Book Review: Tales from the Trail – Stories from the Oldest Hiker Hostel on the Appalachian Trail

Most AT thru-hikers and even some sectional hikers have probably spent a night or two sleeping and showering at the Hiker Hostel of The Presbyterian Church of the Mountain in Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania. More fortunate ones have enjoyed its Thursday evening potluck dinner. While I have not yet been fortunate enough to enjoy the Thursday feed, I did spend a night in the Hostel decades ago. I also have known some of the early Presbyterians associated with the Hostel and am acquainted with its current Pastor, Sherry Blackman.

While I am not the first blogger to mention Tales from the Trail – Stories from the Oldest Hiker Hostel on the Appalachian Trail on The Trek (Carol Fielding commented on it in her February 24, 2023, post “An Appalachian Trail Reading List” An Appalachian Trail Reading List – The Trek), I think I am the first to offer a more extensive review.

Published in 2021 by Mindstir Media, LLC and authored by current Presbyterian Church of the Mountain’s Pastor, Sherry Blackman, an award-winning journalist, poet, and author, Tales from the Trail – Stories from the Oldest Hiker Hostel on the Appalachian Trail offers fifty short essays  containing vignettes and reflections including actual excerpts from comments hikers left in the Hikers Center Journal, snippets from conversations the author had with hikers, and historical anecdotes, and other tales about people and events involving, in one way or another, the oldest continuously-running Hiker Hostel on the AT.

Each essay is introduced with a short quote from a poet such as Mary Oliver, a naturalist such as John Muir or Henry David Thoreau, a writer such as Jack Kerouac, or a verse from the Bible. In each three-to-six-page essay, Blackman displays her journalistic and poetic writing experience as she artistically weaves words and phrases to offer tapestries that blend what AT hikers have written or told her with other events and personalities associated with her pastorate at The Presbyterian Church of the Mountain, a pastorate which began in 2014.

While the essays are filled with the sort of theological and spiritual reflections one would expect from a theologically trained and educated writer, they are in no way preachy or doctrinaire. They offer the reader not only insights into the lives, histories, and motivations of thru-hikers and others associated with the Hiker Hostel but the author herself. The essays suggest that just as the author has sought to minister to and reflect upon the lives of those who have passed through the center, they have impacted her as much as she has impacted them.

Tales from the Trail – Stories from the Oldest Hiker Hostel on the Appalachian Trail will not help you plan a hike on the AT, tell you about gear, or even motivate you. It will expose how AT hikers have influenced the people and Pastor of The Presbyterian Church of the Mountain, give you a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes at its Hikers Hostel, and perhaps offer a template on how to reflect on one’s AT experience.

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Comments 1

  • Oscar D Grouch : Jan 25th

    I stayed at the Church during my 2022 AT LASH, where I had the pleasure of meeting pastor Sherry. She is one of the most interesting and impressive people I have met on the trail and I still think about her.


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