Trail Karma

There are many things in this world that I do [+ do not] believe in. At some point in our lives I think we all find solace in our belief in a higher power with bigger, better + stronger than our lowly selves. For me, on the trails, this “thing” is trail karma. I firmly believe that if you respect to Mother Nature she’ll return the favor. Silly? Maybe…but like any true believer I have proof that trail karma is legitimate.

How you choose to “respect Mother Nature” can vary but in general, be nice to the world your wandering in! Personally, this means I’m packing all of my own trash back to a landfill [I mean, at least the pretty parts of Mother Nature stay pretty] + I’m picking up other people’s trash when I spot it along the trail. If they’re willing to throw away their karma you better believe I’ll pick it up!



Now, what proof do I have that trail karma isn’t just a figment of my imagination? A few weeks ago I was on a trail nearing the trailhead + fantasizing about what I’d be grabbing for brunch when I finally made my way back to the tiny mountain town closest to the trailhead. Burgers? Hash browns? Pizza? My stomach was telling me they were all fantastic options. Obviously.

About a mile before I hit the trailhead I spotted some sparkling aluminum foil on a rock near the trail + rolled my eyes. Come on people, aluminum foil?! Seriously? As I stopped to pick it up I realized it wasn’t just a crumpled ball but a full burrito, presumably securely wrapped up for a trail side lunch. There was no one near me so I snatched it up + continued down the the trail.

At this point in my trail-venture my pack’s “trash pocket” was already full of fishing line, candy wrapper corners + bottle caps that I picked up along the 10 miles of trail I had already covered. In the next mile I had the pleasure of picking up a bag full of dog poo + two empty pints of Haagen Daz ice cream. Frustrating, but pretty par for the course with any remotely popular trail [although the ice cream really annoyed me, being left just a few hundred feet from the trailhead!].



I debated the edibility of the burrito as I raced the biting flies back to my car…it was completely wrapped, cold to the touch + more than likely left behind by one of the groups of high school kids I met on the trail. It probably wouldn’t kill me. Right? Eh, might as well go for it!

That was three weeks ago. I’m still alive + have not yet had the urge to impulsively spew contaminated burrito chunks all over the highway so I’m standing by my choice to eat that trail burrito. Free lunch, ftw!

Obviously this is proof that trail karma is real + Mother Nature will take care of you if you help take care of her! Right?! And even if it isn’t…I get to feel warm + fuzzy about my tiny contributions to keeping the wilderness wild every time I pick up someone else’s trash.

The trail burrito was my first consumable gift from Mother Nature but I give trail karma a lot of credit for sunny days, stunning sunsets + endless miles of trip-less trails. Even on days that aren’t going perfectly trail karma shows up + helps Mother Nature show off with a breathtaking rainbow after a torrential downpour or a posse of dancing butterflies to distract you from the misery of a scorchingly hot day. In my mind, trail karma is the good will we earn by being responsible humans in the wild, wild wilderness where Mother Nature is always in control.

My belief in trail karma has escalated over the years + in a quest to conjure up a cult following I have even created a game out of picking up trash along the trails. If I’m out hiking, running or adventuring with someone else we set up one simple trail karma rule before leaving the trailhead. If I pick up a piece of trash it goes into your pack, if you pick up trash it goes into mine. Whoever has the most trash in their pack [they carried more but picked up less] at the end of the hike has to buy the other person ice cream.



This little trail trash game is only slightly less silly than the entire concept of trail karma but Mother Nature gets a bit cleaner + I usually end up with free ice cream so…how would you not want to be part of that sort of cult!? Besides, you never know when Mother Nature will bless you with a free burrito!

Heidi Berghammer

Heidi Berghammer

Heidi Berghammer is a trail runner, world traveler, mountain climber, and all around adventure enthusiast. As a trail runner she has covered thousands of miles in the Colorado Rockies and beyond training for and running races from the half marathon distance to the one hundred mile ultra. Heidi is so stoked about finding adventure on trails that she has made it her career as the owner of Adventure Feet First, a travel company that focuses on getting people outside to explore the world as they travel. Over the past years Heidi has spent months living abroad, volunteering around the world, living out of a van/car/truck, and finding new ways to explore on foot, by bike or with a backpack. She has learned the ins and outs of self propelled exploration the hard way, so she’s here to help us learn from her mistakes and to help us become more informed on how to make your own mistakes…safely.

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