19 comments on “Dear Trail Angels,

  1. Amen brother!
    Living near the AT and hiking it often I see and remove similar stuff. I love seeing trail magic but encountering trash far outweighs it.

    • The first time I heard of someone removing trail magic, I was pretty annoyed (I was a through-hiker at the time), but I’ve definitely changed my mind about that. I’m more annoyed at the trash that accumulates. Besides, trail magic is way more special when there’s someone with it– you get good conversation, someone to thank, and it feels more personable.

  2. Great message, you have just summed up into words what I have been feeling ever since my first thru-hike in 1996. LNT goes for everyone from thru-hiker to trail angle-thanks for writing this.

    • LNT is definitely the casualty in rampant trail magic. I’m starting to think there should be another name for it, because it’s much less magical than just messy.

  3. Disagree. Unattended coolers, maintained regularly, can be fine. Hike your own hike.

    • “Hike your own hike” can be used to justify a lot of things that you do while hiking, but not leaving trash on the trail, which is what you are doing by leaving any food stash. “Regularly maintained” still means you’re leaving it alone for periods of time that are longer than when you are there in person. How long does it take for trash to become an eyesore? Or for unattended food to attract unwanted visitors?

      By the logic that coming back regularly is fine, I could take a crap in the middle of the trail and say “I’ll come back and clean it up tomorrow. Hike your own hike.” It’s the same mentality of people who leave orange peels, banana peels, apple cores, or piles of peanut shells on the trail. Yeah, those rot eventually, but they’re still litter– they’re ugly, foul, and attract animals that shouldn’t be fed by the laziness and carelessness of a single person.

      Leaving a cooler or food stash is lazy and uncreative. Lazy because you’re not willing to spend a solid chunk of time actually meeting the hikers who will supposedly benefit from it, uncreative because there are plenty of other things that would make hikers happy that don’t involve leaving a stash of food on the side of the trail, but you assume that that’s the most important. It’s not.

  4. Hike your own hike, Mr. Guthook. I will continue to respectfully disagree with your position, without resorting to name-calling, false assumptions or “straw-man” arguments. You are still welcome to enjoy a soda pop from my cooler.

    • Hike your own hike, Dave. But remember that your actions don’t exist in a vacuum. Every single person who leaves an unmaintained stash of food, soda, or beer got the idea from someone else– either from seeing one like yours, or hearing about trail magic from hikers. Seeing it or hearing about it from others only carries the message that leaving food unattended for hikers is accepted practice. The part of the message that says “and I come back every day to take out the trash and make sure the area is clean” doesn’t accompany the idea of leaving the stash. If you don’t believe me, read a random selection of journals on trailjournals.com. Trail magic is mentioned frequently. Cleanliness of the site around the trail magic, almost never.

      The original meaning of “trail magic”, by the way, had nothing to do with free food. It was about happy coincidences and people helping strangers. As I’ve said, there are many things that are more helpful than free food. If you want to do something that has a lasting and meaningful effect to hikers, trail maintenance or volunteering for your local trail maintaining club is the way to go. The trail wouldn’t be here without that kind of work.

    • Super Dave,

      We’ve never met, but I feel we have. Several years ago I thoroughly enjoyed your trail magic in Virginia at the end of a long, steep climb. A cold soda and a Snickers bar were just what I needed. It was obvious from your set-up, including the single-use camera, that you maintained your cooler on a daily basis (there was still ice in the cooler). When done right–as you have done it–trail magic need not violate the principles of LNT. Keep up the Magic, Super Dave.

      Bill Sheehy (Merlotrin PM)

    • I agree that a well maintained stash is NOT litter. I’ve enjoyed a few over the years and appreciated not only the COLD drink but the thought and effort that went into maintaining such trail magic. While Guthook has a valid point about some poorly or never maintained hiker boxes, I find it disrespectful to use such a broad brush express his complaint.

  5. Thanks, Bill. You’ve got my spot pegged all right, about 3 days north of Pearisburg. I recognize that not all of us agree on this issue, but I feel there’s room enough for all of us on the trail.

  6. Great entry, Guthook. We hikers love beer in the stream and we do pack out the cans. Paddy-o is the to mate trail angel. He’s right there for you.

  7. I can see both sides of this issue. Super Dave thank you for your Trail Magic of three coolers in ’03. It was clean and well maintained with no trash on the ground. Thank You!
    Guthook, I think you’ve forgot to mention one thing about Trail Magic. Where is the personal responsibility of the thru hiker ( or any hiker for this matter) to clean up after themselves? Just because you didn’t pack it in doesn’t mean you don’t pack it out. I hate litter and trash in general and feel a guilty twinge if I pass trash on the trail. I will stop and pack out other people’s crap so the next hiker doesn’t see it. I’ve turned my pack liner into a giant trash bag several times cleaning out fire pits at shelters and hauling it out. This happened again two weeks ago at Groundhog Shelter in TN. We debated If I left the trash bag at shelter would the maintainer of that trail section get it. I argued that yes probably but in the mean time it would fill up with trash because it was there. If you see litter and don’t pick it up then you’re just as lazy as the person who left it because you justify yourself by saying that’s not my trash or problem. It is.
    In the end everyone should be responsible for maintaining the trail and trash.
    Mello Yello ’03

    • Tim Black, your comment was RIGHT ON ! Thru=-Hikers that leave their trash behind are just plain Litter Bugs. I do agree with the idea that food left unattended might not be the best idea and the Trail Angels that do so need to be sure bears, birds, and rodents cannot get into the goodies. Like you Tim Black I will bend over and pick up a scrap of wrapper off the trail although, on the PCT, I have noticed I’m not picking up very much litter in the last few years.
      ’til later, Gandalf

  8. We do trail magic every year and leave with 2-3 very large garbage bags. We NEVER leave food or drink on the trail unattended. To do si is just downright inexcusable. geek

    • We do trail magic, we bring our grill and cook hot dogs right on a service road that the AT crosses. We have all the sides, condiments and ice cold drinks. We stay and talk with the hikers, listen to their stories and give info on the upcoming towns and hiking facilities. When all the food is gone we pack up all the trash including the stuff the hikers wanted to get rid of. We make sure the area is cleaned. When we run into our hikers coming into town we are rewarded when they recognize us and flower us with gratitude.

  9. Pingback: More Thoughts on Trail Magic | Guthook Hikes!

Comments are closed.