The thru-hiker community is really strong on the A.T. Many hikers walk solo, but the community still provides great support. Although you might not hike side by side, or even within sight of one another, the shelters provide a site of gathering. As hikers end their day’s journey, they connect with comrades who have settled in the same area for the night. Some gather in the same shelter and share the refuge from the night’s darkness. Others camp nearby but gather for some news & stories around the campfire at the shelter. Within this community there is a sense of accountability and “attendance.” In every shelter there is a register – a notebook in which hikers leave advice, quips and other messages –and so it is easy to track a hiker who has been there before you. Some of the wisdom and humor found in these registers turns them into volumes of American folklore.
An unexpected and surprising part of the A.T. community comes in the appearance of the Trail Angel – a person who helps hikers by providing food, drinks, or rides for no fee. Sometimes there are residents who live close to the trail who want to share a special gift with the hikers. Or they are veteran thru-hikers who want to encourage the current cohort of adventurers. Maybe they are church groups that are reaching out to the hungry on the trail. Whoever they are, they add such a blessing to the hiking experience. I am so excited to meet these folks because I will call them Answers to Prayer Angels.
Another similar term used by thru-hikers is Trail Magic – these are serendipitous things that happen on the trail, often related to strangers sharing food or drink. There are many accounts of a gift (cool drinks or a basket of food) just left on the trail without a person to be seen – maybe just a note of encouragement attached. The love and compassion and concern shared by others for the smelly, hairy, dirty, and all-around disgusting thru-hiker is rather amazing.
It will be fascinating to watch the A.T. community at work.
Trail Magic Photo from http://takealonghike.com/2012/01/03/trail-magic-and-trail-angels/