A Family of Trail Angels

Before coming out to trail, I never anticipated the amount of family that would reach out to me and want to meet on trail. Fortunately, they were all very enthusiastic about doing trail magic and meeting the AT through-hiker community. The trail became a long term family reunion for me. I started telling other hikers on trail that if they hiked with me long enough, odds are they’d run into my family doing trail magic. I am extremely grateful for my family’s support on this journey. There were times on trail where the only thing that kept me hiking was that I was meeting an Aunt or Uncle in about a week further up trail. This post was put together by my Mom (PokéMom), as a collection of all trail magic received from my family. Each Trail Angel wrote their own piece on their trail magic experience. Enjoy!

April 25, 2021

Kevin & Cathy Markey (parents)

Hampton, TN

Although it doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as smoothly as Cathy’s AT trail name, this blogger would be proud to be known as the “PokéDad.” 🙂

On the chilly morning of April 25, Cathy and I pulled off a remote highway outside Hampton, TN, with a trunk load of trail magic we hoped would provide a bit of joy and relief to a band of worn and weary AT thru-hikers. We brought 30 homemade smoked ham/cheese subs, four loaves of Cathy’s legendary banana bread, other assorted sweets and treats, and a cooler full of cold beverages. The canine beasts Cole and Luna tagged along as well.

Our tailgate opened about 10 a.m., and our first customer emerged from the woods moments later. Shawty smiled when she saw us and hollered, “Hi. You must be Mr. and Mrs. HokeyPokey!” (I guess word travels fast when there’s trail magic in the area). She dropped her pack and dove right into the goodies. Moments later AAA showed up, then Bugbite, Gourmet, Wilson, Shredder, Dumbhorse, Creature, etc. Soon thereafter Hokey Pokey wandered out from the woods with a big grin on his face.

It took the dogs a few minutes to acquaint themselves to Seany’s new aroma before properly greeting him with a wet tongue bath. Initially the beasts barked at all hikers when they arrived, but pretty quickly realized these individuals were all part of a friendly community sharing a common bond with Hokey Pokey and therefore members of our pack.

After six hours, the food ran out, and Cathy and I packed up to leave. The immense, sincere appreciation the hikers expressed for the small favors we offered was incredible. As we drove home, we realized the only thing better than meeting all these courageous individuals was the pure joy we received from having served them.

* This trail magic is still pretty iconic on trail. I still have friends who bring it up as one of their favorite trail magics of their hike. We then progress into dreaming about my Mom’s banana bread and my Dad’s smoked ham sandwiches and how we wish we could have more on trail – Hokey Pokey *

May 23, 2021

Kevin & Cathy Markey (parents)

Roanoke, VA

On our way home from Charlottesville, VA, Kevin and I made an impromptu Trail Magic stop just outside Roanoke. After quick stops at Sam’s Club and Subway, we found ourselves driving through extremely remote and gorgeous Virginia farmlands and forests. A small niche in the trail alongside a gravel road provided the perfect spot for Trail Magic. There were other Trail Angels making hot grilled-cheese sandwiches. Just when you think there’s too much food to be consumed, it’s gone. The thru-hikers emerged from the woods slow and steady. Honestly, I was taken aback by the change in their appearance from just a month ago: hair everywhere on theirbodies was longer, beards thicker, clothes and bodies dirtier, skinnier physiques, faces more haggard, legs infested with chiggers … and the smell. Unbelievable. Yet, the body odor reflects the true integrity of these hikers. They had just finished crossing high VA ridgelines completely exposed to sweltering heat and sun for days on end. Water was difficult to find, requiring long treks down off the ridgelines only to retrieve water and haul it back up to the ridge. It’d been quite awhile since they’d crossed a town and potential showers. I noted to Kevin afterward I had never smelled anyone as bad as Seanythat day. Kevin didn’t think Seany smelled bad; he thought the girls smelled the worst. Interesting … I didn’t notice the girls’ smell even as some asked for hugs coming into Trail Magic “camp.” Hmmm. Primal. 

It was a quick visit, and we always enjoy hearing everyone’s stories as to why they’re doing the hike, how they managed the time off from responsibilities, etc. One woman was hiking to find herself again after a bad break-up. It felt like she had found herself already. I know this may sound sexist, but I continue to be amazed at the fearlessness, strength, and perseverance of the female hikers. Maybe because I can put myself in their shoes and know I’d be scared of snakes, getting lost, sounds in the night, bears, creepy people, etc. And, I’d give up after awhile … I think. I know at points I’d be crying in a fetal position. Male or female, they are all amazing, and we continue to be so proud of them for pursuing their goals, pushing themselves beyond all physical/mental/emotional limits. In many ways, we find ourselves jealous.

If you live anywhere near the AT – or are just passing by the trail during hiking months – Trail Magic doesn’t need to be highly coordinated or complex. Some of the best Trail Magic is a Styrofoam cooler left on the trail packed with ice and coldbeverages: “Help Yourselves.” Beer in the cooler is akin to striking gold.

May 30, 2021

Laura, Henry, & Turner Monroe (aunt and cousins)

Amherst, VA

As his favorite aunt (kidding! he has so many!), I knew bringing Trail Magic was going to make an impact on Seany’syounger cousins, which it did. The phrase “Seany is a beast” was thrown around a lot that day. Providing Trail Magic for an unknown amount of people at a location only known to us by Seany’s longitude and latitude coordinates did not disappoint. I was amazed how many of his thru-hiker buddies did not know his name was Seany. Hokey Pokey is fully Hokey Pokey on the trail. Those trail names are legit, and it was fun to speak to the other hikers on how their names were founded and what was behind their life choice to pursue this task. Despite their lack of showers, I was inspired by so many. One gentleman I think of often was 65 years old. He shared his personal story of having cancer and how he knew innately that when he turned 65 walking the AT was not just an option but a rite of passage long overdue after his illness. Even when he left the trail for nine days to have an unexpected lump checked out (it was nothing), he returned exactly where he left off to continue his journey. How can you not be inspired by this?

Two days after Trail Magic, I was fortunate Seany stayed at my house for a night as he needed to get his second Covid shot. He’d heard from other hikers the second shot can kick your butt, so taking a “zero” (no mileage on that day) in case you need to recoup was well worth it. I was able to feed him, let him sleep in a real bed, and try to do some laundry. It was a gift to speak with him at such a contemplative time. He was a third of the way through the trail and beginning to hear of others he met who were done and had “gotten what they needed” out of the AT. He thought deeply about those no longer continuing, always retaining respect for their decisions. After a few well-deserved beers, we were able to dig deep into why he was doing this and what this meant for his life. As with any rite of passage, the journey is the gift, and Seany was feeling it. Read his blog post about the Virginia Blues,https://smontheat.com/2021/06/04/the-virginia-blues/, and you will see where he was mentally at this time. Life lessons in abundance. What a gift to have had this small glimpse into his world! I consider myself a pretty avid hiker, and I often refer to the woods as my church. It is rejuvenating and grounding. As I do my daily hikes, I think of Seany and what he endures to be in service to others by raising money for this very important cause. Even out there day after day, he knows he is not alone. I know he wants those who are struggling with their self-worth to remember that as well. He is making a difference. Hokey Pokey, you got this! Your visit with me was in May, it is now August. I can only imagine how much more you have learned. You are amazing and an inspiration. I look forward to hearing about your crossing the finish line in Maine.

June 12, 2021

Regina Markey (aunt)

Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), Harpers Ferry, WV

I was planning to meet up with Seany just short of the halfway point of the trail in West Virginia, during a heat wave. It’s hard to plan the “Trail Magic,” because you don’t know how many hikers you’ll feed or what they like. I went with gazpacho (cold soup), fresh Einstein bagels and cream cheese, boxed Indian food meals, fried plantains (for bulk), squeezable peanut butter and honey packets, celery, various single tea bags, fruit, sparking fruit sodas, and a few Starbucks Frappaccinos. There was a gentle rain during my drive from DC, but thankfully itstopped as I rolled into Harpers Ferry.

Seany was punctual. The parking lot where we met was full and kind of off-trail, so we ended up about a mile away at the ATC. It worked out great. I unloaded my Trail Magic on the ATC front table, complete with a computer-generated “Half-Way Café” sign. Seany gulped down the StarbucksFrappaccino in less than 2 minutes, and then ate slowly and methodically for about 3 hours straight, sampling everything. We talked about the trail and our family. Seany completed some kind of log they keep at the Conservancy for thru-hikers. The guy who ran the ATC agreed I “went overboard” with the food, but being from a family of 11 (Seany’s dad being one of them), that’s how I operate. The food fed a dozen or so hikers, and even more the next day. I know this, because one of the ATC volunteers was so crazy about my gazpacho that he asked me to email him the recipe. So I made a new friend. Everyone was so friendly.

It was a mix of hikers and other people coming and going. There was a family of four with two daughters showed up off the highway and approached me to ask if they could “leave” some Girl Scout cookies for the hikers. I guess I looked like an authority figure. “Of course,” we told them, and the girls added to the table. They went on enthusiastically about how they sold more cookies than anyone in their hometown – I think it was in Michigan. Seany and I couldn’t figure out what they were doing in Harpers Ferry so far from their home with all those Girl Scout cookies, and why they stopped at the ATC, but their Trail Magic was much appreciated.

It was a great experience to share a bit of magic with Seany and the hikers on their journey of a lifetime.

July 5, 2021

Fran and Dave Deacon (aunt and uncle)

Northern NJ

July 4th weekend, 2021, brought with it an unexpected visit to the Appalachian Trail thanks to our nephew Seany, who crossed over the border from Pennsylvania (aka – the rocky road) to New Jersey a few days before the Fourth. He walked (and apparently ate lots of deli sandwiches) for four days before finding himself 45 minutes due west of our house in Glen Ridge. Dave and I set off on Monday late morning with a trunk full of sandwiches, Gatorades, chips, pickles, watermelon, bananas and cookies to coordinate points given to us by Seany that took us to nothing more that a small pull-over spot off the side of a country road. Our timing was perfect as day-hikers sensitive to the heat who had gotten an early start were coming off trail, opening up space for us to pull over and park. We quickly took occupancy of a large swath of the gravel lot and set up our Trail Magic that included some comfy camping chairs. No sooner had we gotten ourselves situated and Seany emerged out of the woods on what was nothing more than a narrow footpath you would miss if you weren’t looking for it.

Sensitive to the fact we know Seany is on a (hiking) mission, we expected we might spend as little as 15 minutes with him before he would cross the road and continue on his way. Instead, he blessed us with a three-hour visit, during which time he sunk into one of the chairs and was even able to wash and cool his feet with melted ice from one of the coolers. We had about 6 other visitors who stayed a while with Seany and us before moving on. When it was finally time for Seany to put his shoes back on and return to the trail, we packed up and took Tucker, our Labradoodle, to walk a small ways with him. While the trail seemed so unassuming from the road, it immediately opened up and showed off its incredible beauty to us only a few feet in. While we didn’t walk far, we caught a little of the infectious trail bug and felt our first pangs of envy that Seany has made this magical place his home for this season of his life. 

Saying our good-byes to Seany on the trail, we turned and walked back to find a whole new set of thru-hikers crossing the road. We invited them to our car and, once more, unpacked food, drink and chairs and ended up having a very unexpected visit with upwards of 10 hikers over the course of the next hour, two of whom we gave a ride to the drive-in theatre up the road in Warwick where they — just like Seany did in another town the day before — would camp for the night. In all our conversations, including with Seany, we heard a lot about an ice cream place just up the trail a ways, so we asked Siri for some help and found our way there. While we did have to stand in line for a while, it was well worth the wait as the views and ice cream were amazing, and it proved to be a magical way to end our day of Trail Magic.

We have lived in New Jersey for 21 years and, sadly, have never hiked any of the statewide trails Seany has now covered in a matter of only a week. The things he had to say about the New Jersey trail in its walkability, views, small towns and, of course, delis peppered along the way make us feel terribly remiss we have not taken advantage of this amazing trail practically in our backyard. So, for Dave’s recent 60th birthday, I bought him the exact walking sticks Seany uses as well as a couple of other items off his packing list. We will be headed out to the trail this fall when we are back from our current trip to Seany’s parent’s house in North Carolina. It has been said that the greatest compliment one can pay another is to emulate them in some manner. This one is for you, Seany. Thank you for blazing the trail for us.

July 11, 2021

Jody Markey (uncle)

Beacon, NY

Parked alongside the road where the AT crossed and heard conversation from far off, interrupting the silence. The conversation got louder until Seany and his trailmates emerged from the woods. Seeing me greet Seany with a hug, the others immediately took their packs off, sat down, and began to devour the fruit and donuts I had brought for them. They clearly knew the routine. I was impressed with the camaraderie and friendship among the group and was happy Seany had friends to share the AT experience. I sort of wanted to go with them when they left, disappearing into the woods. Sort of.

July 13, 2021

Yvonne Locke, Ross Markey and Siera, Rose Markey (aunt and cousins)

Bull’s Bridge, South Kent, CT

On Hokey Pokey’s recent post, I learned I am a Muggle. And, you know, I am okay with that … more than okay actually. Being a Muggle is terrific! Muggles have the pleasure, and it is a pleasure, to bring Trail Magic to the Wizards (aka thru-hikers).

I was able to catch up with Hokey Pokey and a few of his posse not far from my hometown of New Milford, CT. What a truly amazing and odd experience. Amazing, because as a Trail Angel you get to bring REAL food and JUNK food to the Wizards so they can continue on their journey filled with sustenance and a good old-fashioned sugar rush. You have the pleasure of hearing their stories, meeting their family members who drove from IL through the night with fresh-baked cookies for their loved ones (makes me feel like a bit of a slacker).Once you’ve done Trail Magic, you have the pleasure of knowing your Wizard is alive and doing okay. You also get to put faces to trail names: Hello Potters! Hello Baby Hands! Hi Tech and Swift! All of this leaves you filled with hope for humanity and all that Kumbaya touchy-feely stuff — you know, pure joy.

Why odd you ask? You show up in the middle of nowhere with food and drinks and you, well, wait. Wait for Wizards to come off the trail, wait to make sure they all have had enough to eat and drink, and wait until everyone is ready to say good-bye and hit the trail (or take a zero day and spend 24 luxurious hours at Chateau Locke—lucky Hokey Pokey!!!) Odd, because you are not sure how to interact with your nomadic nephew, your hunter-gatherer husband, your determined dearie …okay, I will stop. You get the idea. As the marvelous Muggle, you want to jump up and down waving your hands shouting, “Yay, it’s Hokey Pokey!” but you also know your Wizard extraordinaire may not be quite ready for the parade (again Hokey Pokey, so sorry for the song and dance show). Odd too, because as much as you LOVE your Wizard, they STINK and are DIRTY! But, you hug and kiss them and somehow you hardly notice the stench and dirt. Finally, it’s odd, because once you part from your Wizard, you return back to your life. You have a split second, no a split nano second of the thought,“Hey, I should do this!” But, then you realize it takes a truly special person to embark on the journey, and you remember every detail of Pokemom’s experience on trail with Hokey Pokey, and you quickly come to your senses. There’s an odd mix of pride and worry, elation and exhaustion, joy and sadness … mostly joy. Trail Angels may provide Trail Magic, but the real Trail Magic resides in the Wizards.

July 13, 2021

Lyn Primack (aunt)

Bull’s Bridge, South Kent, CT

Ever since we marked her location on the laminated A.T. trail map that stretched across her dining room table, Gloria and I had looked forward to meeting Seany as he passed through Connecticut. It was great fun following his progress as we moved his sticker along the map, and researching the favored food items from earlier family angels. So we had a big assortment for our own Trail Magic buffet, including those amazing Honey Peanut Butter Squeeze Packs, sugar snap peas and Sour Patch Kids. Gloria made big sandwiches to fill the stomach, and she brought a tiny blessed medal to pin on the backpack and feed the spirit. 

Seeing the thru-hikers emerge from the pristine trail, glowing with health and idealism, was to witness humans in a certain state of grace. Their bulging backpacks are a marvel of self-sufficiency, and their openhearted good cheer a true breath of fresh air. All are there for different reasons, but they are a special tribe, for sure. We talked of meal planning on the trail, tick prevention, the inspiration of Walden Pond, “trail integrity,” and the mountains to come. And they ate and ate. It was very rewarding when the last sandwich disappeared. 

Seany, thank you for giving us a wonderful excuse for a family reunion, including a 92 year old and an infant! We are all on a journey, but yours has a special kind of magic that propels you forward through the woods, day after day after day. Thank you for sharing a glimpse of what the trail is teaching you. Honestly, we are still glowing!

July 13, 2021

Gloria Markey (grandmother)

Bull’s Bridge, South Kent, CT

The magic of the trail drops its dust on the Markey clan as you carry us – in your backpack – vicariously over the hills and through the mud. Onward, Christian soldier!

July 23, 2021

Father Greg Markey (uncle)

North Adams, MA

It was wonderful to cross paths with Seany in the small town of North Adams in the northwest part of Massachusetts. The Appalachian Trail hugs the western border of Massachusettsand only consists of 4% (90 miles) of the entire 2,200-mile trek. North Adams is the last connection hikers have with civilization before heading over the border into the wooded mountains of Vermont. 

Seany and the men he was travelling with had just spent the night on the peak of Mount Greylock, which is unique on the trail because it has a shelter with beds and showers for the hikers. Seany said they may get to shower once every four or five days. At the height of 3,469 feet, the peak has a marvelous view looking east toward the sunrise. It was clear that morning and they all got up at dawn to watch the morning sun break over the horizon. However, they then went back to the cabins and slept to enjoy this rare luxury on the trail of a real bed. Seany was in disbelief: “They even gave us two pillows!” 

Seany was barely recognizable as he emerged from the woods with a full mountain-man beard, oversized hat, and enormous backpack. But the spark of his eyes and friendly smile quickly assured me it was Seany. He seemed in great spirits, especially considering he had been hiking since March and lost 20 pounds. I laid out “trail magic” for them of sandwiches, fruit, and homemade cinnamon raisin bread. No matter how much they eat, they can’t keep the weight on them. The cans of Sprite went quickly and were obviously a favorite. 

Seany and the other hikers had formed a “band of brothers” who were bonded by the joys and hardships of the trail: rattlesnakes in Pennsylvania, bears in New York, and heavy amount of rain this year. They did not always walk together, but their paths crisscrossed continually over the 3-month journey. Seany had just “blown out” his third pair of hiking shoes and his toes were sticking out the side of his right shoe. He had just ordered a new pair to be dropped off at the next day’s stop. We spent a lot of time talking about feet and how to manage them on the trail. I had brought one of the students from the College with me, Ian Cummings, who enjoyed hearing about their adventures.

The Trail through Vermont and New Hampshire had a reputation among the hikers, both for its challenging heights and beautiful views, and there was a lot of excitement because they were about to enter Vermont. Certainly, one of the highlights will be climbing over Mount Washington in New Hampshire, which is 6,288 feet above sea level, and boasts of having some of the worst weather in the world.

I was happy to talk with one hiker from Texas who had walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain prior to walking the Appalachian Trail. I had also walked the Camino to the tomb of Saint James in 2009 and we compared notes. The two walks are very different because although the Camino has a lot of mountains, farms, and rivers like the Appalachian Trail, it also is filled with many historical and cultural monuments, and sometimes goes through cities. However, this American trail of 2,200 miles dwarfs the mere 500 miles of the Camino.

The hour of talking passed very quickly and we all had to get on our way. They kept referring to “Katahdin,” and that they must be going. It had a legendary ring to it, and I learned from Seany that Katahdin refers to the mountain at the very end of Trail in Maine. Mount Katahdin is the highest mountain in Maine, at 5,269 feet. Seany seemed happy and confident he would finish the entire journey as he disappeared into the woods heading north.

July 24, 2021

Grace and Maggie Chadwick (cousins)

Bennington, VT

It was great to see Seany’s smiling face underneath his iconic multicolored hat. We sat and had a chat and ate snacks in the shade beside the car. Maggie made everyone egg sandwiches, and I brought some homemade baked goods. Seany introduced us to all his trailmates, who were all so wonderful and friendly. Everyone was in good spirits, happy to be enjoying some rest and sunshine. They shared stories with us about their time on the trail, favorite spots to hike, weirdest places they’ve been, and enduring all the rain they had to hike through recently. Seany told me he hikes an average of 15 to 20 miles a day, all while carrying a 40lb pack. I brought Seany a much-needed new pair of shoes. His old shoes were soaked and falling apart from hiking on the muddy trail. We shared lots of laughs and hugs before saying our farewells and wishing the brave hiker Hokey Pokey happy trails. Maggie and I both left feeling so inspired by the whole experience and hope to someday maybe hike the trail ourselves.

Thank You Trail Angels!!


4 thoughts on “A Family of Trail Angels

  1. Hokey Pokey, you continue to inspire. You are almost there! We are all still with you as you reach the end. Your journey is epic!! Much love, Aunt Laura

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh phooey, Seany!! I must have JUST missed you!! I gathered up all my gear, laced up m new hiking boots, stuffed all your favorite foods in my backpack and headed out. Parked my car and waited and Waited and WAITED . . . no Seany to be seen (or smelled, depending on when you last showered). I was so disappointed! Had looked forward to a stretch of only a rocky trail or piles of copperheads all curled up, or digging a hole for you-know-what or pitching a tent with you or eating over a campfire or the gorgeous scenery and/or everything else you’ve talked about. I finally tossed my backpack in the trunk, changed from my clunky boots back into my cute sandals and headed for home. However, I want you to know my heart was in the right place even if you weren’t. I am blown away by your adventure. Boy, could you ever write a terrific “What I Did Over the Summer” story!! I’m hoping you’re nowhere near the hurricane! Be safe and keep on plugging away. You’re almost there!! Sending you encouragement and love and, of course, every blessing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. These stories of all your Trail visitors fills my heart with love for all of them and for you Seany. Too bad I live in SFL or I would have been there to see and smell you and your fellow trailers. Love to everyone who is part of this amazing journey.

    Liked by 1 person

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