Trail Magic near Franconia Notch State Park, NH

Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker Muriel "Nora V" Epling near Franconia Notch, NH ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker Muriel "Nora V" Epling near Franconia Notch, NH ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

You don't have to be a magician to do a little bit of Trail Magic -- random acts of kindness toward hikers -- along the Appalachian Trail. All you really need is a desire to help out and a few bucks to pitch in toward ice cream, pizza and/or a cold drink.

I came across Muriel "Nora V" Epling while touring Franconia Notch State Park in New Hampshire at the end of August, 2014. There she was looking sassy and happy with a giant pack on her back hitchhiking from where the Appalachian Trail crosses the highway near Flume Gorge.

She was looking for a ride and I was looking for a story when our paths crossed. I turned my car around and asked the most stupid question: "Are you a thru-hiker?"

Then the first whiff of thru-hiker Eau d'Trail came through the window and I said, "Hop in!" before she could reply.

Thru-Hiker Margaret "Delaware" Pierse at Beaver Brook Trail in the White Mountains ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Thru-Hiker Margaret "Delaware" Pierse at Beaver Brook Trail in the White Mountains ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

She was headed toward Lincoln, just south of Franconia Notch, and I was happy to take her there for conversation and ice cream. We introduced ourselves and became instant friends.

That's the give-and-take of Trail Magic. You get back more than you give.

Please Note: Always count your money before saying "Get whatever you want" to a hungry thru-hiker.

As we sat down for ice cream in Lincoln, along came a second thru-hiker, "Delaware," also known as Margaret Pierse from Wilmington.

Nora V and I invited Delaware to join us.

Soon the three of us were besties, and Nora and Delaware were sharing their highs and lows of hiking the Appalachian Trail. It's always fun to hear hikers say things like, "Are Moose and Squiggles still together?" or "Have you met Killer and Death Star? Weren't they nice?"

Delaware to Nora V: "Are you even listening to me?  Hello?" ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Delaware to Nora V: "Are you even listening to me? Hello?" ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Of course, when hungry hikers first meet, conversation can be a bit slow until the food is gone and all bathroom breaks have been taken.

The connections are swift. The memories enduring. The Trail calls them back. And you can almost hear the Trail Magic go "Poofff!" when it's over.

Nora V was off to a contra dance -- a nonpolitical, hilarious type of semi-rowdy square dance -- and Delaware needed a ride back to the Trail. So, Delaware and I headed for the Beaver Brook Trail, a hill or twelve outside of town.

Appalachian Trail thru-hikers Amanda "Pretty Bird" Asplin, Chris "Big Gulp" Asplin & Justin "Pine Cone" Blakeley near Franconia Notch, NH ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Appalachian Trail thru-hikers Amanda "Pretty Bird" Asplin, Chris "Big Gulp" Asplin & Justin "Pine Cone" Blakeley near Franconia Notch, NH ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

As Delaware and I exchanged kind words and hopes for her hike to be successful, she re-entered her world and I got back into my car.

As if it were pre-arranged, lo and behold a smattering of thru-hikers appeared, needing a ride to Lincoln.

Appalachian Trail thru-hikers Amanda "Pretty Bird" Asplin, Chris "Big Gulp" Asplin & Justin "Pine Cone" Blakeley were as happy to get a ride as I was to provide Trail Magic to them.

They had plans, so I dropped them off at a local outfitters and set out to find a few more stray thru-hikers before dark, but I didn't find any more.

Appalachian Trail thru-hikers Amanda "Pretty Bird" Asplin, Chris "Big Gulp" Asplin & Justin "Pine Cone" Blakeley ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Appalachian Trail thru-hikers Amanda "Pretty Bird" Asplin, Chris "Big Gulp" Asplin & Justin "Pine Cone" Blakeley ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

There's always a next time to do something for a thru-hiker. It's cool because little things mean so much to people who are focused on hiking the 2,185 miles to finish their quest to Katahdin.

There are groups and individuals who organize Trail Magic that can last a day or two with free food, chairs, treats, rides into towns or a snack and a kind word.

You're never obligated to give more than you have or do more than you're able.

Any acts of kindness toward our AT thru-hikers will be appreciated by those on the Trail and off. Even the little things that you and I can do.


Tags: Appalachian Trail, Hiking, News, and Robert Sutherland Travel Writer

About the Author Robert Sutherland:
Robert Sutherland is a travel writer enjoying life. Robert has two adult daughters and six grandchildren.
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