Another hiking story. I don’t plan these. They just happen. Like literally last weekend. I promise I’ll get back to some rants and banal observations soon. My draft folder is littered with unfinished ones. But for now this is what you get.
Should we stay or should we go?
If you’ve been following along for the past few months you know that I have been spending some extended time in southern Mississippi for work. Last Friday I flew back home for a two week breather before I have to head down again. Our anniversary occurred on this last trip and we agreed to postpone celebration until I got back. I originally had planned on booking us a cabin at our favorite spot on Love Mountain (real place, I swear) at the Royal Oaks Resort. I checked availability well in advanced because it would be the Independence Day weekend and cabins get booked quickly. However, because of some recent unexpected expenditures, we decided that we just couldn’t swing it and we would have to celebrate both our anniversary and the holiday in some other fashion when I got home.
After getting home on Friday we just enjoyed hanging out with the dogs and getting reacquainted. Come Saturday morning we started trying to find something to do that we could take the dogs. We thought about an overnight trip down to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Nope, even the lowest flea bag motel was booked. We couldn’t even pitch a tent at a KOA. Every other option we thought about was a no go also. What did we expect? We had waited until Saturday of a major holiday weekend to try and find something to do. That’s when my wife said we should have just went to the cabin in the mountains anyway. What was this woman doing to me? She knows how much I love it up there, but there was no way there would be anything available now. That didn’t stop me from getting fired up and jumping online to check it out though. My fireworks fizzled as I confirmed that there was nothing but a single “Efficiency” cabin available. Don’t let the word cabin fool you. This is just a small room equivalent to a Motel Six like room that the place rents out to mostly hikers on the Appalachian Trail for them to crash for the night if they want to get out of the woods for a shower and some grub. Years ago I accidentally booked one of these rooms thinking I had booked a regular cabin. That’s a story for another time but rest assured we were not spending the weekend in one those rooms with two golden retrievers.
When I informed my wife of this discovery she picked up the phone and called the owner of the resort. I often admonish my wife for still doing things over the phone because this is 2017 and you know; texts, e-mail, hash tags, emoticons? I have to admit, though, that she has an almost super hero like ability to get things done on the phone that would drive me crazy. I did break her of that check writing habit though. Anyway, after talking to the owner, she found out we could get in a cabin early the next day and stay through the holiday on Tuesday. We then started hemming and hawing on the cost again until finally we just said fuck it. Let’s go! And while we were at it, screw going up the next day. We would just go up and squeeze into the Ecabin for one night and jump over to a real cabin the next morning. That’s what
God The Devil invented credit cards for in the first place, right?
A walk in the woods and then some cow and wine in the cabin.
That’s how I found myself, and Sawyer The Trail Wonder Dog, on the AT Sunday morning for a ten mile four hour hike. It was great, even the part when the storm from Mordor descended on us when the weather guy promised me it wouldn’t rain. Seriously, I wish I could be wrong in my job as much as they are. Luckily we were only about five minutes away from a trail shelter when it hit. We hunkered down in the shelter with several hikers and got to know each other a little bit while the storm raged around us. When the hike was over I was sore in body and soothed in spirit. It felt like it had been forever since I had been on the AT when in fact it had only been last April.
While I was hiking, my wife had graciously went to town to stock up on supplies and later that night we celebrated with grilled steaks and wine consumed while watching the sun go down off the back deck of our mountain side cabin. It was a perfect day but we had another one planned for the next.
What is trail magic?
Trail magic is a term that long distance hikers (thru hikers doing a trail from beginning to end in one shot or section hikers doing big chunks of a trail at a time) use to describe any assistance given to them along the journey. This can come in the form of a simple ride to town to resupply, or a free place to stay at night when they need a rest. Most often, though, it is a term used to describe getting fed. Hikers doing big miles every day burn a lot of calories and develop what they call hiker hunger. They can’t take a lot of food with them because every ounce of weight matters when you are slogging up and down mountains. So when they get the chance to get some “real” food they can devour it with an appetite they never even knew they could have. This is where the trail magic comes in. People will set up around a trailhead or road crossing and feed hikers that come through. Those people are often called Trail Angels.
We had done trail magic a few times before but since this was a last minute trip we didn’t know if we were going to be able to do it this time. After doing the hike the day before and meeting all the awesome thru and section hikers, my wife and I agreed to at least do a little something. As it often does, that little something grew into more than we had planned. We got a small grill for cooking hotdogs and hamburgers. The owner of the resort let us borrow a folding table and plastic chairs even after I offered to rent them. Last year we taught him what trail magic was and he was thrilled and wanted to contribute also. We got individual bags of chips so the hikers could take some with them in their pack. My wife made up little snack bags that included crackers, nutter butters, and the all time trail favorite, snickers! She also made several ham and cheese sandwiches that they could take for dinner later on down the trail. We didn’t forget the non-meat eaters either. We had apples and grapes in little snack packs too. The magic didn’t stop with food either. We provided two cell phone battery charging stations out of the back of my jeep so hikers could replenish their depleted phones.
Once we set up it wasn’t long before we had our first customers. Two guys and a girl came strolling down the mountains with their tell-tale bulging packs that marked them as thru or section hikers. As soon as they saw our trail magic sign their eyes lit up and they were soon dropping their packs and taking a load off while I served up some burgers and dogs. Oh yea, I forgot, there was beer too. You knew there would be right? Also, water and soda all arranged in little marked coolers. Our first hikers were Fun Size, Woodpecker, and Trash Man. Thinking their parents were cruel when they named them? Nah, those are trail names. Long distance hikers like to take trail names that usually describe something about them as they wander the path. Real names are rarely used. We sat and ate and drank and listened to all the trail stories. We had more hikers come in, like Phief Dog and Thirteen. We even had some day hikers come over to see what all the fuss was about and to learn what trail magic was. It was just a fantastic time over all. Until…
It’s not the money, it’s the mystery.
First let me say that nothing, even what I am about to describe, could ruin the magical time we had already had. This, however, did cast a bit of a pall over the experience. I
have had a Go Pro style camera that I attach to a backpack rig when I go out hiking. My wife has arthritis and as much as she would love to be out on the trail with me she just physically can’t do it. So I video my hikes and then she gets to watch them later. I had taken video of the hike yesterday and thought it would be cool if I could set it up and get some video of the trail magic also. So after informing everyone of my intention and making sure they were all good with it, I set my little camera on the top of the spare tire on the back door of my jeep and aimed it at the gathering. After a bit I totally even forgot it was there.
We had left the dogs back at the cabin because we didn’t have enough room with all the stuff we were bringing, but we wanted them to have fun too. So after a few hours when it cooled off some, my wife, went back to get them. Sensing a problem here? Yeah, neither of us even thought about the camera before she took off. I was right in the middle of listening to a story from Phief Dog when it hit me. HOLY SHIT! The camera! You are thinking it must have fallen off right? That’s what I thought. But after scouring the surrounding area I found nothing. My wife got back with the dogs and she also joined in the search as did several hikers. Nobody found a damn thing. I even searched down the road a ways in the unlikely event that it had stayed on top of the tire for a bit. But there was really no way it could have. The act of just closing the back door would have sent it tumbling. Alas, though, it was nowhere to be found. I tried to get back to just enjoying the trail magic but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. If it wasn’t in the grass or road nearby then what else could have happened to it? That’s when my mind went where I didn’t want it to.
Did somebody take it? Hikers had come and gone by the time I realized it was missing. However, I just could not wrap my head around thinking a thru hiker or a section hiker would have taken it. These guys and girls are like a tribe. They are good people watching out for each other. Sure, there is a bad egg every now and then but I just couldn’t believe one hiker I had met today could be one. That left me with another thought. Could a day hiker have possibly taken it? The jeep was parked no more than 5 feet away from the trailhead. There had been many day hikers that had gone on and come off the trail and passed right by without stopping. I didn’t want to believe that either. Sometimes day hikers can be thought of as a lower class by thru and section hikers. A good portion don’t think that way but I know there are some that do. I didn’t want to think that way, especially since I am pretty much a day hiker myself, even though I have spent nights out on the trail and am planning a two week hike in September. I just didn’t want to think any hiker would do that.
So what the hell happened to it then? That’s what was killing me. Sure, it cost a pretty penny and that was not lost on me, but the thing that got me the most was the mystery. In the hours to come, and the night after, I waffled between it must have fallen off, to one of the trail magic hikers took it, to one of the day hikers took it, to the damn sock stealing fairy from the dryer was upping their game. There was no relief to be had and my wife even said we just had to let it go. But could I? You know the answer to that question. When we packed up the night before we had an abundance of drinks left over so we set up a few coolers by the trailhead with one of our signs. On the way back home the next day we stopped to retrieve the sign and make sure there was no trash left from the disposable coolers. We couldn’t help but take one more stab at looking for the camera. Even if I found it smashed by a car on the road I would have been satisfied. People must have thought we were crazy walking all around with our heads down and running our hands through the grass. It was to no avail. A film directing gopher didn’t pop up out of a hole with the camera. We did get some online contact information from a log book that I asked hikers to sign and I contacted one of them. She told me she would keep an eye out for anyone claiming to find a camera on the trail. She then told me she had left her wallet and phone in a town and someone had tracked her down on the trail to give it back. So there is hope yet. Maybe a hiker had honestly come across it and didn’t realize it belonged to us. Of all the scenarios, this is the one I hope is true.