Blog,  Book,  Hiking,  Story

This Thing Called Trail Magic

Trail Magic sign written on cardboard and an arrow pointing to it.

I’m at Harpers Ferry having lunch with Boots, Melody and Scholar. Scholar is a college student writing a paper on thru-hikers. She’s section hiking the AT while observing and questioning thru-hikers about their time on the trail. Knowing this, I (a conversationalist… ok, a chatterbox) am eager to drop some AT knowledge for our intrigued interviewer. 

“I was at a shelter,” I begin, “and there was a thru-hiker perturbed about not receiving trail magic, as if all thru-hikers are entitled to acts of kindness. I was perplexed by her complaint; it’s hard to imagine a thru-hiker demanding a handout. These gifts are solely given from the heart, not ordered like a takeout meal. I’m normally not one to challenge a person’s sense of entitlement, because character flaws should have been acknowledged and corrected during childhood. I’m not here to raise adults. If the understanding of generosity does not register for someone, then who am I to show them? I’m at a loss for words, yet this time only, I feel the need to share my thoughts on the matter, although I mistakenly assumed that the way trail magic works was common sense. 

“Trail magic is not a right… voting is a right… the pursuit of happiness is a right… oh and you got the right to remain silent.

However, trail magic is not a right. No one has to do anything for us, we chose to be out here in the woods. There is nothing obligated to us, so when we are given food, a ride into town for resupply, shelter, a shower, or any form of generosity, we should humble ourselves and be grateful. 

“When I first encountered trail magic, I felt a bit uncomfortable about taking something I didn’t earn, like a bartender accepting a tip without making a cocktail. I wanted to give back, return the favor, but what can I give? I don’t have much and like most of us who are thru-hiking, I need what little food and money I already have. Then, it occurred to me, the one thing we all have to offer is our experiences. Nearly everyone loves to hear what we’ve done on the AT and how we are doing it. I always take the time to tell the tales of my journey, for they are normally received with enthusiasm. I can see how much it means to people to hear them. 

When I get on a roll like this, it’s hard for me to stop expressing my affection for the trail.

Another special moment pops into my head and I feel the need to share it with Boots, Melody and Scholar who should be taking notes, but our pizzas are set on the table and we begin to eat the way thru-hikers do. As I start on my fourth slice, I look down at the table and wonder when it became customary for one person to eat an entire large pizza pie.

We continue our feel-good talk while finishing our meal. “There was this young section-hiker I met on the trail,” I begin, continuing with the subject of sharing our experiences here on the AT, “she must have been 16 or 17, we started chatting and she told me she was just hiking for two days and was unsure if she was ever going to do a thru-hike. I shared my story and told her that if she wants to truly thru-hike the AT, then she should just do it. Because… and here comes the corniness… if you allow it, it will change your world. The gleam in her eyes said it all. She left with a better understanding of the AT and a stronger desire to thru-hike it.” 

I’m in a life is extraordinary mood. I begin to feel goosebumps covering my arms. I share a story of when I was in Shenandoah and I ran into a cute 80-year-old couple that made my day. They talked of their teenage years and of when he was courting her. She bartended and after her shift, he would take her to the mountains so they could spoon. 

Oh, I didn’t expect that… I guess that’s sweet.

She then reached behind him and smacked his rear end, as if to say stop, but don’t. Endearing to say the least.

“Isn’t she beautiful?” he said, while sharing an admiring look with his wife. 

She then took off her sunglasses so I could have a better look at what he was talking about. The years have been kind to her and I could see the beauty he was still in love with. 

“Yes, I agree, your wife is very beautiful,” I say.

He went on about his affections for her and how it would be their sixtieth anniversary in October. They were delightful couple. After all these years the spark was still there. Before we parted, they introduced me to their son, his wife and their three granddaughters, who approached us after enjoying a view a few yards off the trail. 

That was a feel-good trail magic. I continued on that day wearing the biggest smile, a smile placed on my face by that couple. 

I look over at Boots and Melody, and imagine that in many years from now, they could easily be that lovely couple in their golden years still having the same affection for each other.  

Toward the end of our talk and feast, a server comes over to our table and tells us that our check has been taken care of by a gentleman customer.

“Whoa, where is he,” I say, eager to thank him. 

“He’s gone, but he left this for you guys,” she says, as she sets on the center of the table a note written on paper taken from the servers pad.

We all lean over and read: 

Welcome to Harpers Ferry. 

Please pass it on. Please do something nice for someone else. 

Your conversation indicates that you are lucky. 

Living without roof teaches perspective. 

Best, J.

 The wonders of the AT strikes again.

“Is he a regular?” I ask the server.

“He is.”

“Let’s leave him a thank-you note,” says Melody.

The four of us leave our thank-you message for our trail angel on a similar pad:

This will be a very special pearl on my AT-necklace! Thank you!

                                                             Melody  from Switzerland

Mountains are silent teachers and make quiet students. Thanx!

                                                            Boots from Switzerland

Another important lesson we learn on the trail is the kindness exemplified by individuals such as yourself. We are fortunate to have crossed paths.

                                                            Scholar from Montana

You added some magic to our lives today. It’s the core of what we were just talking about & now living. Thank you!  

, Love & All That Good Stuff!     

                                                           Mr Fabulous from NYC

You want more? Check out my travel memoir, The Unlikely Thru-Hiker.


  • Kymberly

    I finished your book on the 2nd day of reading. I didnt want to end! I am so thankful for these “extra” chapters on your blog. (A little trail magic for us!)
    I went back to the beginning of your blog and have read them all. Please keep adding photos too, I love seeing the people that I have read about. You have helped to make this time of being homebound more fun. 💜🍀💜

    • Derick Lugo

      Hello Kimberly, I’m glad you enjoyed ‘The Unlikely Thru-Hiker’. I have several more chapters that I will add here on my website, but I also have a Facebook group called The Unlikely Thru-Hiker Book Club, there I will add photos, talks and lives that go beyond the published stories. Today, Tuesday 3/31, I am going live at 7pm EST on the fb group. Check it out.

      Also, can you do me a huge favor? May you rate and review ‘The Unlikely Thru-Hiker’ on Amazon? 💜 That might inspire others to hike the AT or do something that they have always wanted to do. It will also be good for my future writing projects. Thank you 🙏🏽 💜👊🏽

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