There are a lot of discussions out there about PCT donation etiquette. More specifically, about whether not donating to Trail Angels is an expectation, a gift, a thank you, a mandatory expense of hiking the trail, everything in between or none of the above. There is a question about whether or not a donation jar is a subtle expression of payment for services rendered, or just, you know, a harmless donation jar, sitting there nice and quiet, enjoying the weather and offering politely to take your money, if you should so happen to need a place to put it.
Regardless of its motive, I can’t picture myself taking a cookie and not giving something back if there is a big ol’ donation jar staring at me, which means I may have to pass on the goody stands (or whatever you may call them) and impromptu spaghetti dinners, in order to not feel the sting of my own personal notion of guilt if I have nothing to give back.
And, these discussions make me feel even more nervous than before about things like hitchhiking or asking favors. What if I need a ride, but don’t have money to donate? I understand the nice folks who do these things for thru-hikers are saying donations aren’t expected, but still. My own personal moral compass says that if there is a jar there, a donation is expected, and I feel anxious about the prospect of being in a situation where I need help, but can’t pay.
The concept of ‘Trail Angels’, or just helping people out on the trail was a lot more clear-cut to me before researching the PCT.
I pictured donating to any established “Trail Angel” homes I stayed at, offering monetary recompense when I could to anyone I needed to ask for help, and, if I was lucky, I might experience this trail magic thing, where things like a day hiker shows up right when I am lost to give me directions, or some people at a trailhead have an extra can of Pepsi, or there is a is a random cooler right there-right on the trail!-no other people, just a cooler of stuff, right when I was needing a granola bar to get me through (I saw this once and I didn’t partake because I was only backpacking, but I was SO amazed by it, and it gave me a goofy smile for the next couple of hours. I had heard of people doing this, I had never seen it. Wow. You people who do things like that are really thoughtful), and finally, hopefully a fellow hiker would appear every time I needed to hitch, so I wouldn’t have to hitch alone. Trail magic.
Yogi says in her book, “If you can afford to do the PCT, you can afford to leave a donation.” (paraphrase) I was and am all for that, but I didn’t realize just how often and how many situations I would need to “donate”. And that’s fine. I think. It could just be that Trail Magic and Trail Angels are two different things (some of you are like, duh.), each with their own set of rules, and those things that differentiate the two will become apparent once I am on the trail. And I won’t have anything to feel anxious about. You know, besides all that other stuff to feel anxious about.
Sorry to anyone ahead of time that I may have to ask for help, and not be able to pay. Know that I will help someone else the same way you have helped me.
To the PCT guy a few years ago that gave me a sewing kit to patch up my pants so my buns had proper coverage: THANK YOU! Thank You! THANK YOU!
(Although…….maybe he wasn’t doing me the favor, but rather everyone else on the trail. Hmmm………)