The Generosity of Trail Magic
Before I set out on the Appalachian Trail, I had heard from friends, books, and online sources about the unusual amount of kindness and friendliness on the AT. Having lived in the South my whole life and in the rural South for the past five years, I assumed this was an outsider’s perspective of a culture I was already immersed in.
After all, I remember Northern students at my rural southern college talking about how everyone at our school says hello as they pass on the sidewalk, even if they don’t know each other. I had to explain that we greet strangers back in my hometown, too–this friendliness wasn’t specific to our school; it was part of southern courtesy. Because I had already witnessed Northerners astounded by the friendliness of the rural south, I really thought that the comments I’d heard about the Trail were no different. I was wrong.
The generosity I’ve experienced on the Trail far exceeds mere southern manners. In four weeks, “trail angels” have provided me five hot meals and helped me “slackpack.” Noted trail angel Miss Janet brought cookies to Springer Mountain the day I started, and then brought tacos and beer to a campsite a few days later.
At Neel Gap, the first day we encountered snow, a church group from Valdosta (a south Georgia town that’s hours from Neel Gap) gave hikers lasagna, garlic bread, and sweet tea.
On a particularly rainy day, a church from north of Atlanta had pitched some tarps at the Dick’s Creek road crossing, where they had hot dogs and soup waiting for us. They were also giving rides into town for those who needed to resupply.
At a road crossing to Franklin, NC, a staff member from the store Outdoor 76 had driven several hikers back to the Trail. He offered my dad and I a ride into town, but we explained that we weren’t stopping in Franklin. Even though this meant we were not potential customers, he still drove our packs to another road crossing three miles down the Trail. At this road crossing, a different man from Franklin was handing out donuts, coffee, and fruit.
At yet another road crossing, two cousins from my hometown of Knoxville had made fajitas for the hikers. For their spring break, they had been hiking the opposite direction of the thru-hikers, and asking everyone they met what foods they would want. So, they also had candy, oreos, and even ibuprofen set out!
Never before have I been so blessed by so many strangers. These acts of kindness completely blew me away, for they certainly exceeded basic rural southern hospitality.
It seems like the kindness on the trail just multiplies as it touches each of us. Every hiker wants to “do trail magic” when we finish. In fact, my dad was so touched that, when he went back to civilization after hiking with me two weeks, he started planning trail magic for the next time he meets up with me! (If you’ll be in Damascus, VA, on April 13, come to the pavilion at the park for some of my mom’s tacos!)
Trail culture is indeed different from typical southern culture, for it is infused with a generosity that exponentially multiplies as more and more of us receive it.
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