The late Curtis Owen taught me an important lesson about trail magic and so-called trail angels.
A hiker who called himself "Riff Raff" hiked into Standing Bear Farm, Curtis's hostel, and asked for a ride to the local market.
"Got a resupply right here partner!", Curtis informed him.
Riff Raff wasn't looking for a resupply, he was going to do "magic" down the road from the hostel where the trail crossing was. He was going to spend $400 at the market in town and pass out "epic" fajitas all weekend to every hiker that came that way he announced proudly. Riff Raff wanted to "give back to the trail" he explained. Curtis looked blankly at the boy with dreds, black skull tee, and a dirty face for a few moments then asked, with surprising calm for old Curtis, "You mean you want a ride from me to take $400 of business elsewhere, so you can pass out free food to hikers 200 yards away from where I make a living selling food to hikers?"
The boy looked like he might be catching on for a second there, then he replied without an inkling of understanding: "Right, because I'm gonna do trail magic - I'm a trail angel!"
Sly old Curtis didn't miss a beat, "Okay Riff Raff, R.T. my hired hand here will take you to Cosby 15 miles down the mountain for $15 - a good deal since that's the rate I usually charge for one way!" Riff Raff seemed elated. "Take your pack with you as we can't be responsible for it while you're gone, it's the busy season!" Riff Raff grabbed his pack and headed for the van with visions of epic fajitas dancing under his dreds.
Curtis gave me a knowing look then grinning said quietly: "R.T., drop him off at the market and come back here directly." Curtis added for emphasis, "Without him R.T." I laughed out loud shaking my head and then followed his instructions to the letter. The last time I saw Riff Raff he was skipping into the Cosby Food City with his pack slung over one shoulder trailing flies and a patchouli fog.
Just like the would-be trail angel and well-meaning Riff Raff, bootleg shuttle service providers hurt small local businesses and often imperil hikers. They do so by undercutting legitimate enterprises that are encumbered by operating costs and safety expenses or requirements that they just don't bother with. Costs like maintenance, insurance, inspections, licensing, training, sanitation, safety equipment, permits, payroll, regular overhead, and so on. While free epic fajitas may save you a few bucks, I wouldn't have shaken hands with Riff Raff, never mind have taken food from one of his unwashed claws.
A cheap shuttle may save you a few bucks, but you can't spend it if you're dead.
Support small local businesses that support the hiking community and refuse "donation only" hustlers that only support themselves!
NO SEATBELT = NO SHUTTLE