Meet The Hostel: Angel’s Rest Hiker Haven, Pearisburg VA
Name: Angel’s Rest Hiker Haven
Location: 204 Douglas Ln, Pearisburg, VA 24134
At the end of a long ridge in the southern section of Virginia, AT thru-hikers find themselves standing atop the lookout on Pearis Mountain, called Angels Rest. This is a rocky area, offering a gorgeously panoramic view of the quaint little town of Pearisburg, as well as the surrounding pastoral landscape. However, if they look really hard, they can make out the buildings and grounds that make up one of the A.T.’s newest hostels; Angels Rest Hiker’s Haven, sitting 635 miles north of Springer.
From there, it is about 1.7 miles—and a punishing 1,600 foot elevation loss for NOBO hikers—before you emerge onto a paved road, a mere half mile from the historic town of Pearisburg. It’s in the shadow of this magnificent mountain that you’ll find perhaps the most unique hostel on the Appalachian Trail.
If you’re lucky, you’ll emerge from the forest to find one of these two excellent ‘hosteliers’—Doc Peppa or her spouse Bam-Bam—who’ll be waiting to shuttle you to one of the AT’s best-kept secrets.
“It was like the trail reached out and changed my destiny”
Sitting across from me in a local diner, Pippa Chapman, DC, (trail name: Doc Peppa) is an alert, soft-spoken woman, and owner of a chiropractic office in Pearisburg. She told me that it all began in March of 2016, when she was a student at the Jung Tao School of Classical Chinese Medicine in Sugar Grove, NC, not far from the AT.
It was then when three thru-hikers, The Natural, Yes Man, and Hash Brown, who were taking advantage of the school’s services the time, met Doc Peppa… Doc because chiropractors are called doctors, and Peppa because that’s how the southern Virginians pronounce Pippa.
They all became friends and Doc Peppa told them, “When you get to Pearisburg, look me up and I’ll put you up in an empty trailer I have on my property.”
The Sunday before Trail Days, the three hikers she’d met walked up her driveway and asked if they could ‘zero’ for four days, since they were planning to go to Trail Days in Damascus at the end of the week. Doc Peppa admitted, “I didn’t even know what a zero was.” Being the decent souls they were, Doc went on to say, “They wanted to do something for me in return so I had them paint the porch. Little did I know at the time but my entire life was about to change.”
Doc Peppa explained how the Natural, Hash Brown, and Yes Man spent the week telling her how the moment they set foot on her property, they knew it was perfect for a hostel. The Natural later said, “It hit me like a brick in the head” that this property had to be a hostel because:
- It’s right in the city, yet surrounded by a small strip of forest on all sides.
- It’s 100 yards from a Food Lion supermarket.
- It’s within a half mile of several hiker-friendly restaurants with hiker portions.
- There’s already an existing house trailer that could easily be converted into a hiker trailer, complete with a full kitchen, laundry room, master bedroom, living room and full bathroom.
- There’s plenty of lawn space on this long, 5.5 acre strip of land for numerous tents as well as automobile parking.
Opening a hostel is no small undertaking. Doc Peppa soon discovered that, since she was going to allow tent camping, the City of Pearisburg required her to comply with 16 pages of state regulations governing campgrounds. This included the building of a bath house, with three separate showers, commodes, and vanity sinks, and that it would not only have to be done by fully licensed contractors, but that it would have to be hooked to the city sewer, over 200 feet away… a lot of money pinned on the hopes that there would be enough future revenue to pay for it. This decision represented a lot of risk, causing many tears and much worry.
Building begins in earnest
Not ones to sit and dwell on negatives, Doc Peppa and Bam-Bam got busy on moving forward with all the actions necessary to transform their property. They first got the trailer ready for hikers, while getting a contractor busy on the design and build of the bath house.
The bath house, being built on a hill, meant that there would have to be a basement. To make better use of this space, they decided to divide the basement into two rooms: a kitchenette and a laundry.
With the bath house construction underway, they turned their attention to the unused two-car garage. Knowing that the NOBO bubble was on its way, they were anxious to make more space for hikers and they knew this garage would be perfect for a bunkhouse.
Thru-hikers Beast and Thumper had passed by earlier in the year and completed their thru-hike. They had returned to their jobs in the Washington DC area, and when they heard of the hostel’s need of a bunkhouse, they volunteered to come down and do all the construction. So, over the next few weekends, they would make the five-hour drive after work on Friday (after working five days at their regular jobs) and work all weekend. Because of this, Angel’s Rest got the garage transformed into a clean, neat bunkhouse with 15 bunks.
Angel’s Rest: Hiker designed and operated hostel
Right from the start, Doc Peppa and Bam-Bam recognized the wealth of talent in the hikers, wisely placing their trust in their judgement. This has paid off, for in a mere 10 months, the combined special talents of the hikers has transformed the property into a vibrant, well-run hostel that efficiently caters to the unique needs of hikers.
A place of healing
With the hostel up and running, and hikers limping in with all kinds of ailments, Doc Peppa saw the need to start a healing clinic in her basement of their home, since it would be too expensive to treat them at her downtown clinic.
She converted the basement of their home into a hiker clinic, complete with all the equipment needed to provide chiropractic and acupuncture services, as well as classical Chinese medicine. Having her clinic on-site, she not only saves hikers money by treating them in-home, but she can also write X-ray orders that they can carry to the local hospital, sparing hikers expensive visits to the E.R.
Because she has a well established network of local health providers, she can also direct hikers to:
- An orthopedist
- A podiatrist
- A massage therapist
- A pastoral counselor
- A yoga therapist
Another service she provides is follow-up care. Often, after healing treatments, she’ll slack-pack the hikers for a shakedown hike, returning them back to the hostel to re-evaluate their healing to determine whether they need more therapy, or, sadly, to end their hike.
Not only is Angels Rest hiker-friendly, so is the town of Pearisburg
Doc Peppa told me that the town of Pearisburg is really trying to reach out to hikers. One way they are doing that is by providing a bus each spring to transport hikers on a 90 minute shuttle down to Damascus for trail days on Friday, returning them back on Sunday–all for free!
Not only is the city doing something special for the hikers; so is a local business. Every Friday, Alykatz Kitchen donates all of its unsold bakery items to the staff and hikers at Angel’s Rest.
Started by Suzanne Whittaker in 2016, its name is derived from an amalgamation of her daughter, Alyson Kathryn’s name. She said she had to start the shop because her home bakery and catering business grew too much.
Suzanne and her daughter have giving hearts. Not only does Suzanne work over 70 hours a week, she and her daughter regularly do volunteer work with a local charity. “I believe a strong community is the foundation for a healthy society”, she said.
Her giving attitude has motivated her to do something good for the hikers. Being a person who detests waste, Suzanne couldn’t sit back and let her baked goods go to waste. “I wanted to do something good for those who do so much good to me.” Apparently hikers have patronized her business quite a bit.
After sitting on their porch on my last afternoon with Doc Peppa, Bam-Bam, and their son, Merlin, I learned about the philosophical underpinnings of their hostel concept. Their goal for their hostel is to be a peaceful place of rest, relaxation and healing. Doc Peppa has even made up an adjective to describe it: ‘Zerolicious.’ She’s even applied for a trademark for the word.
From hearing them talk about what they’ve learned in the past year, it appears that Doc Peppa fell naturally into the role similar to a CEO and marketer/promoter, while Bam-Bam is more into managing all the physical projects and overall operations—akin to a COO—and their son Merlin helps Bam with the seemingly endless details required for their growth.
But most importantly, they attribute the success of their hostel to the vision and wisdom of the staff of work-stay hikers, four of whom have stayed on to manage the day-to-day operations of the hostel, processing hikers in and out, attending to their basic needs, helping with shuttles, and a number of other duties important to a great stay.
The Future of Angel’s Rest Hiker Haven
With the purchase of several family-sized tents, Doc and Bam hope to encourage hikers to get their families, spouses, girlfriends/boyfriends, to come out and join them for a few days of R&R, while visiting local places of interest, such as:
- Mountain Lake Resort: the location of the movie Dirty Dancing
- Kayaking and tubing on the New River
- Historical Civil War buildings and sites
- Slack packing with their loved ones on sections of the AT
Doc said, “By allowing the families and loved ones to see hikers in their element, it puts to rest some of their fears and biases as they get a glimpse into what actually goes on in the world of hikers.
The next thing Doc Peppa is working on is the development of a ‘Post Hike Transition Program’ to help hikers incorporate some of the healing arts and ancient Chinese medicine into their return to ‘the world’, so that they retain the good health they’ve enjoyed while on their 6 month odyssey
So, if you ever find yourself standing atop the lookout at Angels Rest, be assured that, down below, sits a zerolicious (TM) hostel with a vortex which will probably suck you in.
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