Sunday, January 8, 2012

Trail Towns

There are many tiny towns out there along the Appalachian Mountains that must get the majority of their income from hikers passing through. Especially the ones in Maine. Especially Monson, Maine. There are certainly several other larger towns where the AT influence acts as a blip on the radar screen for the locals. We literally walked through towns that had banners saying “Welcome Hikers” and some where people clearly thought we were just hobos passing through.

What does it take to be a trail town? Well, first you need to be relatively close to the trail. In some cases the trail literally walks down the streets and there are white blazes on telephone poles to guide you. In other cases you need to find a ride for 10-20 miles in order to reach a place with a motel, foodstore and post office. Trail towns are listed in the AT guidebooks, with all the amenities it offers and a list of which hostels, hotels or local businesses are “hiker friendly.” Translation: they don’t mind your stink. Hotels are often listed that offer “hiker rates” and any local Trail Angels have their phone numbers listed.

Here is a list of places that we stopped:

*-We just stopped for some food or the post office, but kept on hiking

**-We just spent the night and maybe got dinner

***-We had a full town resupply visit

Monson, ME***- It’s amazing I made it here. I remember running to the road when we finally emerged from the 100 mile wilderness and being so excited. Monson is one of those 1-block long towns. There are two hostels here and we stayed at one on the lake. It was full of other southbounders that we met in the wilderness and everyone had a great time celebrating the first milestone. Sol’s mom came and met us for our zero day and took us to Greenville to visit the outfitter where I got a new pack and shoes. We ate at this surprisingly good BBQ place in town. Also noteworthy is Shaw’s breakfast. This is the other hostel, and for $7 (if you’re not staying with them), you go and get a breakfast of eggs, pancakes, potatoes, bacon, juice and coffee. You just say a number, like, “2”, and you get two of everything. Or say “8” and you’ll get 8 of everything. It’s pretty awesome.

Me sitting at the Lakeshore House in Monson, ME. All I wanted was a pepsi and doritos.

Stratton, ME***- Another 1-block town, most people stop here. Normally it’s a ski town, but in the summer it’s overrun with hikers. There were a number of restaurants and a couple hotels.

Where we stayed in Stratton, ME. Note the sign: Hot Men Wanted

Andover, ME**- This was our first impromptu stop. We had a really rough day of hiking through the southern mountains of Maine and we had a choice. We either were going to push ourselves going 15+ miles a day, or we were going to run out of food before Gorham. I knew that I couldn’t do the long miles at that point, so we decided to go into Andover for a night and just get dinner there and continue the next day, rested and with plenty of food. We had to call my mom to call the hostel in town to arrange a pick up from a logging road because our phone was being finicky. It was all set and so we walked down to the road and waited. They never did come for us…it was half an hour…45 minutes and they weren’t showing up. In the meantime 3 NOBOs came and were waiting for the same hostel to come for them only half an hour later. A girl also drove up with a 6 pack to do some trail magic. She hiked NOBO the year before and worked nearby. She offered to drive us into town and told us there was another, unadvertised hostel option in town that she stayed at. In the end, the hostel we called showed up for the other three hikers and it was just a miscommunication that originally screwed it up, but we said we’d go with the girl to the place she was talking about. Best decision ever. We came upon this amazing house and hostel called The Cabin run by the sweetest older couple, Honey and Bear. Honey’s family has been involved in the AT community for over 50 years. The first thing they did when we walked in was shove pancakes, shepherd’s pie and brownie sundaes in our faces. Win.

Sol in front of The Cabin in Andover, ME

Gorham, NH/Tamworth- Really we were picked up by Sol’s dad and hung out in Tamworth, NH. But Gorham does have a nice hostel for hikers.

Glencliffe, NH*- We just stopped by the post office, which was .2 mi off the trail to pick up some food. It’s worth mentioning because this is where we got an epic hamburger and large pizza. Also the post master gave us the rest of her footlong subway sub and some ginger ale. If anyone reads TIME magazine, you might remember Glencliffe from the article about post offices that are being closed down. We signed the petition to keep it open while we were there.

The Pike burger from Glencliffe. Two grilled cheese sandwiches, two 1/3 lb patties, cheese, bacon, lettuce and tomato.

Hanover, NH/White River Junction, VT***- The trail walks through downtown Hanover but we stayed at a hotel in White River Junction. Hanover is AWESOME for hikers (except that it’s hard to find a place to stay). Many of the businesses along the main drag offer hikers free stuff: free pizza, coffee, pastry, bagels and more!

West Hartford, VT**- Another one where you hike through “downtown”, which involved a few houses and a general store. A signmaker lets hikers camp in his backyard , so we did that. The general store had an amazingly delicious deli, so it was a win all around.

The deli in West Hartford, VT with a sign by the signmaker

Killington, VT/ Waterbury Center***- We stayed a night at the Inn at the Long Trail, but then spent most of our time up at the GMC headquarters in Waterbury Center, hanging out with friends.

The Inn at the Long Trail. Best french toast I've ever had!

Manchester, VT***- One of the best hostels on the trail. It’s a full house that is clean and well stocked just for hikers. For only $20/night, you have a bed, full use of the house, laundry, shower and a pint of Ben and Jerrys.

Bennington, VT***- My dad and stepmom visited us here so we stopped and hung out for a day.

Williamstown, MA*- There is a Mexican restaurant named Desperados in this college town, which the trail walks right through, that gives free food to hikers. Literally, anything on the menu is free and you buy your own drinks. We just stopped for dinner and hiked on to camp in the woods. It’s one of those things you find out about by word of mouth on the trail.

Great Barrington, MA**- We made an impromptu stop because we were soaking from 3 days of rain, tired and wanted a break.

New Milford, CT/Croton on Hudson, NY/NYC/Sparkill***- We spent our time hiking through CT and NY staying with family and friends on the way. We were in NYC for Hurricane Irene, which was never hit as hard as they feared.

Delaware Water Gap, PA*-Another case where you walk into town (you actually go over the I-80 bridge into PA). We stopped and ate at the pie store, where we have our well-known True Love photo, and hiked on to a shelter for the night.

Wind Gap, PA/Lake Meade***- We walked down into town at Wind Gap where my dad, Sandy and Vicky met us and took us to our family friend’s lake house for the weekend.

Hamburg, PA***- We weren’t planning to stay in Hamburg. We had a package to pick up at Port Clinton, which the trail walks through, and is 3 miles from where we ended up staying off the highway. Our plans changed when Trop. Storm Lee wouldn’t stop raining. We were soaked after 4 days of rain, the trails were flooded and we were often hiking through ankle deep water. We joined a couple of other hikers and split a hotel room to dry out and recuperate. It ended up being smart because the rivers were so swollen further along the trail that they were impassable and towns were flooded.

Duncannon, PA***- This town is FAMOUS on the trail for a few reasons. It’s here that you cross the Susquehanna River and walk through downtown for a couple of miles to get from one ridge to the next. The first thing you see heading south are about 4 strip clubs. Then you get into town and there are banners welcoming hikers and people are really friendly. Then you stay at the Doyle, which is a 100 year old hotel that is so disgusting, only hikers and vagrants stay there. It costs like, $25 for a room + $7.50 for every extra person. The saving grace is the restaurant/bar which has the cheapest beer I’ve seen on the trail. And the food is good. And you figure it’s got to be up to code or else it would be closed down. I can’t imagine how the rest of the hotel is up to code, but I don’t want to know.

The outside of the Doyle in Duncannon, PA

Boiling Springs, PA*-We stopped by the post office and grabbed a beer at the pub before hiking on.

Waynesboro, PA/Lake Meade***- Another case where our friend Phil picked us up, we went to the lake house and met my dad and watched football that weekend.

Harpers Ferry, WV*- This is where the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is located. Plus it’s a super cool historic town. We stopped at the ATC to register ourselves as thru hiking southbounders, grabbed a package from the PO and got pizza before hiking on.

Sol walking in to the ATC in Harpers Ferry, WV

Front Royal, VA***-An unexpectedly awesome stop. It’s the town you hit before you enter Shenandoah NP. We hiked for 24 miles in the rain to get to town. Then we were picked up, all soaking and smelly by a really nice woman, and she gave us a ride into town. We decided to treat ourselves to a Super 8 rather than the really sketchy, but really cheap motels. The next day we planned to run some errands in the morning, take our time and then hike out. We went downtown only to discover that there was a Brews and Blues fest going on. We ended up checking in to the Quality Inn downtown and going to the beer fest. It was awesome, and there was some really great music.

Taking a photo of ourselves at the Brews and Blues Fest in Front Royal, VA

Waynesboro, VA***- We were here for day 100 on the trail, and we ran into a bunch of our favorite hikers. We had a great Chinese Buffet with Soway for lunch. Like, amazing. And cheeaap. Then Casper and Scotch decided to stay an extra night to hang out. We all got our errands done during the day and then went through A LOT of beer at night. It was fun for Sol and me because we met during the summer before Senior year of HS working on a trail right outside of Waynesboro, and our group would come into town there to resupply.

Montebello, VA**- Another case of an unplanned stop that was just what the doctor ordered. We were in the mountains in Virginia, and it was about 2 days after Waynesboro, when the cold hit. Our plans would have had us sleeping above 3500 ft for the next two days and snow and freezing temps were in the forecast. As we were freezing our asses off having lunch above 4000 ft, we looked in our guide to see if there was a way out. And thankfully, there was a B&B just a few miles away. We arranged to be picked up and had such a wonderful time at the Dutch House. It was so cozy and warm and the food was sooooo good. The weather looked equally crappy for the next day so we decided to slackpack about 16 miles so we wouldn’t fall too far behind, but decided to stay the night at the B&B again. Plus it was Sun/Mon so there was football.

Glasgow, VA*- After leaving Montebello, we had hooked up with our friend Sam (Link), and 3 dogs decided to follow us from a house by a spot that the trail crosses the road. We hiked with the dogs for 20 miles and managed to meet the owner in Glasgow so he could pick them up. We went into town and went to the PO and a diner for lunch. Then we had a really really really hard time getting a ride back to the trail that afternoon. First off, everyone was wearing orange shirts and we were confused. I thought maybe there was a fall festival that all the towns people were participating in. Turns out they all worked at some mill in town and it was a requirement to wear orange. They sure as hell weren’t picking us up. We began profiling cars. Subarus should pick you up. Pick ups should pick you up (just throw you in the back). Honda Elements should pick you up (and one finally did). Put Emily out in front to try to get a ride, hide the two guys. Don’t ever expect a single female driver to pick you up.

Daleville, VA**- The trail crosses right by an I-81 interchange. It was the most awesome interchange ever. It had hotels, restaurants, grocery store, outfitter and everything you’d want right within walking distance. We loved it here. Sol bought his new smart phone at the Verizon store here.

Pearisburg, VA***- This was a pretty crappy little town, but it had an amazing Mexican restaurant that we ate at 3 times within 24 hours. It was also the beginning of our quest for the 60 oz margarita. We zeroed because we needed it, not because it was nice, and the morning we were leaving half the town had no water…the half we were in. So that was a pain. Luckily DQ still made us an awesome (and fresh!) breakfast of eggs, bacon, biscuit and hashbrowns that they had to pass to us through the drive thru window.

Sol walking down the street in Pearisburg, VA. Note the water main related construction and the awesome Mexican restaurant on the right.

Atkins, VA**- Talk about crappy town. The trail literally walks right past it and no one knows anything about hikers. There is one crappy hotel that is right by the trial but 3 miles from the PO. We managed to get a ride out to the PO after about half an hour, but never got a ride back and had to walk with our box of food. They definitely thought we were hobos. The town didn’t even have a food store. But it did have an awesome southern style diner restaurant where Sol got a lb burger and loved every oz.

Damascus, VA***- Damascus is known as THE AT trail town because it has Trail Days. We had been hearing about it for 100’s of miles. Maybe it was just too built up, but we didn’t find anything really special about it. Yeah, there was a good outfitter. We spent most of our time at a pizza place, which was the only bar in town, watching football, eating and drinking beer with other hikers. We actually went for lunch, stayed through dinner and managed to stay through a bartender shift and never got charged for the first half of the day. I should clarify that this place was the only place to watch football that Sunday because the rest of the town lost their cable.

The hiker hostel we stayed at in Damascus, VA

Hampton, TN**- We stayed at a hostel that was right on the trail run by a trail legend, Bob Peoples. He drives you into town for a dinner run, and otherwise you’re on your own in the bunkhouse.

Outside the Kincora hostel run by Bob Peoples in TN

Roane Mountain, TN**- Another hostel/B&B that was possibly the best breakfast on the trail. This is the place that we stayed before “The Worst Day Ever”.

Erwin, TN***- This is where we went after “The Worst Day Ever”. Three words: Beer. Pyramid. McRib.

Hot Springs, NC***- We zeroed here and had a great time. This is also a well known trail town where you walk through the downtown, on the level of Duncannon and Damascus. We spent our first night at Elmer’s, which is an old Victorian house full of antiques run by an old minister that has a penchant for Buddhism. We slackpacked the next day and came back to stay in the local motel that had chickens wandering around the parking lot. Elmer’s was full and the cabins associated with the Hot Springs resort were full because of a poetry society meeting and a Civil War reenactment all on the same weekend. But the motel was great. They had a legendary trail outfitter and an awesome diner (where we ate 4 meals.) Then Sol’s friend, Cosce, came to visit the next day and we got bbq and he dropped us off back at the spot on the trail that we left off.

Inside Elmer's place in Hot Springs, NC

Gatlinburg, TN***- We stayed here for a looooong time. We were hanging with Link and waiting for Scotch. We got there a night earlier than we expected and the three of us were splitting a hotel room that cost a total of $33/night. We spent 3 nights here. We spent our days watching tv, being lazy and walking around the hot mess that is Gatlinburg, getting free samples and eating good food. It was probably the only time I will ever appreciate this town. It’s too kitschy and overblown. But it’s an awesome playground for hikers that crave civilization. As Link said, it’s a great trail town for hikers who want to actually do something. As oppose to all those hostels that there are books and a light, or those 1 block long towns with a convenience store and some houses.

Link in Gatlinburg, TN

NOC, NC**- We had a great dinner and some good beer (see Trail Dating). We picked up our package for resupply at the outfitters. The only complaint is that the “coed” bunkhouse was just a tiny room with a bunkbed. It’s normally a big rafting and hiking basecamp, but we were passing through when it was after the season so it was pretty dead.

Franklin, NC***- Our last real town stop. The town has the famous Ron Haven. He owns almost all of the hotels in town, along with some other knick-knack stores. During the summer (when all the NOBOs are coming through) he does a lot of shuttling to and from town. As a hiker, you kind of get sucked in to staying at one of his places because that is what you have the most info about. We did that the first night and it was a dump so we changed for our second night over to the Microtel on the other side of town. This is also where we were trying to find a place to have a beer and were asked if we were “members” when we walked into a bar before being kicked out. Luckily there was our good ol’ Mexican restaurant down the street that had great food and margaritas. Except that Sol bit down on a pebble in our nachos…but they were delicious. Link and I met Ron Haven the next day at the thrift store that he owns. He said “Have you heard of Ron Haven?” “Yeah, we’ve heard of him”, “What have you heard about him?” “Oh, that he owns those hotels—“ “Well, I AM Ron Haven.” Greeaaat.

Leaving the Microtel in Franklin, NC

Walasa-Yi, GA**- Literally about 30 miles from Springer Mt, this was our stop just for the heck of it. It’s just an outfitter and hostel that is in a gap in the middle of nowhere along the trail, but when we walked through one afternoon in November, it was packed with people. A lot use it as a starting off point for hikes in the area. Plus the outfitter is famous/awesome. It’s best known for the multitudes of northbounders that come through since it’s their first stop. They famously will go through your pack and tell you what you need/don’t need or sell you new stuff. The hostel is run by this old eccentric named Pirate who will cook you dinner and offer you beer if he’s in a good mood. Luckily he was and we got cornbread, chili and pie. There were some awesome, fat, cute cats hanging out too. We watched Road Warrior on a tiny tv. It was a great stop. Just what we needed at the end of the trip.

Some of the guys watching Road Warrior in the Walasa-Yi hostel, GA

1 comment:

  1. It's really great to spend holiday vacation with this such kind of accommodation.

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