The little orange cooler

Here is a picture of our (my dad and my) little orange cooler. Some of you might recognize it if you hiked the PCT between 2005 and 2009 and happened across it when it was providing trail magic near Highway 18 in Big Bear. For some of you, it provided a soda or candy bar so you had the energy and spirit to continue hiking to Van Dusen Canyon Road before you went into town.  For others, it gave you some patience to endure the oft-times-long hitch on Highway 18.


Students from LA’s Environmental Charter School diving in to Anitra’s “little orange cooler”.

Every other day during hiker season, my dad, I or sometimes even my mom would drive the 45 minutes each way to stock the cooler, remove the trash and check the register. This was no small feat. We did this because we wanted to pay forward some of the magic that my dad and I received on our hikes. We did it because we thought it was helping people.

Fast forward to the fall of 2009 when I started working for PCTA. That was when I realized that there are better ways to help hikers and to pay it forward. I learned that the unattended cooler that I left in the woods was actually negatively affecting the animals and their habitat. Depite our best efforts, trash escaped its receptacle at our cache. We were, in fact, littering on our public lands (yes I am sad to type that) even though we didn’t realize it. It was equally disheartening to find out that we were taking something away from those who were trying to immerse themselves in the wildness of the PCT. Dad and I never meant to do that. We thought we were helping. We  intended to lift the spirits of weary hikers. We weren’t looking at the big picture.

There are many great ways to provide trail magic to hikers. Showing up at a parking lot or campsite and setting up some shade, chairs and a cooler and interacting with hikers is a great way. Picking up hikers as they go in or out of town is another great way to provide magic.  There are countless ways to provide either planned or spontaneous trail magic. We just have to adjust our perceptions of it. Leaving food unattended at the trailhead is not one of them.

So now when you see our orange cooler, it will be at the Environmental Charter School trail maintenance project keeping lunches cold. It will be at kick-off transporting my dad’s fantastic homemade chili to hungry PCTA staff. You’ll see it at volunteer appreciation events keeping sodas and lemonade cold. You’ll see it in my garage waiting for its next opportunity to provide magic.

Author: Anitra Kass

Anitra Kass is PCTA’s Southern California Regional Representative. She's in charge of the PCT from the Mexican border north approximately 700 miles to Kennedy Meadows. Anitra partners with four National Forests, one BLM office and three CA State Park in the maintenance and management of the PCT. She works out of Borrego Dunes, Calif. She has completed the Triple Crown.