Becoming a Trail Angel

A wave of adrenaline washes over me. I can feel the vibes–they’re visceral. I’ve just stepped into another world: the world of Trail Magic. I’m sharing my food with weary thru-hikers, on their last leg of the 2,659-mile Pacific Crest Trail. I’m in awe of their spectacular accomplishment. And, I want to give back.

It’s hot and smoky, due to an odd weather system pushing and holding BC Canada wildfires’ smoke over the entire Pacific Northwest. Our group chooses the Lodge Lake trail, starting at Snoqualmie Pass, because it’s short and easy–shrewd for today.

PCT sign on massive Douglas fir

It’s also where the Pacific Crest Trail #2000 (PCT) intersects I-90, and many thru-hikers resupply and/or rest.

Under giant ski lifts, the trail opens up, crossing ski runs. Many wildflowers are out today, and we’re pausing to identify. As we snack on wild strawberries, wild huckleberries and salmonberries, several groups of hikers pass. A couple stops and asks if I know what thimbleberries look like. I do.

Wild huckleberries

After describing, I realize who I’m talking with: PCT thru-hikers. They’ve hiked over 2,400 miles already. Just about 300 more to go. Being in their presence is exhilarating. Consider what they’ve seen and done and lived through. Wow. I’m humbled next to them–and I’ve hiked 42 miles in the last week. They’re weathered, worn and gaunt. One shares how she’s lost so much weight her 13-lb pack is pressing uncomfortably against her backbone. And then it hits us: they look hungry.

“Do you want any food?

“Sure. We never refuse anything we’re offered. Thank you for your kindness.”

We immediately drop packs and grab everything: a banana, dried fruit, energy bars, those tiny red wax-wrapped cheeses, snack packs, nuts, anything. Wide grins emerge. Watching these hikers luxuriate in peanut butter sandwich cookies is a profound experience–not one I’ll forget.

I didn’t get this couple’s names, but I DID get their vibes.

And thus, I have become a Trail Angel–by accident.

Trail Angels are those who assist thru-hikers along the PCT. They help in many ways: delivering food drops, transportation, hosting hikers, search and rescue. The list is long, and these people are all volunteers. What might you need on/for your journey? Trail Angels help get it to you. Several websites are specifically hosted for this purpose (see below).

Our new friends share they’re staying with hosts and are also resupplying. Thankfully. We snap a few photos with them, and part ways. Though I didn’t get their names, I definitely got their vibes. I’m reeling.

Intrepid thru-hikers

We continue on to the lake, arriving soon after our chance meetup. The lake is nice, but I can’t stop thinking about what just happened. On the way back, we again run into more thru-hikers and share the rest of our food.

Lodge Lake

It dawns on me that I could easily do this anytime. I could hike in with food, for the sake of giving it away. Hmmm. When I get back to the city, a friend is dubious: “That’s great, but you’re gonna run outta food and money quick.” I don’t have an answer. Yet.

I’m working on it.


I’m driving Highway 14 along Washington’s Columbia gorge on an exceptionally hot Labor Day weekend and pass what I think might be a PCT sign, and a thru-hiker waiting near it. A mile down the road, I whip a u-turn–excited to (perhaps) spread more Trail Magic. Sure enough, Jake is still finishing his smoke. I pull in and offer him a cold beer and bag of peanut butter-filled pretzels. He was flabbergasted: “Did you know you’re the first Washingtonian I’ve met? Man, you’re the best!”

Jake is ready to tackle the last leg of the PCT

Chatting for a bit, I find out he’s hiking all of Oregon and Washington PCT after quitting his job. Apparently, this is a thing, as he’s run into many who’ve also realigned their priorities away from money to freedom. Amen.

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is spectacular, Especially the 75-mile ‘J’ Section from Snoqualmie to Stevens Pass. Many other awesome trails start from PCT #2000. Consider bringing extra food and water to share. Ask hikers where they’re going. You’ll be amazed at the answers.
All images and content copyright ©2017 Eric Schadel. All rights reserved.

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