Friday, January 23, 2015

27. Hiker Hostels

At Neels Gap, three days into hiking the Appalachian Trail, I fell asleep in a room with ten adult men sleeping in five bunk beds. The best way to describe the smell would be if you tackled a high school hockey player, stole his gym bag, jammed your head inside of it and breathed as deeply as possible. Years of accumulated sweat, water and unwashed, rotting polyester combines itself into a beautiful bouquet. And to a hiker, the smell is the sweetest smell. Neels Gap is by far the least stinky of all hostels along the Appalachian Trail, because it is the first one, and a fair amount of people on the trail are still half-heartedly attempting to be clean. But don't worry, it gets worse from there.

Hostels are like hotels for vikings. 

Everyone is honest, and hearty, and completely, brutally real. No one has shaved. The women and the men are indistinguishable from one another. Everyone is kind, and thoughtful, and shares all their meat and mead. For just one night the hikers gather like those sailors of the past, joined together in their common experience. And maybe someone will vomit, just like sailing!

It only costs maybe $15 a night to stay, and you get a bunk bed, or a dry spot on the floor, or in the case of Kincora Hostel, you might get to share one gigantic bed with ten other hikers, until the little one says "Roll over! Roll over!" then there will be nine in the bed, and so on. No one has anything to hide, because it would be impossible to hide anything. Humans being together, being completely accepting of their human-ness. 

Hostels often have one or two showers, and it's just like showering at summer camp. No one's allowed to shower for more than five minutes, and if you shower for longer and use up the hot water, you are shunned, shunned, for the rest of your stay. Everything is communal, and everyone looks out for each other. People gather in the common room in their rain gear while their clothing tumbles in the one washer/dryer. Your underwear will absolutely be getting washed in the company of a stranger's underwear, in the same washing machine, because you can fit at least five different hikers' small amount of clothing into one load.

The common room is often a weird mishmash of old squashy furniture on several random layers of threadbare carpeting, and it feels like being in Gryffindor tower. There's just a little hunt of magic in the connections with these other hikers. There are old books, and log journals dating back for decades, so you can paw through and see the names of your ancestral hiking partners. You can sink into the squishy couch, which regardless of its state of being, will feel like the most comfortable thing you've ever put your bum on in your entire life.

Every once in a while, there will be a person who feels entitled. This hiker will be loud and obnoxious and demanding. This person will complain about paying fifteen dollars, or will sneak out without paying at all. This person will leave their trash laying around, and will take that ten minute shower with the hot water on full blast. This person pretends to be a hiker, and sure, maybe they did walk several hundred miles to get to this hostel. But this person is not a hiker. This person is a jerkface. The best way to deal with someone like this is to gingerly tell them to knock it the eff off and not allow them to continue to take advantage of the hostel owners. This person will only continue to parade about their entitlement if they feel they have the power to do so. 

Owning a hostel garners no income. The people that do it do it solely out of the beautiful kindness of their hearts. All they hope is to maybe break even, and maybe make people happy. They see thousands upon thousands of hikers, and they love the community, even with the icky lumps. DT and I often paid more than the baseline suggested amount for a stay, because it was the right thing to do. We never expected anything in return. We hoped that this could in some small way make up for the doodoo heads who refused to pay.

As it turns out, I don't have very many photographs from inside hostels. I think this was because we were caught up having too much fun relaxing, being present and just being stationary for a moment in the unending current and flow of the trail.

Hiker hostels exist nowhere else than on long distance trails. Yes, there are youth hostels all over the world, and I've stayed in a fair amount of youth hostels here in our fair country. But there is something magical and unique about a hostel full of hikers, that just doesn't feel the same anywhere else.

It might be the smell.

Clever Girl

1 comment:

  1. Love the last picture! 3 cat burglars planning their next heist.