Old Forge Picnic Area, Michaux State Forest, PA, May 2, 2018 — Trail magic in the hiking world is thought of as an unexpected act of kindness, generosity or discovery, or finding exactly what you need most when you least expect it.
Trail magic can make your day or your hike. It can move you to tears, restore your faith in humanity, or stimulate extreme gratitude; sometimes all three.
As you can imagine, hikers love trail magic, but not all of it is welcome. Unattended trail magic can food condition animals and litter the forest with heaps of trash.
This trail magic in Maine attempted to get it right but failed because it was unattended. Animals could easily open these containers or a careless hiker could fail to close them. Moreover, it’s personal property left on public lands and helps create expectations of free food for hikers.
Those who bestow trail magic are known as trail angels. Tim Davis is one. That’s about an eight-pound omelet he’s making for me in that frying pan.
Following a thru hike attempt where his ill-tempered knees failed to cooperate, the generous-hearted electrician wanted to stay involved and turned to cooking which is his second love after hiking. Tim’s trail name is Fresh Ground for the beans he ground up and the fresh coffee he brewed with them each morning of his hike.
He invented the Leapfrog Cafe as the means to deliver his love to hikers. He sets up the Leapfrog Cafe for a few days, then moves up the trail to find new hikers.
The Fresh Ground Leapfrog Cafe was a welcome discovery in 2015 when, as a ridgerunner, I splashed out of an icy rain into Gooch Gap, GA. The freshly grilled banana pancakes and steaming coffee were simply divine and exactly what I needed. If I was crying out of thanks, no one could tell if it was rain or tears running down my freezing red cheeks.
Later, I enticed several hikers, who had been dodging the rain for several days at the Gooch Mountain Shelter, to move on with the promise of fresh pancakes and hot coffee at the bottom of the soppy mountain.
Then, it was my duty to discuss Leave No Trace principles with Fresh Ground. For one, he didn’t lock up his trash at night in bear country. Since, he’s refined his methodology to be truly compliant.
This trip, since the Cafe was only slightly more than an hour away from home, I spent most of the day hanging out at the Cafe. I brought cases of Coke, grape and root beer sodas plus a cash donation as a small payback for the priceless kindness I received not that long ago.
Hand washing station for filthy-handed hikers. The water has bleach in it. He properly disposes of his gray water afterward.
A clean towel covers the picnic table in the food prep area. Sanitation is paramount.
Hiker feeds like this are not allowed to charge money or accept donations. Fresh Ground has a Facebook page and Go Fund Me page for that. Initially he saved and used his own money. Now he does that, but accepts donations, 100 percent of which go towards feeding the hikers.
Stopping at the Leapfrog Cafe can be like a fine dining experience with the owner doing double duty as the server. Pancakes, omelets, hot dogs, taco bowls, fresh fruit, cookies and lemonade are on the menu. He now packs up every night and operates out of picnic and off trail areas.
Even the hikers need photographic souvenirs.
The Fresh Ground Leapfrog Cafe, featuring live entertainment by “Strummy String.” He says his instrument is a reformulated mountain dulcimer.
Trail magic is criticized for causing hikers to congregate. But, whenever hikers stop for a bit, there’s always an opportunity to talk and sometimes make a difference.
While talking to “Research” who is a psych professor on sabbatical from a college in Macon, GA, I learned she had hiked within a shout of the half-way point and didn’t know how to hang her food bag. She thought she couldn’t throw the line high enough. “Never fear!” I offered. “There’s a way even you can throw like Tom Brady.”
After loading a sock with a rock and knotting it to her bear line, Research learned to fling the sock over a tall branch by swinging it underhand.
The next step in the PCT hang is threading the rope through a carabiner, then hoisting the food bag up to the branch level. Here she’s tying a clove hitch on a stick that will prevent the bag from sliding back into bear reach. Reverse process to retrieve the food.
Success!!! I love it when someone is excited about learning something new.
Fresh Ground planning his next move while Research destroys a taco bowl.
At dusk, the Leapfrog Cafe disappeared into the sunset headed for its next surprise location. With luck, that will be near you.