Sunday, January 27, 2008

Trail Magic

Ice Cream Boat
The Ice Cream Boat
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
The summer of '92 saw me riding my bike across the United States. That's 'bike' with a cycle at the end, not 'bike' with a motor at the beginning. We carried all our gear without a supporting van or car, and it took months. I learned a great deal on that trip. To date, I think it is the single best thing I have ever done for myself that was not specifically geared toward making me financially success. I learned many things on that trip about myself, our country, our limits as a people and as individuals. I also learned about trail magic.

Trail magic is the confluence of human kindness and opportunity which repeats itself with stunning regularity when you dedicate yourself to any type of oddessy. It happens when you stop living in the ”burbs,” ignorant of your neighbors and scared to walk the streets of your incredibly safe city and instead throw yourself on the mercy of complete strangers. It arrives when you knock on doors, show up in small towns with no place to stay, and start believing that the world is not really out to get you.

Trail magic is coming into a small town in the middle of nowhere on July 4th and being invited to pitch your tent in the mayor's backyard. Encouraged to spend the afternoon at the community center/library gorging at the town potluck on BBQ, homemade potato salad, and thickly frosted chocolate cake. Obligated to spend the evening sipping cold ones while the police and fire chiefs argue at your back on the order to set off the fireworks.

Trail magic is homemade lemonade on the front lawn in Virginia when the temperature is nearing a 100 and the humidity is close to the same.

Trail magic is Pepsi and fresh baked cookies on a porch in Illinois one afternoon while you wait out a nasty summer thunderstorm.

You see trail magic when you spend the day toiling down a hot, dusty blue highway watching vintage cars drive by, then arrive at your destination to find it the rally point for cars from all over the state . As you walk down the streets full of Mustangs and Fords, hot rods and Model Ts, you listen to the music, munch on elephant ears and roasted corn, and thank the trail magic gods.

The magic radiates from the 78–year-old man and his daughter traveling east bound in three-week increments, not allowed to do the entire trip in one summer because the man's wife just couldn't spare her husband for any longer. It glows in the eyes of a couple who run a cafe in eastern Colorado and beats quickly in the tempo of the stunningly gorgeous young man with hard thighs and a ready smile who is doing the trip in 4 weeks at 200 miles a day.

Musical Magic
Musical Magic
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
It happens when you connect up with another rider, an older black gentleman with a trumpet strapped to his bags and a gentle, generous soul that sets the bar for all future relationships. It continues when he and the strapping young Floridian captain of fishing boats let you draft the ten miles to the Yellowstone clinic where you are hospitalized for dehydration, persists through Montana and the rugged canyons of northern Idaho, and rejoices in stripping blackberry bushes on the Oregon coast.

The trail is the journey. The journey is the destination. The magic is opening yourself to the possibilities.


Anonymous said...

What an inspiring and beautiful (and truthful) piece. Thank you so much. We're going on the road full time soon as well, to find our own trail magic.


Vicki said...

This is probably my favorite blog post evah....anywhere. I forwarded it on to my unschooling families on the road group, and they agreed. Beautifully written. :)

Toast said...

Thank you for the warm fuzzies which truly must be the electronic equivalent of trail magic ;)

Laura said...


And let me testify that the magic works in reverse. We welcomed thruhikers on the AT and let them shower, washed their laundry and fed them lots of fresh fruit and veggies and hearty meats and breads. We were so blessed to have so many wonderful people pass through our home. We have since moved away from the AT and miss the stranger-friends-angels we felt bound to for life once they moved on, but our door is still open, the soup is hot, the fruit is fresh, and the pillows are soft and fluffy. Come on over.

Carolyn said...

Great post -- so true and inspiring. This is why it feels good to welcome the "stranger/traveler" into our midst. It's magic!

Thanks for sharing...and let us know if you're floating through Yellowstone again sometime -- we're still in Jackson!

Carolyn (we met at LIFE is Good last spring...)

Nancy Sathre-Vogel said...

Wow! Just WOW! You've summed it all up perfectly. I wish I could say it half as well. We are a family traveling on bikes (with a cycle at the end) and can relate totally to your trail magic. I can't even count the number of times complete strangers have put out their hand to offer assistance in ways an unique and wonderful as they are.

Trail magic was the blackberries at our feet, the whales frolicking in the waves, the bald eagle in the tree. The sea stars and sea anemones, and hours spent playing on the beach and hiking in the hills. We found magic in the phenomenal desert cactus and climbing the rocks at Joshua Tree. And yet more in the countless hours, truly special hours, that we, as parents, spent with our children.

There were also Road Angels who added even more trail magic to our journey. The woman who handed us the keys to her house and said, "Go on in and make yourself at home - I'll be there in a couple hours." And she didn't even know our names. Or the ER doctor who pulled up alongside us and asked, "Would you like to stay with me and my sons tonight?" Or the field hands who handed us a big bag of tomatoes fresh from the field or the family who filled our panniers with oranges. The man who delivered a plate of pork chops... the woman who handed us a panful of gingerbread... the gold miner who took us for a tour in his mine... the garlic farmer who got us to the hospital when Davy hurt his wrist... the little old man who allowed us to camp next to his casita. Over and over and over again as we journeyed around the USA and Mexico on our bicycles we met people - wonderful people - angels in the truest sense of the word. And I am thrilled that my boys had the opportunity to meet them.

Thanks again for your post!
Nancy (