Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Trail Magic in Pennsylvania was unlike any I experienced. As Southbounders, we got used to meager and sometimes exhausted caches of Magic. Finding a Keystone Light or a Mountain Thunder in a small trickle-fed pool in the woods certainly felt magical. Adding a couple child-sized packages of peanut butter crackers to a quickly diminishing food bag usually put an extra zip on one’s pace. Ultimately, finding a gallon of gas-store bottled water bound to a cattle stile deep in a dry stretch gave one the courage and the strength to push that extra 3 or 4 miles to get out of the biting wind, and into a comfy, three-sided, and only slightly breezy home. While Magic for NOBOs often became a nuisance and a possible distraction, for SOBOs it was a different animal. Elusive, sometimes mean-spirited, and seldom enjoyed, Magic kept itself hidden in the bare trees; keen on surprising the NOBOs in the Spring.
Pennsylvania was different. Amidst the rocks and the whines and the day hikers and the FLATNESS, Magic appeared frequently, giving us shock after shock. First it came in the form of beautiful weather. Water began materializing at stranger’s homes steeply off the ridge. Brand-new, free, and extremely chill hostels appeared on flyers that caught our eye in the middle of a plate of fries. Duncannon fell in our laps. Rides, pizza delivery, ice cream pit stops, trips to Philly, incredible angels, and drunken moments carried us from shelter to shelter as we cruised through PA on a hot Magic streak. Hungover, exhausted, and ready to hike, we left Duncannon feeling a need to reconnect with our ‘wilderness experience.’ Our SOBO train was then treated to the longest stretch of flat trail on the AT. As the bubble seemed it MUST be close to bursting, we received news of an Angel named Ishmael in Boiling Springs.
Ishmael’s place was beyond incredible. Normally, when taken in by a friendly townie, it is expected that you might get space on the garage floor (probably space in the yard), possibly an outlet to charge your phone, perhaps a take-out menu, and a spigot on the side of the house to fill up. These are a thru-hiker’s dream accommodations. This is what we were expecting. This is not what we found. Ishmael had over 15 acres of land including a huge, unspoiled ridge on which to camp. He had a gorgeous rustic home. He had another building in process which included a loft and a hammock. He even had an AT shelter in his backyard. Ishmael not only invited us to stay indefinitely, he invited FIFTEEN of us to stay. We were given food, space to crash, drinks, and genuine hospitality. We were given rides in and out of town. We were witness to some extraordinary live bluegrass music. We met some fantastic folks involved in good causes. We even met WeatherCarrot, the famous PCT-hiking, AT-hiking, wandering rock genius. Magic abounded. It meandered in and around us. It swelled in waves, and crashed over us again and again and again.
Now, as wonderful as Magic is, finding Magic within Magic is the White Whale. After such a stretch of luck and general merriment, I was so surprised when I encountered this White Whale that I still get chills. Here is how it went down: we were sitting around a fire on a particularly chilly evening in Ishmael’s backyard. We has just been given an impromptu concert by a stand-up bass extraordinaire, and were now enjoying our company, our beers, and our collective shithousededness. After much provocation, the conversations halted, and Runway began to speak. It began as a poem, built around structure and disciplined rhyming. Slowly--as we all watched, mesmerized--her stressed articulation became a drum, and her lyrics began to flow off her tongue. Her deeply personal criticism of a dysfunctional relationship began to take form. We winced as she wound through various rounds of heartbreak. We smiled as she carried us into her world of revenge. Her lyrical genius aside, Runway’s storytelling ability was staggering. In three minutes, our small group became insiders in her complicated and criss-crossed web. We found ourselves getting more and more entangled in her world as she ripped off razor-sharp lines. At the end, we just stared. Some were confused and a tad shocked, others were waiting for others to react. I, on the other hand, smiled broadly and gave my quiet respect for not only the absolute skill just demonstrated, but also for the accomplishment of the impossible--a one-up on the Magic. A real moment of Trail Magic within Trail Magic.
While I never became particularly close with Runway, I do feel like this moment connected all of us to her. She gave us a glimpse of what she had in store, and she gave us just a moment of her capabilities. But, I will remember this moment for what it really represents: a blissful and serendipitous display of Magic within Magic. Eat your heart out NOBOs.