By: Abe McKinney, Outdoor Section Intern
People often dream about thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT), but few understand the mental and physical toll the 2,180-plus mile hike takes. There’s rain that doesn’t quit, temperature extremes, blisters and sore joints, and a trail littered with rocks waiting to tear up your shoes and feet. Eating only what you can carry without spoiling makes you miss normal food, and bouts of loneliness are par for the course. Just when you’re at your worst, trail magic makes its appearance.
What is Trail Magic?
Trail magic is an unexpected act of kindness most AT hikers experience. I’ve received this magic many times from huge cookouts at trailheads to simple words of encouragement. I’ve seen hikers find a cooler full of soda, food, or even beer, or food hidden between rocks or drinks cooling off in a stream. Discovering these amazing treats in the middle of the woods is incredibly uplifting; however, these kind acts can have negative impacts on the trail.
Thru-hikers carry as little weight on their backs as possible, and when they see food or drinks with heavy packaging, they tend to leave the waste behind. Additionally, leaving beer on the trail could lead to alcohol consumption by those under the age of 21. Other risks include animals getting into the food and spreading the trash, contaminating the soil of the area, and/or drawing animals to the trail where the hikers walk or sleep.
Practice “no trace” principles. When imparting trail magic, aim to leave the trail the same way or better than you found it. After all, your job is two-fold—inspire hikers to complete the trail while keeping it as natural and sustainable as possible. One way to do that is to leave a trash bag along with your trail magic and visit the site later to retrieve it. Thru-hikers dread carrying any extra weight, so any other trash they may have can also be placed in it (double trail magic!). You can also hand them the food or drink on the spot and let them consume it while you wait.
So keep on spreading that trail magic! We hikers need it just as much as a pair of good boots. Just remember to practice healthy trial magic so the AT remains alive and well, and we can all continue to enjoy the great outdoors.