Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Other Trail Angels - Hostel Owners

The Greene Mountain House Hostel in Vermont
I've had the privilege of staying at many of the hostels along the Appalachian Trail (AT) during the course of both my northbound and southbound hikes, as well as now on my section hikes. Hostels provide a unique opportunities for hikers to get off the trail and to a real bed while showering, resupplying, doing laundry, and catching up with loved ones and friends. They are like homes away from home, and for the hostel owners, they are a real labor of love in serving the hiker community.

For this blog, I interviewed two hostel owners who provide fantastic services for hikers along the AT.

The first is Jeff, Owner of the Green Mountain House Hostel in Manchester Center, Vermont. I had the opportunity to stay at his hostel during my southbound hike in 2010, and the accommodations and friendliness are beyond words. Jeff makes you feel right at home.

So tell us, Jeff, why you decided to become a hostel owner.

After an early retirement opportunity, I section hiked the AT over a six year
period. Trail hostels intrigued me because no two are alike. When you decide to stay 
at an AT hostel you never quite know what you are getting yourself into. After an outstanding hiking experience, my wife and I decided to look throughout New England for a trail town in need of reasonably priced accommodations. Manchester Vermont fit the bill and to top it off, has close access to skiing, something my daughters and their families love to do.
Owning a hostel is an opportunity to create the perfect hiker service. However, managing a hostel is a completely different experience from hiking the trail. For example, there are no zeros, no days off during the hiking season. You are on duty 24/7 for months at a time. That is usually not a problem because your guests are almost always folks you like to be around, have similar interests and tell great stories of their grand adventure.
What are some unique aspects of your particular hostel? 

Our hostel is unique because our town is along the section of the AT that is also a part of the Long Trail running the length of Vermont. Manchester is usually the first town stop for the northbound Long Trail hiker. They come in the door tired and beat up by the trail. Some talk about finding a ride home. It is so exciting to listen to our AT hiker guests offer ideas and encouragement to these first timers.  Usually the conversations work their magic and very few hikers end up quitting the trail. 

I hear it's made some changes in you too! 
My wife loves to tell her friends about my hostel housekeeping duties like cleaning toilets, washing sheets and scrubbing floors. For the first 30 years of our marriage, I rarely took on those responsibilities. Now, I spend free time asking friends about housecleaning tips, cleansers and the best fabric softener. 

What do you offer hikers?  
Since we have a strict no alcohol policy, we don't attract the party crowd. Most hikers are looking for clean, comfortable accommodations, a chance to shower, rest and recharge. Our place does not provide meals to guests. What we do offer is the use of a large, well equipped kitchen. Hikers love this feature and take full advantage. Most evenings I see group dinners prepared for all the guests. I am usually invited to eat, but discovered long ago that if I do not hike like a thruhiker, I cannot eat like a thruhiker.
On most sunny days I wish I could hike out of town with my guests. Of course, on those rainy days I am happy to wish them well and look forward to their summit photo on Katahdin, Springer or the Canadian border.
Next I want to introduce Laurel, the owner of the Teahorse Hostel in the famous town of Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. Laurel loves hikers and provides some great services for both thru and section hikers, as well
Laurel makes waffles each morning for hikers
as an active shuttle service.

Why did you decide to become a hostel owner? 
I have traveled a fair amount and stayed in a lot of hostels. When I decided to open a business, I wanted to open a hostel because I have enjoyed them so much.

What are some of the pluses and minuses to it?

Plus: I meet people from all walks of life - and from different countries of the world.
Minus: My pet peeve is people doing stuff they wouldn't do in their own home: like a super-glue project with no protection for the table or floor. This is why you can see super glue on the table and on the floor.

What does your hostel provide?

The Teahorse provides for each person a bunk, shower and waffle breakfast for $33 plus tax. We have a common area and full kitchen and a guitar!

Any interesting guest stories to tell? 

Recently a young man with a 90-pound pack arrived at the hostel, having spent the previous week hiking the Maryland AT. On hand were five veteran hikers from Vermont, two southbound thruhikers, and 2 bicyclists, one of whom had thruhiked the AT 2 years before. They did an "intervention" on him: one person advised him that anything he hadn't used in the previous week of hiking he should get rid of. They managed to convince him to take out 15 pounds of gear, including an 18" machete. He continued south a little lighter.

Green Mountain House Hiker Hostel - Manchester Center, Vermont
Teahorse Hostel - Harpers Ferry, WV - owner:  Laurel Drake

For other great hostels - see your guidebook! And check out the new AT Passport System that allows you to get your passport stamped each time you stay at a hostel. Makes a great memory of your trail adventure.  

Related Blogs:
Town Etiquette for Hikers
Northbound vs Southbound: Outfitters and Resupply


mackenzie said...

I LOVED the Green Mountain House. It is the best hostel on the trail!

Amber Goodfellow said...

These are cool stories! Thanks for sharing!