Trail Magic!! Feeding my need for Hiker Trash by Feeding some Hiker Trash
After the initial shock of finishing my AT thru-hike passed, the Trail Sickness began. I ache badly for the Trail like a strung-out junkie. To help with my cravings, every March, when the anniversary of my start date roles around, I like to keep track of where I was in my hike. I use my Trail Journal and a Facebook app for help so that I can remember specific spots. For instance, I know that on April 4th, otherwise known as “Hell Day” to the 2013 hiking class, I was holed up at Standing Indian shelter waiting out the ice storm with 12 other hikers, and singing warm-weather themed songs. I torture myself like this, because even though it’s sad to think about, I can at least re-live the memory and be happy for a few moments reminiscing.
But this year, it wasn’t enough. This year, I wanted to take action. What better way to vicariously relive my trail days than by talking with current hikers?
I had always dreamed of doing Trail Magic, and it hit me that my location 2 years ago was not far away from where I am now. After a quick Google Map search, I found out that I live only an hour and half away from the famous Doyle Hotel in Duncannon, Pennsylvania. It couldn’t have been more perfect. I called up my Trail friend Tumbleweed and we decided we would go and pull magic. We didn’t really have a plan, but what hiker plans?
We set off with nothing but our dreams and some suit cases. It was all very exhilarating, until we realized that we might have wanted to come at least a little prepared.
I pictured myself making a dramatic entrance of some sort; a double door opening, angel wings aloft, and everyone clamoring for my assistance. And then I realized that it was the Doyle, and life doesn’t work that way. At the Doyle, hikers have everything they could ever want; cheap beer, good food, and a place where they were among other hiker trash. I slowly tried to work the room, but nobody really seemed too excited. I can’t really blame them, they had what they needed at the moment. I tried not to sulk. The Doyle is a black hole after all.
We decided to change our game plan; rather than working the inside, we started talking to the hot and needy hikers on the outside. Tumbleweed and I found two hikers, Wild and Boy, hanging out on the porch debating what to do, so we offered them a ride to the store. Thus our work as Trail Angels begun! All of my trail memories came flooding back while we were driving them out. We swapped stories with one another, talked about motivation, crazy town-days, all of it. We hit a little bit of snag when Boy thought that he had lost his wallet (something that happened to me in Pennsylvania as well), but he and Wild were a team. In true hiker fashion, Wild said that he would pick up Boy’s grocery tab.
In the mean time, while they shopped Tumbleweed decided that it would be a good idea to pick up some food so that we could pull some traditional cooler-magic the next day. We had a great time picking out food that we had craved while we were hiking. It was a little hard to decide because we knew that hikers crave everything, but we went with food that you normally couldn’t pack out. Fresh fruit like watermelon, apples and oranges were the first things we agreed on. The next logical choice was soda; we went with a nice mixture of cola, lemon-lime and orange flavors. We threw in two large variety packs of chips, and a two buckets of donut holes and proclaimed it a well rounded meal. Just to be sure, we asked Wild and Boy if they agreed with our choices, and they both enthusiastically confirmed we had done well.
When we got back to the Doyle, our timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Just as we were walking Boy and Wild to the porch, we spied another hiker pair, who had clearly just rolled into town. When we offered our assistance, they eagerly accepted a ride to Dollar General. We ran to the bathroom, and on the way a hiker by the name of Mantis found me. I had talked with him before when I had first arrived at the Doyle, and he asked if were still offering rides. I drive a Honda Fit, so the seating issue was bound to come up. I told him that I was about to drive somewhere, but that I’d be back. Luckily, Mantis had some laundry to do so we swapped numbers and drove our two new hikers out.
Unlike Wild and Boy, these two hikers, Scout and Stumbles, had come straight off the trail; so to put it politely one of them was pretty ripe with Trail smells. I was actually a little excited that I would finally be on the receiving end of hiker-stink, because I know that I have done my share of… perfuming cars. It was pretty bad, but nothing that I couldn’t tolerate. Despite the smell, we had a very good time helping the two resupply. We found out that they were a brother and sister pair, only 16 and 19 respectively. Tumbles was the younger of the two and completely adorable. I loved watching her bounce around Dollar General getting excited over every single food item. I helped them out, and tried to point them towards items they might not have considered before, because I knew that at about this time it’s easy to get into a food rut. Plus I got to experience the rush of a satisfying resupply again. Once they were done, we took them next door to Sheetz so that they could enjoy the amazing-ness of made to order anything. Not surprisingly, they both had a milkshake.
When we drove back to the Doyle, I found out that Mantis had two more friends in tow. I felt guilty, because I had mentioned taking Tumbles and Scout out with us to grab dinner. However, they were very sweet and said that they would be fine getting pizza in town and hiking out. They bid us goodbye and we began our third car-trip: the destination was Mexican Food. As we were driving out, we passed Wild and Boy who yelled that they had found Boy’s wallet. I was so relieved for him! But again, I was sad that I couldn’t just take all seven hikers out to dinner. Where was Miss Janet when I needed her?
We found a random Mexican restaurant in Harrisburg, and Tumbleweed and I talked with our new hikers, Mantis, Powers and Couscous, about various trail misadventures. We also got into a a conversation about personal philosophies concerning yellow-blazing, slack-packing, and zero days. It was great being able to sling old hiker phrases around with ease; I never had to worry about explaining what anything meant. While we ate, I watched with concern as the three men had normal sized portions…. Where was their hiker hunger? I anticipated the three to have enormous appetites, because they fit every standard of male hikers: tall, thin, and border-line skeletal. When I asked if the food was okay, they admitted that they had eaten barbecue not an hour before we took them out, so this was their second dinner. It all made sense. But despite the fact that they had eaten twice, Mantis insisted that we go find a Rita’s Italian Ice because he had a hard-core craving. I was worried because at this point it was 9 at night, so the chances of finding one open were slim. Luckily, a quick Google search found one that was open until 10, so we booked it and made it with plenty of time to spare. Mantis was even a gentleman and paid for my and Tumbleweed’s treat. The look on Mantis’ face when he had his first bite of Rita’s would have been payment enough though.
The next day we woke up bright and early (no we decided not to stay at the Doyle), and found a good spot to do some cooler magic. We picked a parking lot about 3 miles past the first shelter outside of Duncannon, set up and eagerly awaited hikers. We knew that we would be waiting a little bit, because it was still early, so we decided to take a quick walk on the trail. While we walked I couldn’t help but remark “Hey Tumbleweed, we’re hiking South!”. Maybe 10 minutes into our little trip down memory lane, we heard a noise. “Hiker Trash?” I yelled out. We then saw our first hiker of the day, Honey Britches, and walked her towards the cooler.
From then on the hikers just kept appearing. It was an incredible experience talking to all of the hikers and being able to hear their personal stories. It was also amazing how we saw such a perfect cross-section of every type of hiker one might run into on the AT. We had solo female hikers, solo older male hikers, couples who came together, couples who met on trail, free-spirited hikers, and hikers who kept to themselves. Every story was unique, and all of them were polite and grateful. I can’t accurately describe how satisfying it is to be on the giving end of Trail Magic. Hikers kept telling us that they had been hoping for some Magic and here we were, able to provide it. I loved watching their faces light up as we waved them over and told them about the different choices they had. It’s a powerful feeling, knowing that you are responsible for brightening up someone’s day.
Eventually though, we had to go eat. It is not polite to eat food from your own Trail Magic cooler. We had planned on enjoying Vicky and Pat’s cooking at the Doyle, but when we got there, they told us the kitchen was closed due to a medical emergency. We were both very disappointed. We then settled on going to the Sheetz where we had taken Tumbles and Scout the day before, and got some sandwiches. We ate it hiker-style on the sidewalk outside. While we were eating, who should we get a text from but Wild and Boy?! They sent of us a picture of them, along with Scout and Tumbles at the cooler. Tumbleweed and I had been asking all of the hikers if they had seen these four the entire day, and they all told us that they behind, but that they were coming. I was sad that we had missed them, but happy knowing that we were able to help them out not once but twice.
When we were done with our food, we drove back to the cooler, only to find that all four were still there! I ran up to them, and stopped dead in my tracks when I saw that Tumbles was wearing an eye-patch. “What happened to you?!?” I screamed at her. She burst out laughing and told me that it was something she liked to wear for fun. Little scamp, I could have killed her if she wasn’t so gosh-darn cute. Once I had calmed down, all four of them gave us an update on how they were doing. Scout and Tumbles were trying to keep Wild and Boy’s motivation up, although they weren’t doing too great of a job since they had been at the cooler for almost 2 hours joking around. I wanted so badly to tell them to just come with me to Maryland for a proper 4th of July, but I didn’t want to squash their motivation. We chatted for a little bit longer, and then forced ourselves to see them off. It was a bitter-sweet moment watching them go. I had only just met them, but in true Appalachian Trail spirit, had bonded with them immediately, and considered them to be family.
Doing Trail Magic was everything I had hoped it would be. I got to be among fellow hiker-trash once more, and I learned that nothing has really changed since the two years that I had hiked. I got to be the difference in a hikers day; changing it from a normal day to a Trail Magic day, and hopefully restored a little faith about the goodness of people. Giving back is an addicting and powerful feeling that takes over your whole being. So much so, that I can’t wait until the South-Bounders come through so that I can help them out too. I sincerely hope that all of the hikers I had the pleasure of talking too are still doing well and are on their way to getting the heck out of Pennsylvania.
If anybody out there has been debating performing some Trail Magic of their own, I highly recommend it. Now can be the time for you too.
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