27 comments on “More Thoughts on Trail Magic

  1. Kindness is kindness whether its planned or spontaneous. Does one have greater value than the other?, perhaps, but only by the person receiving the act of kindness.

    Thank you to all who offer acts of kindness.

    • Ever heard the phrase “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”? 😉

      But more seriously, the point is not that people should not be kind to others, but that they should think beyond their immediate surroundings. No action exists in a vacuum, and your act of kindness can have unintended and far-reaching consequences.

      Think of the hikers who hear of trail magic further up the trail, and plan their resupply in town knowing that they’ll have a free burger at the next Forest Service road. They get to that road and find that they just missed the feed, then have too little food to make it to their next resupply. You would rightly argue that the hiker is to blame, but to say that the culture of excessive and reliable trail magic is blame-free is very disingenuous.

      More controversial recently has been the similar issue of water caches on the PCT and CDT. If a hiker plans on stocked water caches (I did, by the way), and then gets careless in assuming there will be enough water when they need it and then finds that a critical cache is empty, you would, again, rightly say the hiker is to blame. But would the hiker have gotten careless about his water if there hadn’t been so many well-stocked caches before?

      This is an issue that doesn’t have a final resolution. It’s just a conversation that I think people should have rather than assuming one good thing necessarily leads only to other good things.

  2. I certainly did not see 7 hiker feeds in 2010 when we hiked. I think we passed two, Neel Gap and another Gap before NOC. There were smaller magics but only two large feeds in those sections.

    • It was certainly an issue of timing, but they’re out there. I just looked through my journal again to verify the number– Cooper Gap, Woody Gap, Neels Gap, Unicoi Gap, Indian Grave Gap, Tray Gap, and Dick’s Creek Gap. Only four of those were full-blown buffets, and the others were smaller (or in the case of Indian Grave Gap, part of the same group that was at Tray Gap).

  3. The more the Merrier and if you hike 40 miles today there is no wonder why you’re seeing so many

  4. I guess everyone has the openertunity to pass a hiker feed without partaking. It’s a personal choice, some love hiker feeds some don’t. Don’t participate if you don’t like them, but don’t discourage other people from providing it either. That would be forcing your choice on others. The big difference between PCT water caches (never saw any that I didn’t leave myself or aranged someone esle to do for me on the CDT) and hiker feeds is that most water caches are stated on the water reports and even most guide books now. That’s different than word of mouth hoping and dreaming. I’ve never seen anyone plan trail magic into their resupply.

    • Hey Balls! Glad to see you here.

      I never said people should definitely not provide trail magic– just that this is something they should think about if they plan on it. I partake in hiker feeds whenever I see them on the trail, and I’ve only had a few negative experiences related to them. But I have definitely seen hikers work them into their resupply strategies (not to the extent that water caches are used on the PCT, but it happens).

      And just to play the devil’s advocate a little more– putting free food in front of a hiker and saying “your choice” is kind of like putting whiskey in front of an alcoholic and saying “your choice”. We are horrible food addicts, after all.

      • Yes Gus hook I agree and gigle at the whiskey analogy. We are food addicts. Sorry that whole statement about others hating on hiker feeds wasn’t really directed at you. I’ve seen a lot of WB discussions about distroying water caches and trail magic. Never understood why it angered someone that much. Magic of all degrees is a proud AT and PCT traditother sit is what it is. I believe if one leaves a cooler out they should monitor it closely or it turns into a trash/animal/litter problem. Nothing crushes a food addicts spirits quite like opening up a cooler full of month old trash, ha ha.

        • Hehe. Oh, Whiteblaze is a whole other topic– I think Obi Wan described it best when he said “you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy”. He was talking about WB, right? Seriously, though, I stay away from there unless someone starts a thread about my apps. Any other discussion always seems to devolve real fast.

          I am much more definitive in my stance on unattended coolers, but there are few cases where I would go ahead and take them away. Water caches being destroyed? No way. That’s not the way to solve a problem.

      • Opps! sorry about the auto Spell checker!
        “Yes Gut Hook I agree and gigle at the whiskey analogy.”

  5. Change is going to happen. The AT, PCT, CDT are all changing. It is important to look at how this change is impacting the trail and the trail experience. To blindly say the more magic the better without looking at the impact is simply ignoring the issue. Trail Magic can have impacts to the trail and trail experience. One can’t simply close his/her eyes when passing by Trail Magic at a road crossing.

    One of the longest stretches without resupply on the PCT is from Cascade Locks to White Pass, about 150 miles. After that long hike we were greeted with Trail Magic at White Pass. A couple had set up a table to make sandwiches for hikers. The hiker selected the type of bread, type of meat, type of vegetables, type of chips, type of beer or drink. It was a magical experience. They were so nice and so giving. The couple was waiting for their son who was just a day behind us and wanted to give to the other hikers that shared a similar journey as their son. After eating and sharing our experiences and exchanging hugs with the couple we moved on to the next feed just a hundred yards away. The new feed sponsors were upset. They complained that the other couple was drawing hikers away. Chili was served from a large number ten can, no seasoning, no cheese, just simply chili from a can. We talked and ate some chili not because we were hungry but because we wanted to be polite. As we left the hosts complained of money so we left a tip. We left the trail magic feeling a little sick.

    Things are changing on the trail to ignore the change is your choice but I see it.

  6. What!!! No cheese in the chilli! I see now why you’re so upset! Note to all potential Trail Angels… Cheese belongs in everything! There, fixed. J/K
    I guess it’s like the people in the south that insist on hikers carrying 3lb bibles after receiving magic. It’s the hikers responsibility to have the courage to say “no thank you” instead of insincerely accepting literature only to discard along the trail or a shelter later down the trail.

    • Some people look at Mount Rushmore and are pleased with the what they see. Others feel a sense of sadness for the impact made by man on nature.

      I believe Trail Magic is turning into that Mount Rushmore. Something that in one way is beautiful but in another way is an example of how humans impact nature. Where is that appropriate balance? Is it fair for others to impact the hiking experience of another? And if so to what degree is appropriate? I think it has gone too far. But others like Mt. Rushmore and that is their choice.

  7. In many ways I often wish I would have been around (well, to have been old enough) to hike these trails back in the 70’s when they were… well, not what they are today. All the water caches, all the food caches… all the neatly manicured trails…

    • I feel that way, too. At the same time, I have to push those thoughts away because the only really productive way of looking at things is to be grateful for what I do have, which is a wonderful trail with (usually) great people on it. Someday, I would like to do some serious off-trail backpacking far, far away from the developed trails. I think that’s the only way to really get back to a wilderness feeling while backpacking.

      • Guthook… I recommend hiking in Alaska for a true wilderness experience. You will not find trails, caches, trail magic in Denali National Park. There is nothing like seeing grizzlies to get your adrenaline running. Much more exciting than seeing trail magic on a road crossing.

    • In the late 90’s the PCT didn’t have a single water cache. Things have changed fast, now the PCT probably has 30-50 water caches. I don’t see the growth slowing down.

  8. I thru-hiked in the 70’s, 90’s, 00’s and 10’s. Over the 40 years, lots of changes have occurred. Won’t say it’s better. Won’t say it’s worse. It is different. I won’t lambaste Trail Angles. They are giving of themselves and their resources and should be respected. On the other hand, I wouldn’t encourage them either.

    Of the assistance provided to thru-hikers, water caches have often been the most contentious. However, the growing number of hikers place significant demand on local water sources where supplies are limited. I do support the use of caches where possible and easy to maintain. I’d much rather the local water sources be available to wildlife than a crop of sweaty hikers.

    We can bemoan the changing nature of the long distance hiking experience. However, there is a freedom in the experience and it is not our job to tell others how they are or are not suppose to experience it. Doing so simply deprives them of coming to terms with the trail on their own.

    Fortunately there are a number of adventurous souls among us paving the way forward into new and uncharted terrain. So there’s plenty of opportunity to seek and find solace far from the maddening crowds.

    • Ron, I like your attitude– “On the other hand, I wouldn’t encourage them either.” I think that’s a good way to look at it. I also like to remind folks that there are a lot of other things they can do besides feed hikers. The biggest trail angels aren’t the ones who hand out burgers, they’re the ones who do the thankless and anonymous work of maintaining the trail.

      Water caches… yeah, that’s an interesting issue, too. Contrary to my view of food caches, I actually think the very large and well-established water caches are more acceptable than the random, occasional jugs of water you find from time to time. Having one large cache of water makes for reliable planning for hikers, and it consolidates the visual impact in one place.

  9. My mom, who is in her 70s, is a trail angel on the PCT (although not this year.) She never hiked the trail herself. She got interested when I told her I thought I could see a large landmark near her house from the trail. Suddenly she felt connected to the trail even more than just knowing I had hiked it. She started giving rides, leaving a cooler and her phone number on the trail and letting hikers stay at her house. She absolutely loves it.

    I’m not sure exactly why she does it, but some of the things she has told me is that all the hikers are such interesting people. Another thing she has told me is that when she was a girl she wanted to do adventurous things, but it never happened because she followed the script for women back then. Maybe with the hikers she lives their adventures vicariously. She cares about them like a mom, even the ones who are almost as old as she is. She enjoys feeding them and making them comfortable. I think she just really likes having a chance to be a mom, to be involved in something bigger than herself, and the connection to the experience I had a few years ago.

    I don’t know if all the people on the long trails do it for similar reasons. At least it’s not commercial most of the time.

    I also think that nowadays people rarely have the opportunity to do acts of kindness directly for people, to help someone directly. While hiking the PCT I learned that letting people help me was as much an act of kindness toward them as it was toward me. It was like they needed the experience with me, saw a piece of themselves in me or saw me as maybe having an answer they were looking for. I don’t know.

    But I don’t like there being so many water caches. I also found that with all the trail magic on the PCT, I felt disgusted with myself for feeling disappointed when there weren’t free goodies when I reached a road. It was like I had become a trained animal in the park or something. A habituated bear.

    • I like that analogy of you the hiker as a habituated bear 🙂

      Are you Piper? If so, I definitely remember your mom’s trail magic, and it was much appreciated. But I think the most important thing that she does for hikers– much more important than food– is being the local guide to the town and area. I think many trail angels don’t realize that feeding a hiker is a very ephemeral thing, but giving them a ride into town, helping them navigate a city or town, and making their town stops easier in any tiny way is a really huge thing, and much more helpful to their hike. Plus, giving a hiker a ride gives you more time to chat and listen to stories from the hikers, which is pretty fun, too!

  10. I find small, unexpected and appreciated acts of kindness to be more “magical” than a bbq set up by people. Like the guy who tossed me a clif bar on top of Camel’s Hump or the people who picked us up while hitchhiking to and from Manchester Center. They didn’t go out planning to help anyone.. they made a split second decision to do something for someone else they thought could use it.

    I think hiker feeds have gotten to the point where people think that is what hikers want and need. And not everyone is as organized.. people who leave a cooler and a trash bag for multiple days that becomes a mess or people who leave extra food in shelters that can get torn up or eaten by animals.

    I agree.. i’d rather see people giving rides or help in town


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