Wow! What an amazing place to serve tea.
My girlfriend in college hiked the Appalachian Trail before coming to school. She told me about the arduous 2,200 mile hike from Georgia to Maine, the highs and lows of trail life, and most importantly, she told me about Trail Magic.
Trail Magic happens when someone decides to help a hiker simply because they want to see them succeed in their hard journey. It can take the form of a ride from the trail to town so the hiker can resupply. Or perhaps it’s someone who leaves some energy bars at a trailhead. Often, the best trail magic is unexpected, personal, and/or includes needed resources like food, transport, or showers.
Two years ago, I brought Edna Lu the teabus, and Ally brought her van up to Packer Saddle – mile 1204 of the Pacific Crest Trail. We camped there for five days serving tea, snacks, and baked goods to hikers. It was such an incredible experience that we knew we had to do the AT should the opportunity present itself. And since we were already in Maine during the right season this year, we just had to!
Ally and I showed up with Edna Lu in the Sugarloaf area as recommended by Chase (the owner of the bar The Rack in Sugarloaf), who we met in Portland, ME. He told us about a nice parking area at the trailhead. Almost immediately upon arrival, we found several hikers in the parking area getting ready to hitch into Stratton to resupply, or get back on the trail. Thus our tea-making began.
We stayed up into the dark hours sipping tea, getting to know our first AT hikers. As we were chatting about calories and energy, it came to me that we should be making pancakes for hikers. I knew we had some pancake mix, and it wouldn’t be hard to get more ingredients. So, the next morning, we drove into Stratton and stocked up on pancake ingredients. We gave some hikers a ride back to the trail, and started setting up our tea zone – rugs, cushions, a table, and topped it off with my half-a-parachute. It was minimal, but cozy, and much more than what hikers are used to. In fact, many hikers wouldn’t even come onto the rug throughout the week, and preferred to sit on the ground or on their packs. I think it’s because not only have they become accustomed to that, but they also know that they’re “dirty” by some people’s standards and are a little tip-toey around non-hikers and their space. We didn’t care.
Much of the conversations revolved around community, sharing, the trail, the teabus. A common observation by hikers is that they often start what they think is going to be a journey of rugged independence, only to find that the community of the trail is what ultimately makes a huge impact on them. When someone gets hurt, everyone pitches in to divvy up their load so they don’t have to carry it. When someone runs out of food, everyone pitches in for them to eat. People often gather in “shelters” to share a space to cook, eat, and engage. In towns, there’s always “hiker boxes” that have people’s excess gear, food, and more for anyone to take for free. For most people who upgrade their gear or have extra food, it goes in a hiker box, rather than being sent home. Because hikers can only bring necessities with them, any extra they have is shared freely. And it’s easy to do so, because you want to see those around you succeed as much as yourself. You’re all in this together.
I really loved all these concepts because this is what the tea bus is about out in the non-trail world. Serving free tea is Trail Magic, but for anyone and everyone. The Gift & Take is like a hiker box – where anyone can put in and anyone can take out. The teabus is like a shelter, where people can gather, drink tea, and connect. And all of this happens because the culture around the tea bus is wanting to help people simply so that they succeed in this hard, arduous journey called life.
Throughout the four days that we were set up, we served more than 40 hikers 80 pancakes and 150 cups of chai. People slept in our tea zone, and we had hikers for all but 3 hours of our four days. The spot we chose was awesome because it was at mile 2001. The first thing you came upon after the 2000 mile marker was the tea bus. We made friends like 00-Zero, who earned that trail name because he “zero-ed,” or didn’t hike any miles, for three days in a row when he stayed with us.
One day, a fellow in a white SUV pulled up, asked if we were doing trail magic, and started bragging about all the Trail Magic he’d done this year. “Here’s a list of 70+ hikers I’ve given a ride to.” Then he mentioned being the Chief of Police for Carabasset Valley (the closest town). “Really?” I asked. He held up his badge and gun, and continued to gloat about his Trail Magic. I loved this interaction for many reasons. One, I loved that the Chief of Police was helping so many hikers. But I also loved this interaction in that it was quite to opposite from many interactions we have with authority while serving tea. Contrast this with the time we were forced to shut down at a National Park for serving tea, or “conducting business,” as the Rangers said. Since we had been camped there for several days, I would have more likely expected an authority figure to tell us we couldn’t camp there. But what I find is that many people around trail culture latch on to the awesome power of community and helping people. Thanks, Chief Lopez!
I truly believe that if we put as much weight into seeing people (and even strangers) succeed in their daily lives, the non-trail world would look more like the Trail – with people sharing excess freely, helping without being asked, and offering the comfort of community to those in need. And we’re all in need. I truly believe that genuine human interactions and community are, along with food, water, shelter, warmth, and air, one of the basic human necessities. Without community we perish.
Thanks to Chase for letting us know the good spot to serve tea and hooking us up with waste vegetable oil; to all the hikers who shared their stories; to the hikers who brought us more pancake supplies; to Fotter’s Market for letting us fill up water; and Chief Lopez for serving people like police should.
Next stop, Common Ground Country Fair!