Trail Magic

Trail Magic

A Story by Amy

Trail magic is a phenomenon that happens on an extended outdoor adventure. On the cusp of big trouble, and zap! there it is.


Trail Magic

Hang out long enough with backpackers and bicycle tourists and you’ll hear essentially the same story:  they took a wrong turn on the trail; blew out their last bicycle tube miles from anywhere; found themselves in a dicey situation with a strange dude.  In that last ditch moment just as they were tipping over the line between hope and despair, they were saved. Inexplicably. Someone just, well, showed up.  Divine intervention, karma, luck, trail magic? Call it what you like. Different word, same outcome.

In April of 1995, my best friend, Donna and I took a long bike ride across the United States. Clearly we were novices:  we pedaled off in mid April (no campgrounds open) , took the northern route (cold), and bucked protocol by going east to west (oodles of headwind).  We were obscenely over packed. First stop we gave away the gallon of white gas and the case of Powerbars that we had strapped onto the back of my bike. To our credit, we did have the sense to turn down an offer of a cell phone. Back then they were the size of a megaphone and about as effective.

Trail Magic/Cowboy Angel Guy #1  �" somewhere west of Muscatine, Iowa

Tornado season was cranking up in the first week of May when we crossed the mighty Mississippi River in Muscatine, Iowa. “Keep an eye on the sky and be certain that there is ditch to throw yourself”, the natives told us, shaking their heads. “Eight twisters reported in the state last night”, warned the waitress at breakfast, rolling her eyes. Do we pedal or hunker down? Dumb decision: we pedaled.

Two hours later  the rain was pounding down so hard it was like sitting under a waterfall. I would periodically peer down the road for headlights but figured that we were the only ones crazy enough to be out in this storm. That was until the skinny young guy with a cowboy hat pulled up in a white windowless van. He jumped out, tossed our bikes in the back. “Get in!” A moment of hesitation: white windowless van, pushy skinny cowboy bike thief?  We got in.

He brought us to a campground where he was staying and set us up in the rec hall. Word got around about the harebrained eastern gals who tried to ride their bicycles through a tornado. White haired ladies passed through with offerings of burgers and really good potato salad. Some  pulled up chairs, told their stories, poignant, edgy, and sweet. In the morning, they filled us up with a breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and sausage, a stern warning about tornados, and we were off. Trail magic.



Trail Magic/Cowboy Angel Guy #2 �" Valentine, Nebraska

We were cranky. We had endured two days of sifting sand through our teeth pedaling  through the Sand Hills of Nebraska.  Ten miles shy of our magnet city, Valentine, the wind turned so fierce that our bikes slanted 30 degrees to the right. Sand particles blasted our checks and eyes. Soon enough came bone freezing rain.

What a heartbreak to haul ourselves into town, pumped up by the promise of a hot bath and a warm bed, to find it plastered with neon “no vacancy” signs. This was the weekend of the annual Heart City Rodeo and every last room was taken.

Ever resourceful, huddling in a phone booth, we called a few pastors in town, hopeful that they would give us some floor space in their churches. No cooperation.

I was well on my way toward second stage hypothermia and Donna was running out of dimes. We were considering the viability of a night in the phone booth. If that wasn’t enough, a damn cowboy drove up in his pickup, leaned out his window bellowing. I couldn’t make out the words but in my hypothermic stupor, I was spoiling for a fight.

“Come on, buddy”, I slurred, shaking my white fist at him. “Go find your own phone booth!” He shook his head and kept on shouting. Donna slapped her hand over my blue lips before I could start up again. 

“Geezum cripes, gal, shut up and listen! Too much rain, I’m leaving town. You ladies look like you need a place other than that gosh darn phone booth! Give a holler to the Motel 8 and ya might just get my room!” Huh. We did. We lived. Trail magic.

             -----------------------------------------     --------------------------------   -----------------------------

Is there only trail magic?  What about driving-to-work magic? Or picking-the-kids-up-at-daycare magic? I think that there is.

 When we’re on the road or the trail, there’s plenty that is placed in our path and we’re at the mercy of it: weather, people, animals, even ourselves. Living under the sky has a way of stripping us down to naked honesty; we know, no doubt, we are not running the show. No choice: we gotta believe in trail magic.

But in ordinary life, most of us live under a roof. We ship ourselves to work in cars. We work under artificial light.  We are distracted by a constant barrage of ipads, iphones, and cable TV. We’ve created a bubble world in which we think we are in charge.

I sound harsh. Please make no mistake: I like living under a roof. Loved Skype with all my heart when my daughter was in Korea. Lots of times I drive my car to a place so I can run.

In ordinary life, it’s too easy to succumb to the thinking that we don’t need the magic.

When I returned home, I vowed that I would continue to feel that unadulterated awe that comes from being a receiver of trail magic. All that worldly garble clogs up clarity.  However, I’ve had a couple of Cowboy Angel Guys saving  my skin. Yes, sharp awareness fades but at the heart of it, I know, without doubt, trail magic’s got my back.









 There’s room to make out the magic. The doing-the-dishes magic gets lost beneath the


-Amy MacKenzie

© 2013 Amy

Author's Note

Yup. The ending is lame. Would love to get general impressions. Be gentle.

My Review

Would you like to review this Story?
Login | Register

Share This
Request Read Request
Add to Library My Library
Subscribe Subscribe


Added on April 1, 2013
Last Updated on April 1, 2013
Tags: bicycle, trail, tornado, trail magic, cowboy



Greenfield , MA

I'm excited because I have just gotten my first writing gig for an online publication. Only recently have I been back in to writing. Combining photography, my other creative passion, with writing, has.. more..