Trail Magic

I’m not religious, but thank God for the church. My first week on the trail was littered with what hikers refer to as “Trail Magic”. Almost every other day Muffin Man and I would come across a dirt road or a gap between two mountains and find various church groups from Georgia gathered with collapsible tables set up with donuts, honey buns, candy bars, and coffee among other sweet indulgences. They would occasionally be grilling cheeseburgers and hot dogs when we walked up too. This was the most beautiful site after having walked seven or eight miles up and down mountains. As it was happening almost every other day, we became completely spoiled by their incessant generosity. We would wake up saying, “You think we’ll see any Trail Magic today?”

The people we came across in Georgia affiliated with any of the local church groups, no matter their particular denomination, whether they be Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, were some of the most kind hearted individuals I’ve ever met. They would be waiting on the side of the trail greeting us with friendly smiles, welcoming us to any and all the food displayed for us. They wouldn’t preach or proselytize at us, only ask us about ourselves. Our trail name, where we were from, and maybe even why we wanted to hike the trail. As my first week out here could be summed up as an anxiously tempestuous adjustment period, I felt awkward when talking about myself to strangers. But their unyielding kindness really put me at ease. The joy in what they did was always felt when talking with them.

One time I opened up about how difficult it was adjusting, saying “I’ve really been worried about everyone back home. I toss and turn all night thinking about them.” And this guy looked at me and asked me if he could pray for me. “Yeah sure,” I said smiling, not knowing he would then place his hand on my shoulder, bow his head and begin saying a prayer for me right then and there. What kind of monster wouldn’t bow their head too? So I did, and it was gratifying. He said something like, “Dear Lord, please allow Romeo to find people he can call family out here while his family back home waits for him. Allow him to be find peace, and allow him to be opened up to all the love and beauty you can show him on this great Earth. Amen.” And I said “Amen” too, maybe disingenuously, but also out of selfless respect. He genuinely cared about my existence, and the kindness in his manner was radiant. I lost the patience for religious debate a couple years ago, I find it much easier to swallow my pride and be fine with what other people’s beliefs are. I don’t care much for arguing my beliefs, or lack thereof. And I couldn’t help but feel uplifted by the sincerity these people exhibited. Their kindness inspired kindness in me.

As we crossed the border into North Carolina, there was a plummet in the amount of churches we saw giving free food away to hikers. And we stopped taking their presence for granted. But Trail Magic takes many forms, and I’ve seen firsthand why people use the phrase “the trail always provides”.

Our group of seven became fragmented as Shaggy, Bambi, and Eazy hiked on while Q-tip, Whiplash, Muffin Man and I decided to set up camp at the Nantahala Outdoor Center and hang out there the next day till three o’clock in the afternoon drinking IPA and laying in hammocks. We ate breakfast at this restaurant at the outdoor center called River’s End and it was absolutely savory. A hot meal that’s not instant rice or oatmeal is Heaven on Earth for thru hikers. I indulged in French Toast, fried eggs on a biscuit, and grits, all between chugging cups of coffee.

While I was sitting on a bench at the outdoor center watching the Nantahala River, I experienced Trail Magic in a less tangible form. A liberating thought came over me, in that no matter what happens, no matter how bad or unforeseen the outcome may be, I’ll be okay. I felt the power of those words profoundly for a moment. It somehow put all the anxious ‘what ifs’ to rest, if only briefly. What if the girl I love doesn’t love me too? There will be others. What if the group leaves without me? I’ll catch up, and if I don’t, so what, I’ll deal with it when it happens. If it’s not happening now then why bother fretting over it. The choice of simply dropping a problem that you’re only bringing upon yourself is liberating. The power of not caring set me free of all the trepidation I had been feeling up until this point. I knew the vitality of this realization would soon pass, but I desperately tried to hold onto it’s liberating character.

When we left to set off on our climb that afternoon, Whiplash had to stay behind another day while waiting on a package. But we procured another hiker to our group, WildCard, who’s been one of the most honest, good willed people I’ve ever met. It’s truly gratifying when you can talk to someone and completely feel at ease, circumventing small talk in favor of making ridiculous Arnold Schwarzenegger impressions between laughing at ourselves. Whenever I talk to people out here now, I try to lower the veil of insecurity and just express whatever thought comes to mind the best I can. For whatever reason when I met this guy, it was immediately like talking to a friend I’ve known for years.

I had lost one of the stakes for my tent in the first week I was out here, and when I was setting up my tent that night on the trail, WildCard found a stake laying on the ground that matched my others. That same night Muffin Man lost the only utensil he had, and he picked up a little rock, telling me he would eat with it all the way to Katahdin if he had to. Then in the very next moment Q-tip found a dirty plastic spork laying behind a log and threw it on the ground in front of him. “The trail always provides.”

I would go on to shit my pants while making oatmeal two days later. Not exactly Trail Magic. I got a package from my mom at the outdoor center, which contained about five days worth of food, and my food bag was still full from when I resupplied in Franklin a few days back. So I made an earnest effort to eat twice as much as I usually would to lessen the weight of my pack. This may or may not have had an influence on me shitting myself. When the group left that morning I told them I was going to be at camp for another hour making Oatmeal and getting ready for the day. I took a little longer than usual getting out of my sleeping bag that morning for whatever reason, and I wanted to take my time eating before packing everything up. When I began boiling the water for oatmeal while still in the comfort of my tent, my stomach began churning and the urge to relieve myself hit me like a tidal wave. I had to act now. But the water was still in the process of boiling and the thought of simply turning the stove off and immediately digging a hole didn’t occur to me. Instead I thought, “I can hold it”. I was wrong. I began farting uncontrollably as the water came to a boil. “I can’t believe I’m shitting my pants” I thought as I poured the water onto the dry Quaker Oats. Then I grabbed my shovel and waddled over behind the nearest tree, pulling down my pants and finding the inside of my underwear covered with hot mushy shame. After cleaning up the mess, I returned to my tent and ate my oats in humiliation. They were still pretty tasty.

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Comments 3

  • Sherry Dorsey : Apr 6th

    Again another wonderful post. Keep up the good work.

  • Irvin Valle (COACH) : Apr 7th

    This takes honesty to a whole new level. I figured that this would be only my problem when me and the wife hit the trail since I have dealt with mild IBS my whole life. By the way I hope this insident doesnt influence your trail name lol…


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