‘Trail Magic’ along the Pacific Crest Trail
Ben Benjamin enjoys seeing people smile.
And the smiles are abundant when Benjamin, relaxing under the shade of trees while seated in a lawn chair, greets surprised visitors.
The passersby may be taken off-guard when they see Benjamin, but the smiles form when he offers them free chilled sodas from an ice chest.
“I love the fact it’s a surprise,” Benjamin smiled.
It’s a surprise because the gift of a cold drink comes along a Southern Oregon section of the Pacific Crest Trail, which begins at the Mexico-California and ends 2,653 miles later where Washington meets Canada. For the past several years, Benjamin and his friends Mark Sherbow and Dick Barbara have taken turns performing “Trail Magic” from their spot along the PCT.
Two years ago, the trio handed out 2,233 cans of soda in a single season. Thru hikers, those attempting to backpack the entire PCT, typically begin reaching Southern Oregon in June, with numbers increasing in July and August before declining in September. Because of the distance and logistics, it frequently takes five months to go the entire distance, usually from south to north.
Many days about 30 surprised PCTers experience Trail Magic at the soda stop. Benjamin said he and his Magic partners have been seeing upwards of 80 thru hikers a day in recent weeks. The numbers are higher than usual because most hikers are having to bypass large sections of the PCT closed because of closures from raging forest fires, including the still uncontrolled Dixie fire.
The place where Benjamin, Sherbow and Barbara perform their Trail Magic is in a grove of trees, a welcome rest stop after a steady two-mile uphill. Because chairs have been stolen in previous years — and because they want hikers to be surprised — Benjamin requested their Trail Magic location be described as between far Northern California’s Seiad Valley and Ashland.
“A big bubble of hikers come through Ashland,” says Benjamin, noting that many hikers end a long day’s trek at Callahan’s Mountain Resort, a restaurant-resort near where the PCT crosses Interstate 5. Some stay, while other find rides to Ashland. Earlier that day, Benjamin had given three PCTers rides from Ashland back to Callahan’s.
While on a day hike that included a portion of the PCT, friends and I were surprised by the number of thru-hikers. While we mostly exchanged only quick greetings along the trail, at the “Trail Magic” soda stop several hikers, seated in the shade and contently slurping cool drinks, said they hoped to hitch rides to Ashland to resupply, wash clothes, shower and eat “real food.” Benjamin said various apps such as Guthook, provide detailed information about the PCT, including people willing to host hikers in Ashland and shuttle them back to resume their treks.
“Trail angels,” who provide food, water and other items for thru-hikers, are scattered along segments of the PCT. During our hike, near a road crossing/trailhead, were large jugs of water and packets of raisins. In the Lake of the Woods area, a Klamath Falls woman frequently spends days handing out fruits, sweets and other treats.
For Benjamin, Trail Magic is a way of encouraging hikers. Although he no longer runs extreme distances, the 74-year-old has completed 21 100-mile races. Barbara knows firsthand how much thru-hikers appreciate trail angels because he has hiked the entire PCT.
“I admire their guts. It’s fun learning their stories and learning where they’re from,” says Benjamin, noting some thru-hikers enjoy brief breaks and the chance to chat with strangers. “I love hearing their trail names.”
Thru-hikers traditionally adopt trail names, unique nicknames such as “Mouse King,” “Sliced Beets,” “Beer Man,” and “Cindy Loo Hoo.” Benjamin has earned the moniker “The Inquisitor,” “because I ask them so many questions.”
Without question, Benjamin says, he, Sherbow and Barbara enjoy creating “Trail Magic.”
“It gives them a chance to relax,” Benjamin says of the trail-side soda stop. “We love helping the hikers, helping them to achieve their goal.”
Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-880-4139.