Angels Along the Pacific Crest Trail
Keywords:empathic altruism, psychological egoism, trail angels, trail magic
This study sought to understand motivations of individuals who offer unsolicited assistance to Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) thru-hikers. Referred to as “trail angels,” these individuals provide supportive services (e.g., food, drink, transportation, and lodging) along the 2,650-mile footpath as it passes through California, Oregon, and Washington. Their services have been documented in the literature on studies of thru-hikers, but the motives of trail angels have yet to be studied. To understand why trail angels provide free services, the authors developed an open-ended online survey and posted it to two trail angel Facebook group pages. The survey asked angels about reasons for serving as a trail angel, benefits accrued, and motivations to continue. Qualitative data were analyzed by independent coders. Emergent themes (n = 30) indicated that trail angels are motivated by joy in helping others, meeting new people, living vicariously through others, and sustaining a unique community. They also discussed negative impacts of trail angels. The themes are discussed in terms of empathic altruism and psychological egoism. Additional discussion focuses on implications for PCT management.
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