by the hotel employees, as if they couldn’t afford a room just based on how they appeared. So she knew exactly how badly we needed a shower and a bed, and how we felt walking into a fancy hotel lobby with our smelly packs and dirt-laden legs.
The most amazing thing about these trail angels, as it is with all trail angels we met, was that they wanted nothing in return. Their generosity was completely unconditional, as they just wanted us to enjoy ourselves at the Lodge and indulge in everyday comforts such as a lush bed and a hot shower. This trail magic was truly legendary on the trail. What’s even better was that since we were hotel guests, the employee shuttle that went from the Mazama Campground to the Lodge delivered our five (!!!) packages right to our room. It was like Christmas and Birthdays all rolled into one.
I really could write a book about all the trail magic we received, as we felt like 99% of the people we met out there on the trail were trail angels, whether they gave us something so simple as a good conversation and a warm campfire for the evening, or even a whole block of parmesan cheese, as we received from a troop of boy scouts on their way off the trail. The list goes on and on. So thank you to everyone who helped us out before, during and after the trail. I wouldn’t know where to begin to list every trail angel, and I wouldn’t want to try for fear of forgetting someone. You know who you are, because if you met Optimist and I, you most likely gave us trail magic in some shape or form. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I just hope that we are able to pass on the trail angelness to others that we meet in the future.

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