As an Appalachian Trail groupie, I just can’t get enough of the lives of thru-hikers (those Appalachian Trail hikers going from Georgia to Maine or vice versa in one calendar year). In Andover, Maine, I learn that just down the road from where we are staying is the Pine Ellis Hostel where thru-hikers get off the trail to get a shower and sleep in the bunk room ($20/night) or in private rooms ($50 for two); get pizza and ice cream at the Andover General Store and pick up waiting mail at the local post office.
Being bold when bold is called for, I ride up the driveway on my bike, park, and just step right up onto the front porch, acting like I know what I am doing, which I certainly do not. Fortunately, I am a newcomer like everyone else. David, one of the caretakers, takes me and a few others on a tour of the back bunkroom for four, which on this 90+ degree day is suffocating. Then it’s to the laundry, which for $3 you can do a load of your nasty smelling trail clothes, the kitchen area where meals can be cooked, and a living room with a computer and television (got to have a shower to use the computer). Though I saw a woman in her 50s, most of the thru-hikers are 20s and early 30s.
Seeing an empty spot, I sit on a porch bench next to Shoo-fly (her trail name), who is most willing to talk. Having recently quit her job, she says the rule of thumb is that it costs about $4000 to hike the AT for the four to five months that it often takes. The Whites (White Mountains in NH) are the toughest. (She hasn’t seen the Maine’s mountains, yet, since she has just crossed into Maine!)
She says, AT hikers never take blue blaze trails (those trails going to side views of, say, waterfalls or other points of interest) if they are more .2 of mile away. They have just too many miles (2180 miles) to hike from Georgia to Maine. She started in early March (now late July) and is on her third pair of Merrell hiking shoes. Merrell will replace one pair of hiking shoes for free for thru-hikers. She hopes to finish in two weeks at Mount Katahdin in Maine.
On the porch I am taken aback by an ashtray with fifty cigarette butts. Shoo-fly has a Smart Phone and others have iPods. She mentions that 9P is the hikers’ midnight. She says to me, You should hike the trail.
I take that as a compliment since I am semi-fit for one in my sixties, but I have no spirit for the backpacking life. One, it rains regularly; two, a 30-40 pound backpack is beyond my capability; three, the tedium of hiking the green tunnel (i.e. what thru-hikers call the trees covering the trail for much of the 2000+ miles), and four, I sleep poorly enough that sleeping with others in a shelter holds no charm for me. Fact is, five, physically I couldn’t do it. Thirty-five years of daily running has taken its toll on my knees.
Just before I get up to go, David the caretaker offers all the hikers a freeze pop on this sweltering day and he offers one to me, too. In my sad little mind, it’s validation of my acceptance into the thru-hiking sister/brotherhood.
July 2021 Update from our friend George Ellis, “Yes they [Pine Ellis Hostel] are still active and still have their van that runs up to the AT to pick folks up. Hiking was a great Covid activity, although distanced accommodations were probably a challenge at times. There is now only one place to purchase food/meals in town [Andover] now with the two others closed (neither because of Covid).