In the Spring of 2006, I quit my job as a college president to go hike the Appalachian Trail. I had been planning to do this for many years; long before Bill Bryson wrote his book “A Walk in the Woods; and with age creeping up on me, I decided it was now or never.
Forty pounds over weight and with 80 pounds of unnecessary camping gear strapped to my back, I began the long arduous journey from Springer Mountain, Georgia north to the windswept boulders of Mt. Katahdin Maine.
My adventure led me through areas of fantastic unadulterated beauty. Mountain peak to mountain peak, I traveled in awe; however, it challenged my stamina and personal tenacity to the nth degree- throwing up my hands and quitting was always just around the bend and in the back of my subconscious. Somehow though, I persevered through exhausting mountain climbs; to weeklong downpours of rain; to temperature drops below freezing.
And all along the way, I discovered tiny miracles. A case of bottled water left along the trail by an unknown friend –just when I happened to have run out of water. Or, an ice chest full of orange drinks and fruit left on the trail by a local small town minister; these miracles are what the other hikers call Trail Magic. You would find something along the way, pick it up and put it in your pack and later on that evening discover that you indeed had an unexpected need for it. Everyone that I met on the trail had similar remarkable stories of trail magic that they had experienced along their journey. Trail magic was everywhere.
I once had come into a small town in North Carolina for a resupply. After I finished packing the food in my backpack, the sky opened up with a ferocious downpour of rain and I stood exhausted outside the store dreading the fact I would be sleeping again in wet clothes that night.
Just then a woman pulled up in her rusty car and told me to get in. She had assumed by my long gray beard, back pack and walking stick that I was a thru hiker just off the trail. She drove me the three miles back to the trail head and as I got out of her car, she offered me a fresh peach from her shopping bag. I took the peach bit into it-it was refreshing and sweet and it put a smile on my face. Then, I looked up and the sky had suddenly cleared –trail magic-you bet ya!
Four and a half months after I had begun my journey, I finally hobbled off the trail at Baxter Park in Maine. I had changed on the trail-I was not the overweight middle aged man that started his journey with that first step of a 2,000mile walk-not the person anymore that would lay awake at night worrying about life’s misfortunes. This I believe -the life that we lead each day is a journey just like the Appalachian Trail with steep mountain peaks and moments of fantastic unadulterated beauty. And all along the way, we need to be prepared to come across trail magic-and accept it, and be thankful; if we don’t need it right now, we just need to pick it up and put it in our backpack because eventually we will discover an unexpected need for it somewhere in our mystical future.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.