The Four Pines Hostel

If there’s a place on the Appalachian Trail deserving of a television show, it’s Four Pines Hostel.

First, we have our lead character, hostel owner Joe.

Joe stands a lean six feet six inches tall and is between 61 and 68 years old, depending on who’s asking. Though never a thru-hiker himself, Joe wears his silvery hair long and gray-black beard longer, like an AT veteran. Below the beard, a weathered piece of twine holds a row of multicolored shark teeth.

When Joe’s hands aren’t at the wheel of a zippy Can Am 4×4, they’re fidgeting with a tin of Grizzly smokeless tobacco. “The real shitty redneck stuff,” Joe says. Those same hands are knobby and scarred but steady, and they—along with his piercing, blue-eyed gaze—evince the railroad mechanic career he led prior to retiring to run the hostel full time.

Joe’s first lieutenant, at least while we stayed at the hostel, is a burly, equally grizzled, early-middle-aged hiker who goes by the moniker City Slicker (the -er is pronounced -ah. Slicker’s from Boston). Slicker has calves that bodybuilders pine for, and his legs are tattooed with symbols of the trail: the ATC, four shaggy pine trees for Four Pines, Trail Days, Riff Raff, etc.

Slicker is one of those lucky souls who loves their life so much that they constantly seek out parts of it to complain about. Today, it was the upcoming bubble—the concentrated mass of thru-hikers who left Springer mid-March, and who have been averaging 12-18 miles daily. “The party crowd,” or “the fuckboy parade,” as Slicker knows them.

There’s also Joe’s wife, who keeps to the private house most of the time but makes her way to the hostel to say hello, tend to the livestock, and deliver baked goods. The evening we stayed at Four Pines she passed around a box of immense crumble bars, packed with peanuts, chocolate, and much else. The bars were as thick and wide as housing bricks and nearly as dense, though they melted in mouth as smoothly as cotton candy. I had two before dinner and three after.

The hostel proper is a converted three car garage that still houses trinkets from Joe’s mechanical years: chests of heavy wrenches, boxes of rusty bolts and screws in every shape and threading, various clamps, and machines that I’d have trouble operating without removing at least a half-dozen fingers.

The walls of the hostel are covered with black matte paint, and a huge bucket of chalk by the front door invites hikers to scrawl their trail name or personal logo wherever suits them. Slicker’s signature is high over the main entrance—I watched nervously as he balanced atop a doorknob and a rickety squeaky chair to put it there.

I asked Joe how often he has to erase the walls; by my estimation there’s enough wall space for at least a thousand large-font insignias. “Oh, maybe five or six times a year. But before I do I take pictures of them all and post it on Facebook, so people can go look through and find their name. You young people like doing shit like that.”

In the foremost section of the hostel a ring of immense armchairs and deep cushy sofas invite weary hikers to collapse in the cool shade. There’s also a kitchenette—well stocked with leftovers and cooking paraphernalia—a bathroom with a shower hot enough to scald off even the thickest trail grime, and a small room out back for laundry.

Though most hikers opt for the comfort of a real bed at Four Pines, Joe offers practically his entire property to visitors looking to tent. “From that there back porch allll the way up past the top of that bigass hill, that’s all ours. All hiker land,” Slicker explained. “And if you’re a regular like me and you buy him a beer or six, Joe might even invite you inside his own home, too.”

At night, after the sun has faded behind the broad faces of mountains climbed or mountains to come, hikers gather at wrought iron tables in the hostel yard. Their voices are slow, ponderous, serious. Sun-beaten faces alight with the red glow of American Spirits. Tree frogs bark intermittently, mountain frogs chirp their nasally chorus, and low metallic pings of cans of cheap beer accent the stoic scene.

Above, clear skies give way to the stars and a thumbnail of a moon. Tomorrow’s residents won’t be so lucky; rain and more rain is the forecast. Though I imagine they’ll enjoy their stay nonetheless.

I stayed at Four Pines Hostel but a single night, yet departing reminded me of the the feelings I get leaving my grandparents’ farm: bittersweet too-soon bliss, dreamily planning a return before I’ve even left.

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Comments 3

  • tripledip : Apr 13th

    Good shit young man, you seem to have a knack for this, let’s see some more. 4 Pines alumni, 2015.

  • Rowan : Apr 13th

    Well, that was hilarious “Slicker is one of those lucky souls who loves their life so much that they constantly seek out parts of it to complain about.”

  • Ruth Morley : Apr 13th

    Two of my favorite things at Four Pines were the chickens that made their way inside the garage/hostel. They seemed to find my backpack interesting, for as long as their pea-sized brains allowed them to think.


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