I spent last Saturday at a trailhead in Salisbury feeding hikers.
I was joined by two young adults, Elizabeth Peters and Joshua Brown, as well as Dylan Mello, the Northwest Region Missionary and his family. We arrived around 9:45 a.m., unloaded my car with a table, chairs, a cooler of sodas, box of chips, sandwich makings, home-made O’Henry bars, pie, and four gallons of water. Then we waited.
“Never having participated in trail magic before,” Dylan said, “I was unsure of what to expect.”
Within ten minutes we had our first hikers and our trail magic officially began.
Trail magic is technically anything that helps a hiker. It can be finding a tent stake at a campground after you realized you lost yours, or coming across a full-on barbeque at a road-crossing. And, anyone who performs this magic is referred to as a trail angel.
I didn’t learn all of this on Saturday. In fact this was my turn to teach something I know to some ECCT folks – to share a bit of my story.
In 2017 I hike 1400 miles of the Appalachian Trail. While on that journey I came across my fair share of trail magic and trail angels, including here in ECCT. Bishop Ian Douglas and retired Canon Karin Hamilton, with the help of clergy and lay folks in the Northwest Region, held a worship service and trail magic in Falls Village while I was crossing through Connecticut.
Last year in 2018, myself, Karin, and some of the same clergy and lay folks from the year prior set up a table, grill, and offered trail magic to hikers in Kent, CT.
And now this year, the Young Adult Episcopalians group of the South Central Region was looking for a gathering opportunity in July, and I offered teaming up with the Northwest Region and do trail magic, and so the tradition has continued.
Diverse hikers, diverse stories:
We had hikers from Australia, Pittsburgh, Canada, Lithuania, Ohio, Massachusetts and even Willimantic, CT. We had hikers who started the Appalachian trail in Georgia and were attempting to thru-hike to Maine, hikers who were out for their first ever overnight, and hikers who are hiking the whole trail in sections over many years. We had hikers who had just finished high school, were recently retired, quit their master’s program at MIT, and were on summer holiday from teaching. We had hikers attempting to hit 25 miles and hikers attempting to get the energy to just get out of town.
“I was surprised,” Elizabeth said, “by just how many hikers actually stopped and chatted with us… and for how long they stayed! Their plans were just a rough outline and not so rigid.”
Regardless of their agenda, each hiker we met stopped and chatted with us. Probably because we were quick to offer them a cold Coca-Cola and a cookie, but nevertheless they stopped, dropped their heavy pack, had a seat and stayed… for a while.
One story in particular that stuck with me came from a couple in Canada who started in March and were only 30 trail-miles behind the recent murder on the trail in Virginia. Now, I must make a note that violence (especially murder) along the trail is very truly rare, and while I was hiking in 2017, I never once as a solo-woman felt in danger. This murder (you can read about it here) rocked the trail community, and hikers were still carrying this loss.
One hiker asked me what I learned when I did my section of the trail. I said “I learned to be more trusting of people, and the importance of giving back to the thing which gave so much to me.”
“I liked being able to support people doing something I wouldn’t have the willpower (or desire) to accomplish myself,” said Elizabeth.
There is an entire group of people who are dedicated to a goal, driven by their own desire to move forward, and are open to the world and hospitality around them. It is up to us in Connecticut to offer that hospitality.
“I was unsure of what to expect,” Dylan said. “I found a community of people who shared and cared for hikers as they continued on their journey along the Appalachian Trail. A pop-up table with sandwiches, pie, and water made a world of difference for the hikers. There was a sharing of stories and conversations which so easily flowed. You could definitely see God working in this neighborhood.”
If you would like to learn more about the Appalachian Trail, trail magic, or ways to support hikers here in Connecticut or near your own home, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to chat with you about my story and something that has meant so much to me, and get you involved. — Pig-Pen (my trail name).