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Sprinkling a little magic on the trail

The curtain is closing on Summer 2015, and another chapter of the Pacific Crest Trail is coming to an end as a record-setting class of through-hikers nears their destination. Hikers from around the world have endured months of sweat, smoke, snow, withdrawals, breakthroughs, accomplishments and failures on the trail from Mexico to Canada, and I had the opportunity to share some of their stories.

This summer I maintained a cache of hiker treats near the California-Oregon border for PCT through-hikers. Located beneath a patch of trees on the Siskiyou Crest, the cooler was kept stocked with fruit, granola bars, soda, water — and a notebook so hikers could jot their thoughts as they took a much deserved break.

Flipping through the pages of the notebook, I read about moments of pure exhaustion, friendships formed along the way, appreciation for Trail Angels (people who stock coolers), the highs and lows experienced during isolation from society. Each hiker signed the log using their trail name, a descriptive title that through-hikers adopt for their trek.

Some of my favorites include:

“Was hoping for some trail magic to keep me going. It’s been a tough couple of days! Thank you universe for the lovely people who put this here” — Bluemoon & Scarecrow

“Boom! Trail magic out of nowhere. Awesome, thanks!” — Mac

“Thank you! Unexpected trail magic is the best!” — Fix It

“Haven’t seen magic in a while!” — Mo’ Bettah & Hamburger

“I was not expecting this! Amazing, Muchas Gracias!” — Boa

“What a delightful way to be welcomed into Oregon. It feels good to be here and in good company.” — Aqua Man

“Thanks so much! Running a little light on calories today; soda really helped!” — Comet & Not-a-Bear from Maine

“I was in a rut. Less than 1,000 miles to go, Oregon. Now 1,700 miles, and I actually hit trail magic. In a wonderful mood now, all smiles now, thanks for everything that you do! Happy Trails!” — Stretch

In addition to the comments in the notebook, I got to meet some of the hikers as they stumbled across the stash. Those encounters were rewarding. Getting to engage in memorable conversations with PCTers and help them out in a little way is what makes being a Trail Angel worth it.

One couple I met called themselves Ewalk and Podcast, also known as Andrew and Kristen Holzschuh. They were from Dallas, and adventuring together was an essential part of their new marriage. I initially set out to assure them that Oregon was not always this smoky. But Ewalk pulled out his phone and began showing me impressive photos he captured of the mountains immersed in smoke.

I met a woman from London who greatly enjoyed the stereotypical hippie culture of the State of Jefferson. There were many groups I came across that had formed along the trail. Hikers bonded together to form a kind of family that would reassemble for meals even if they got separated during the day. I shared many laughs with them and was warmed by their close-knit sense of community.

In the end, taking the opportunity to help these adventurers along their way had more of an impact on me than them.

I am inspired by their ability to persevere and compensate for discomfort or discouragement that comes with the journey. I am impressed by the sacrifices they made to commit to spending months on the trail.

And there is the hope that, when my time comes to hike from Mexico to Canada, I will encounter like-minded individuals willing to help me out when I need it most. The willingness to give and the humility to take is part of what makes the Pacific Crest Trail a community.

Sophie Stiles lives in Medford.

Sam and Nicole Lee, pictured on the Pacific Crest Trail near Mount Ashland, began their PCT hike April 1 in Campo, Calif., on the Mexican border. Mail Tribune / Forrest Roth