Magic in the First 150 Miles

“The trail provides.” Everyone says it here, as both a promise and a prayer. Every past hiker has some story about how the trail gave them exactly what they needed when they needed it most. But it’s a hard phenomenon to believe when you’re not on trail yet and haven’t seen for yourself. After 150 miles, I can firmly say that I’m a believer. 

Trail Magic

We had our first encounter with trail magic only three days into our trip. Sakke, Amanda, Li, and I pulled into Cibbets Campground after hiking 14 miles from Lake Morena, ready to pitch our tent as soon as we figured out where the PCT hikers should go. We walked tentatively up to a camper parked at the first site, hoping it might be a campsite host that could tell us where to go. Turns out, the camper belonged to a trail angel named Lothar, who offered us, along with five other PCT hikers, space at his campsite to pitch our tents. His picnic table was laden full of snacks and drinks, which he urged us to partake of amply, and his camper was like the Room of Requirements – every time he disappeared into it, he would return proffering something else hikers crucially needed: water for our meals, extra gas, and charging for our devices. Late into the afternoon, he gathered us all around, spread out a well-loved copy of a PCT map, and talked us through the terrain of the upcoming trail all the way to Scissors Crossing. We did our best to soak in the firehose of knowledge he unleashed on us, and then bade each other goodnight.

Lothar (green jacket) teaching class

The next morning, Lothar had rotated his selection of snacks for breakfast, complete with fresh milk. I started the day with my first ever Carnation Breakfast and a heaping bowl of Frosted Flakes, which prepared me to take on the upcoming 16-mile day to Laguna Campground. 

All the hikers Lothar hosted that night!

A few days later, we were whiling away our second zero day at Stagecoach RV Park when a second trail angel wandered into our lives, carrying a feast comprised of leftovers from his church’s Easter service. Every hiker in Stagecoach appeared over the course of the next half-hour, and we all descended like vultures on the tray of ham, turkey, sweet potato, and potato salad, gorging ourselves as if we’d spent the last three days hiking rather than hiding from the thunderstorm in town. We had all been feeling really antsy, unused to sitting so still after our days were entirely defined by movement, and a bit salty that we had forked over $75 for a tin-can room with tin-spring cots that still had crumbs on their covers. The trail angel’s appearance lifted our spirits, readying us for the next day’s ascent up Scissor’s Crossing.

I had JUST been craving Rice Krispies too!

Our third (third! In two weeks!! Are we TOO lucky???) encounter with trail magic lay at the road crossing where Ranchita’s shuttle would pick us up. There, Bad Santa was parked with his truck bed full of snacks, Gatorade, beers, and fruit. We were in the middle of a mad dash – Sakke and Amanda to Warner Springs, hoping to pick up their box before the post office closed; Jordan, Vince, Spring, Great Race, and I (we’d picked up a whole fricken squad now!) were headed to Ranchita to resupply and squeeze in a quick charge on our battery packs. We were all sweating from the heat of the day and the pace we were trying to set, and we gratefully gulped down the icy drinks we pulled from Bad Santa’s cooler. To add even more serendipity to the encounter, Spring had just been telling us earlier that morning about how Trader Joe’s instant coffee was her favorite trail coffee, and what did we find in Bad Santa’s bag of toys, but a box of that same coffee?! You speak your desire, and indeed the trail provides. 

Car Magic

Leading up to the PCT, one of my biggest worries was having to hitchhike. I worried endlessly – what if cars didn’t stop? What if they did and I got kidnapped? What if I didn’t get kidnapped but was trapped in an extended awkward conversation? (The last one is probably my biggest fear 🫠 please just kidnap me instead, in silence.) And so, when we arrived at Scissors Crossing, where we’d attempt our first hitchhike of the trip, I began feeling a mounting sense of anxiety. But there’s power in numbers, I guess! As soon as everyone else threw up their thumbs, I put mine up as well, and that step didn’t feel so hard. It took a few cars slowing down and abashedly shaking their heads at us before we realized our group size of six was discouraging drivers from stopping. Once we broke into groups of three, cars actually stopped. The mother and daughter who picked Li and me up were the sweetest, and they chatted with us animatedly, assuaging my fears that hitchhiking would necessarily be a stilted experience.

da hitchhike dance!

Now, I feel like Naruto performing a jutsu, the way I can form the hand sign with my raised thumb and a car will eventually materialize, its driver rolling down their window with a friendly smile and a “Where ya going?” It also feels like magic, how quickly my anxiety has dissipated. Only a week later, I’m throwing up my thumb with abandon and dancing at every passing car, daring and pleading with them to slow. 

Friend Magic

Sakke, Amanda, Jordan, Vince, Li, and I all started the PCT on the same day, from CLEEF. I chatted briefly with Sakke and Amanda, and exchanged cordial smiles with Vince and Jordan, but on Saturday morning, we all hiked out in our respective pairs.

Li and I hiked into Lake Morena with Vince and Jordan after leapfrogging with them through the hail-filled day, and then we promptly lost them in the rush to find shelter from the impending storm. I would find them again later that night, in Sakke’s Instagram story, and it turned out they ended up sharing a cabin. Not much later, Sakke messaged me on with a friendly “Hope to catch you tomorrow!” And we would catch him and Amanda at Cottonwood Creek the next morning. Spring and her friend Hadley happened to overhear me chatting with another hiker about needing shelter in the ladies’ room at Lake Morena and ended up seeking me and Li out to offer us a spot in their cabin. Unbeknownst to any of us at the time, the seedlings of our tramily had been planted. 

Laguna Campground!

We would all meet again at Laguna Campground. Spring and Hadley were setting up at the first campsite when Sakke, Amanda, Li, and I finally stumbled in, exhausted from 16 miles of fighting against snow and mud. We were beelining for the campsite that Jordan and Vince, who we caught as they were at the tail end of savoring a long breakfast at Pine House Cafe, had saved us a spot at. Spring and Hadley came by to share a few laughs, and after we passed them during their lunch break the next day, we joined up together for good. A few days later, Great Race, whom Spring and Hadley had hiked out of Mount Laguna with, joined us as well.

The squad’s all here!

So this is how friendships on trail are formed – a few strangers coming together magnetically, dancing in each other’s orbit, then proceeding forward as one. Though I’m sure there was something that drew us to each other, whether it was the welcoming smiles or easy laughter, it sometimes feels a bit magical, a bit meant to be. 

And So Many Other Kinds of Magic

Terrible photo, great view 😅

The more I saw the people and circumstances around me as magic, the more I saw magic in everything. The pinky-nail sized daisies speckling the meadows, as if someone had grabbed a fistful of golden dust and flung it across the gray-green grass. The myriad stars blinking sleepily down as our tramily did our first cowboy camp; us blinking sleepily back after a 22-mile day. The handfuls of quartz scattered along the trail like rose petals from a flower girl’s basket. The champagne glow of dawn. The rivulets of rainwater that marble the mud – a chocolate babka road. All of the periwinkle coral peach ink shades the sky takes on at sunrise and dusk, all the colors I wish my tongue could conjure names for. The song with the lyrics, “you’re gonna die” screaming in my ear, startling me just as I step across a particularly washed-out section of trail. The pinprick blossoms, white, pink, fuchsia, and yellow, that push up from the sand and reach on their hair-thin stalks toward the relentless desert sun. The uproarious laughter echoing through all of us when someone cracks a joke. Everywhere, there is magic. 

Also this rock. Such a cool rock 😩

“We’re so lucky,” we kept marveling at one another these last few weeks. Lucky to have experienced so much generosity so early on, yes, but also so lucky to have found one another. And what is such extraordinary luck, if not a little bit of magic? 

100! Now it feels like so long ago


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Comments 4

  • Professor Jellybean : Apr 9th

    What a beautiful way you have with words! I look forward to more posts. 🙂

    • Angie : May 11th

      Thank you so much for reading! ☺️

  • Jeff Greene : Apr 14th

    Great post! I’ll never do a long distance through hike myself, but love living vicariously through experiences like yours!

    • Angie : May 11th

      Aww thank you so much for reading and following along! 💜


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