In 2013 I learned two new terms, trail magic and trail angel. Both terms I would get to experience firsthand while hiking the John Muir Trail. I feel my friend and thru Pacific Crest Trail hiker Muk Muk best explains the concept and practice of trail magic and trail angeling.
My first experience with trail angels was at Reds Meadow, in Devils Postpile National Monument. Reds Meadow for John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail hikers is considered a food drop, pit stop, and a grab a shower layover kind of place.
Three days prior to arriving in Reds, we had experienced some nasty late May storms on the trail. Pissing down rain, 40-mile per hour winds, snow, sleet, and hail, not to mention both Min and I struggling with a head cold that had hindered our daily mileage.
After reaching Reds, we decided to spend an extra day resting and refueling. Both Min and I had dropped 10 lbs in the first week on trail. Initially, we had planned to take the shuttle bus down into Mammoth, to continue our caloric binge before getting back on trail.
As I boarded the shuttle bus, my gut was telling me to stay at Reds. I consider my gut feelings to be accurate so I no longer disregard them. Instead, I honor them. Call it timing or fate, had I taken the bus to Mammoth, I would have never met Muk Muk or my trail angels Steve and Lori Ramos.
Imagine having not showered for a week, you are hungry, and you are in line at a camp store about to pay for another 8000 calories worth of food. Out of nowhere a stranger approaches you in the store and says, “Would you like to join us for dinner?” Without hesitation, it’s a YES in hiker’s world. The invitation is seen as an offering of community and connection. In mainstream society, we tend to question the stranger’s intentions, determine the risk factors, and then kindly decline.
Think about it, when was the last time you broke bread with a stranger? Under what circumstances would you consider accepting a dinner invitation or perhaps even being the invitee? How do we even define the term stranger? Is it possible to live on the same planet and still perceive each other as strangers? What really is a stranger?
Perhaps for some, a stranger might be someone they do not know or have never met. For others, it’s a new person that entered their personal space where the boundaries have yet to be defined. A Facebook stranger might be someone you have never met in person but has friend requested you. With a click of the mouse, the stranger becomes an instant friend and the newest addition to your world is celebrated through your news feed. It saddens me knowing people feel safer connecting through a screen than face to face.
A Stranger can also be a feeling. Have you ever felt like a stranger to your own family? I know many of us feel unknown and misunderstood by our family members. Some parents feel like they know their children, yet they have no idea who their kids became as adults. The same can be said for parents. Do we really know our parents as people since leaving the nest? Finally, let’s not forget the dysfunctional dynamic of disconnection, where everyone in the family feels like strangers seated at the same table. The strangers (trail angels) I met for dinner that night were family that I hadn’t met yet. Granted our worlds couldn’t be any more different, yet the commonality was one of community, caring and connection.
Trail angels Steve and Lori Ramos had rented a cabin at Reds Meadow and found themselves breaking bread with thru-hikers. Sometimes when people find themselves under Mother Nature’s spell, our sense of gender, ethnicity, orientation, age, and socio- economic status no longer holds any value or meaning.
Sharing, connecting, and creating is the currency shared by hikers and trail angels. Perhaps that’s why the transition and re-entry into mainstream tends to be so difficult and awkward after an extended time on trail. As much as technology has made our life simpler I feel it has made us more robotic, detached, and less human.
Min and I spent a few hours eating and chatting with the Ramos’s. We were able to share something that no one can afford to buy…TIME. In America, it seems our economy has burdened us with bills. Our culture has programmed us to make money and spend money, yet we can never afford to spend time with people. We are more willing to invest seven hundred dollars on a new TV, only to enhance our relationship with network programming. Television for many has become a distraction from tending to our life and examining the world around us. Former clients have told me there is not enough time to pursue their passions and maintain relationships. I wonder how many people have divorced themselves from life and married their televisions. Note-If you spend more time holding the remote than your partners hand, then TV has become a problem.
After dinner, the unexpected of the unexpected happened, a shower?
Showers, after the JMT, I no longer take them for granted. There is something magical about hot water and soap.
My final day at Reds meadow ended with an unexpected meal, great company, and a hot shower.
This was my first encounter with trail angels and trail magic. The two-mile walk back to camp flew, as both Min and I reflected on the generosity of the Ramos’s. The world really is a small neighborhood, yet I feel it’s our disconnection that makes the planet feel so big.
Leaving Bottle Tree Ranch we made our way to the Ramos’s in Apple Valley, California. It had been ten months since we last saw each other; however, I had maintained contact through Facebook. This would be Shadows first home visit and I was concerned. Shadow has great social skills, yet his fear of abandonment runs deep. Shadow was an abused, neglected, and abandoned puppy; who found me late one night on the streets of Fresno. I was not in the position to be a dog owner, yet I don’t feel like I had any say in the matter. Sometimes dogs choose their owner. It’s been a privilege and a learning experience sharing my world with Shadow.
Some say it takes a village to raise a kid, I feel the same way about Shadow. Fortunately my best friend and fellow Pathgryndr Min became a willing co-parent to Shadow.
This was SHADOWS reaction when he learned about his modern-day family; a gay mama and a straight papa.
Pulling into the Ramos’s I was so excited to see Lori and Steve. Steve won me over at Reds by the way he supported woman and female hikers.
It was also refreshing to be around another man like Min. Men who possess emotional and social intelligence, are not less of a man, but more of a man. Sadly society has gendered human traits. When did assertiveness, sensitivity, mindfulness, and passiveness become gendered? Are these not simply human character traits? Does being assertive make me less of a woman? If a man shows sensitivity does that label him weak or less masculine?
Lori is pure gold, what else can I say. When I first told Lori about passing through her neck of the woods she did not hesitate to invite us over dinner and welcomed us to stay the night.
Outside of being uncensored and very funny, the real beauty of Steve and Lori lies in their sense of friendship with one another.
Within minutes of our arrival, Steve and Lori’s friends, Lucy and Paul, arrived to join us for dinner.
Lucy and Paul were keen to ask me questions about my decision to live and work in a remote area. Their questions did not stem from judgment but from curiosity and general interest. Where would I be living, what would I be doing for work, what would my permanent on the road address be, what would I consider to be my home state. A permanent address takes some investigation and some serious thought. I will explain the process of choosing a domicile in future blogs.
With the gentlemen outside barbecuing, I found myself partaking in a conversation about the economy and unemployment with Lori and Lucy. How is it possible that 80% of Americans now live paycheck to paycheck? When I first arrived in the USA in 1992, there were still high-paying middle-class jobs; however, I feel they no longer exist. What was once a high paying middle-class job is now a lower paying job? The cost of living continues to increase while our incomes have decreased. Student loans have also crippled many Americans. How can one pay back student loans when the salaries being offered aren’t enough to cover the general costs of living? It really feels at times that the economy for the majority is one based on catching up and treading water. For many, we have become stuck into an economic undertow that keeps dragging us further out to sea. Instead of enjoying sand between our toes we are now drowning parallel to the shore. Corporate America seems to get greedier by the year. Profit margins are never enough. Companies would rather downsize or outsource in order to keep increasing their growth. How does this mentality and business plan further develop our country and empower the majority with financial stability? It doesn’t!
Workers over the age of 55 are experiencing an even harder time obtaining employment. Recent statistics show the unemployment rates for those over 50 are increasing faster than any other age category.
Steve lives in Apple Valley, but works in Ventura (3 hours away). This distance requires Steve to live in Ventura during the week only to return home on weekends to see his family. Lori is unable to find employment in Apple Valley. Like many, she is overqualified for most positions. Due to a lack of jobs, companies are able to offer employees significantly less, exploiting and cashing in on job seekers desperation for work. Jobs that used to pay $18 an hour, are now seen as $12 hr occupations. $12 an hr with no benefits does not stimulate growth in our economy. Forgive me; building another Wal-Mart in town is not a solution either!
After dinner, Steve gave me a tour of his man cave. His man cave was not the typical large screen TV, bar stools, sporting memorabilia, and a home brewing keg. Instead, it was a room that celebrated and commemorated his life and his family’s accomplishments. Lori introduced me to her hobby of fleece tie blankets. I had never seen these before, neither had Shadow, who was tempted to run off with one.
Shads and I hit the hay forgetting about daylight saving and the time change.
The next morning I wandered out to the living room to find Steve and Lori already up. Whoops! A smiling Lori made us breakfast. We drank coffee and spent the morning chatting about love, life, and relationships. At times I think sharing a coffee has become the modern-day version of campfire conversations.
I left Apple Valley feeling blessed and smiling! I hope Steve and Lori come to visit me in Marble Canyon so I can trail angel them.
The fleece tied blanket Lori gave me has been used every day since leaving their home. The blanket is a reminder to me that you can only be stranger to others when you are a stranger to yourself.