Meet The Hostel: Greasy Creek Friendly
One sunny cold February afternoon, I headed out through the lovely Appalachians to visit this lonely little unassuming hostel. It was situated across the valley from the massive sides of the majestic Roan Mountain, it’s scenic top just visible below a low hanging cloud.
Name: Greasy Creek Friendly
Location: Bakersville, NC: SOBO 1822.8, NOBO 363.6 at Greasy Creek Gap
Amenities: Wifi, showers, small resupply, parking for day and section hiking, shuttles
Prices: $10 bunkhouse, $7.50 tenting, $15 indoor sleep setup
Driving Up Greasy Creek ‘Holler’ Was Like Going Back In Time: Simpler Times….Hard Times
Once you pull off the highway and head back into the Hughes Gap region, it is obvious that, while much of North Carolina is prospering, places like this are still existing in poverty. Ever since the furniture factories pulled out, this valley has experienced a slacking economy, with many people living right at the poverty line, working in low-level jobs, or scraping by on fixed incomes.
Then, at the end of the road, where the old farmland ends, the primordial forest begins. This is the place where the Greasy Creek Friendly sits; an oasis of rest for the weary hiker.
Knowing that my wife and I were coming, along with my two bloodhounds, Caroline and Beau Diddley, as soon as we pulled up into a little patch of gravel near the front of her house, I could hear the melodiously cheerful voice of Cee Cee (Connie Pruitt), the owner, as she stuck her head out of the front door on this frigid day, giving us warm welcome into her hostel.
Her smiling face, framed by argent locks, was a cheerful sight as we ascended the well-worn steps of this old, 1940’s era farmhouse. As she welcomed us into the dimly lit interior, I could smell the scent of wood smoke and feel its comforting warmth radiating from her only heat source–a large wood fired, old-fashioned cook stove.
As we sat to down and got to know one another, meeting Cee Cee was like reuniting with a long-lost friend. Through her energetic, rapid succession of words, her delightful personality bubbled up as she began to unfold the story of her life.
Of course, she told me the history of the hostel (which you can read about in Kenny Howell’s article), jokingly pointing out the oxymoronic nature of the terms ‘friendly hostel'(hostel being the homophone of the word hostile). She said the real truth behind calling it a ‘Friendly’ was to contrast the unfriendliness of her hateful neighbor, whom I like to refer to as ‘The Curmudgeon’, who’d feuded with and harassed she and her hikers for over 10 years.
As her story unfolded, a picture began to form of the dire straits she’s currently in; it appears her little hostel is barely making ends meet.
Not only would Cee Cee give you the shirt off her back, she’d give you the hair off her head
Cee Cee (or OCC–obsessive, compulsive Connie–as she laughingly refers to herself, because of her obsession with cleanliness and organization) is a giving person. She told us, “My hair used to be longer but I recently cut off the bottom two feet, donating it to Locks of Love (for cancer patients)”. She went on to explain how she’s done this every two years for many years.
Though she’s a giving person at heart, it may have contributed to her current situation:
- Her roof is leaking (needs patching)
- The house’s foundation is settling unevenly (Needs leveling)
- Her 2 cars are on their last legs (Need replacements)
- The bunkhouse building needs a bathroom installed, its own heat source, the rest of the building cleaned out, fixed up and more bunks added
- If she doesn’t get a loan to buy the house this year from her ex husband, he may put it up for sale.
There’s a fine line between patron and parasite; and many there be who cross it
Part of the problem is, she’s charging too little and giving away too much. She told me how, in the past, she’s allowed hikers who were down on their luck, to work for stay, only to have some of them turn into drunken squatters, doing little to no work, some of whom have even stolen a lot from her.
Enter the new addition to Greasy Creek Friendly: Meet Rando ‘Gadget’ Diaz
Early in 2015, Rando Leon Diaz set out from Amicalola State Park to through hike the A.T. He was heavily laden, carrying not only the usual hiker gear, but a cell phone, an i-pad, a large camera and a laptop; hence the trail name, ‘Gadget’.
He made it 367 miles before one of his knees gave out. Finding himself at Greasy Creek Gap, unable to hike any further, he limped down to Greasy Creek Friendly, and into the life of Cee Cee.
He told me that, in addition to his bad knee, he also had 5 heart attacks 9 years ago, 1 large and 4 small, both fixed with angioplasty and stents, and is also prone to seizures that he controls with medicine. Still a light smoker, he used to smoke over 4 packs a day but has since cut down to 1 pack every 3 days, which he plans to quit completely
Gadget has made it his life’s work now to stay on as caretaker and help Cee Cee keep her hostel running. Some of the things he’s done to help save her hostel:
- Helped Cee Cee take the Curmudgeon neighbor to criminal court, winning the case, resulting in a complete cessation of harassment.
- Created and maintains a hostel website, really focusing on promoting the hostel
- built a covered porch onto the bunkhouse
- Hunted deer to provide meat for their freezer
- Installed flat screen TV’s throughout the hostel for the convenience of the guests
- Got an i-phone credit card reader to make it easier for hikers to pay
- Supported Cee Cee in making drunken work-for-stay hikers leave
- Does regular shuttle runs
- Raised money from a Go Fund Me campaign to get the hostel through a rough patch
- Working on getting investors to help get a mortgage for the hostel
It was painful hearing Cee Cee tell me how, since opening her hostel, she hasn’t been able to take a vacation in over 15 years
I told Cee Cee, “Your prices are too low. The first thing I think you should do is raise them to be in line with other comparable hostels”. This statement opened up a spirited debate between Cee Cee and Gadget–one that they’d apparently had many times before. Cee Cee contended that her hostel was not nice enough to warrant charging that much and that they first need to some improvements to make it worth charging so much. Gadget fired right back with, “You already have a good hostel here and I know hikers would have no problem paying more”. I agreed with him. He went on to explain to her that her first priority is getting enough money flowing in so that they can do all the improvements the hostel needs to truly grow
“My fellow hikers: Ask not what your hostel can do for you–ask what you can do for your hostel”
To steal a phrase from JFK, most of the hiking community seems to appreciate the hostels for the great things they do for them. And while that’s true, there is so much that the hiking community could (and should) do for the hostels, to ensure that they will continue being a valuable hiker resource along the A.T. for many years to come
Rando ‘Gadget’ Diaz, being a long-distance hiker, is trying to emphasize the great asset the hostels are to helping hikers save money. He says that, with the abundance of hostels along the trail, each hiker can hike lighter, faster, and with more comfort, taking less zeros, and be able to complete the trail in much less time. Less time spent = less money spent.
Not only should hikers patronize as many hostels as they can afford to, there is no rule that says that they cant’ go ‘above and beyond’ paying the hostel’s modest fees, by volunteering to do an hour or two of work on the myriad of work that needs doing around hostels. Heck, just like in other service-related industries (i.e., wait staff, bartenders, valets, etc.), a tip would also be nice and go a long way toward establishing good will and help ensure there will always be a hostel within reach.
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