Hikers often experience a phenomenon dubbed Trail Magic. Trail Magic is simply a random act of kindness - even the smallest of things that can renew your faith in other people. Our favorite examples of trail magic have happened when we have been at the lowest point of a backcountry experience. We were four days into a backcountry trip in the Maze section of Canyonlands National Park. For those of you unfamiliar with CNP, it is the most remote National Park in the system. You register your hiking intinerary with the rangers when you go into the park. If you don't come out, they don't come looking for you. The park is simply too large and too remote to justify a search and rescue mission.
It had been a very dry summer and the fall springs were very low. We knew from our topographic map that a natural spring should be within a quarter mile of where we were. We had rationed our water based upon finding this spring. We were literally down to our last drops. We slogged around the general area for a couple of hours. I followed mule deer tracks thinking that the animals would know where to find water. Kevin bushwacked through anything that looked like deciduous vegetation. Again, you would think that the willows would grow somewhere near water.
Finally, we found a TINY puddle of water. It couldn't have been more than 1/2 inch deep. We set about pumping from the puddle. Unfortunately given the depth of the puddle, the water was so filled with silt that our pump filter was quickly clogged. The flies were thick. They probably hadn't seen dirty, stinky, sweaty life in awhile so they were hovering in a frenzied mass around our heads. The incessant buzzing in our ears was driving us close to insanity. Luckily the fall weather was mild (temperatures in the 70s) and although we had hiked a long way that day, we hadn't had many huge elevation gains. So our energy reserves and hydration levels were still pretty good. Nevertheless, we were desperate for water and realized that it was time to make some decisions.
We had spotted another spring on our map in the next canyon over. We could chance it and hope for better luck there. We were about six miles from the Colorado River. It would take some serious climbing -- both up and down -- to get to the river, but at least we knew it was a guaranteed water source. After some deliberation, it seemed like the river was our best bet.
Kevin led the way skirting up slickrock inclines to get out of the dry canyon. Several hours later, we found ourselves looking down at the mighty Colorado River. A long way down! The trail down to Spanish Bottom (the area of the river that we were heading) was steep and rocky with hundreds of switchbacks. Yes, we could make it. Probably just another hour or so of hiking. No, we weren't dying of dehydration. But we sure were tired and thirsty. We steeled ourselves for the climb and started down.
Keep in mind we hadn't seen any other people in four days. Not one single solitary sign of human life. About a quarter of a mile down we start to hear whistling. Nothing special, just the random song of a hiker who is in the zone. That's when we met Ken. Ken was on a rafting trip and had decided to hike up to see part of the Maze. We talked for a few minutes and Ken asked why we were hiking down to the river so late in the day. We explained the water shortage dilemma. Within seconds he had produced a little disposable water bottle. He reached into his pack and dug out a small plastic container of Crystal Light. You have to understand that to a hiker who has been drinking nothing but warm iodine treated water for four days, Crystal Light mix is like gold.
"Enjoy and hang in there," he said.
And without another word he was whistling and climbing again. Not the Holy Grail, not even a lifesaving measure. But this trip was four years ago, and we still talk about Ken from Utah and his grape-flavored Crystal Light. Now that's trail magic.
What does this have to do with San Francisco? The other night our friend Erin dropped us off at the BART station in the middle of downtown. We piled out of her Mini Cooper and stood on the street corner with our loot. 1 large suitcase, 1 wheelie cart, 1 diaper bag, 1 car seat, 1 collapsible stroller, 1 purse, 1 Pack-N-Play, 1 baby and 2 adults stuffed with Cajun food. The BART platform was two stories below us down three flights of stairs. A small sign loomed larger than life, "ELEVATORS OUT OF ORDER."
Hmmm... What to do? There was absolutely no way we were making it down three flights of stairs with baby, stroller and the rest of our stuff. We stood at the top of the stairs staring down bewildered. The homeless guy at the entrance told us about elevators two blocks aways, but that would have been a long schlepp. And out train was leaving in 9 minutes.
Suddenly this couple appears from behind us. She quickly summed up the situation. She grabbed our suitcase. She told her husband to grab the other wheelie bag and the Pack-N-Play.
She said, "You two take the stoller down the stairs and follow me."
They walked us to the ticket machine, waited while we bought our passes and accompanied us to the platform and onto our train. Given enough time, we could have made it two blocks to the elevators. But these strangers granted us a favor at the exact moment we needed it. I guess trail magic exists even amongst the skyscrapers and hubbub of the big city. Hats off to you, San Franciso. And hats off to Mr. and Mrs. X, our magicians in the urban maze.