Working Hard and Slacking Off

My first two weeks on the Appalachian Trail consisted of long days of hard work and unforgivable laziness.

My original start date was set for March 25th, but when I told my friends at Above the Clouds Hostel I was making a second attempt at the AT, they asked if I could come up early and help out. I wanted to be around hikers again, so I gave my notice at work and headed to Suches, Georgia on March 11th.

The Hard Work

Working for stay at a hostel isn’t for everyone. The folks that own and run these cozy accommodations work incredibly hard for months on end to shuffle seeming endless hoards of beaten and bedraggled hikers in, clean them up, and send them on their merry way. My time at Above the Clouds over the last two years has given me a true appreciation for the difficulty of the trail town hospitality industry.

Left to right: Blaze the cat, Nimrod, Sidetrack, and Lucky

For Nimrod the day starts around 4:30, getting things ready. Coffee is ready for the early risers at five, and breakfast is served at 7:30.

From there Lucky and Nimrod shuttle hikers to the trail, which can take several hours. During this chaos, time is somehow found to: strip, clean and remake every bunk, sweep the floors, and clean toilets, sinks, showers, countertops, and any other surface that may have come in contact with various forms of hiker funk.

Whew! That’s a lot!

All that laundry is then folded for the next day’s turnover, while fielding calls and running shuttles for the new batch of hikers. These hikers are then directed to bunks and showers. Their dirty clothes are then washed and dried.

With one washer and dryer, it’s quite the process.

Above the Clouds serves all guests two meals, and Nimrod starts on dinner whenever he can, usually accompanied by fresh baked bread…it’s amazing.

Dinner is served at 6:30 followed by a final cleaning of the kitchen and addressing any logistics for the morning’s shuttles. Hiker midnight is 9 o’clock, and by that time staff are ready for a well-earned night’s sleep.

So Where is Sidetrack in All This?

Work-for-stay helpers generally help out with cleaning or other projects owners don’t have time for. In my case, I did the turn-down and cleaning as well as moving the constant stream of laundry through. Nimrod and Lucky would pitch in when they weren’t busy with the other necessary tasks.

Working that crazy schedule isn’t so bad when it earns you food and housing, but I was given an extra benefit: Slackpacking.

Slacking Off

Slackpacking is the common, but surprisingly controversial practice of doing sections of trail with a small day-pack on. This usually involves a two-night stay at a hostel, hiking the second day, and leaving your full pack at the hostel. Other times trail angels will offer to take your pack to another road crossing, this letting you complete a strenuous climb without the weight of all your gear.

Me, squinting, with a tiny bag on my back.

It’s faster and a lot easier on the body, but some view it as cheating. I disagree, but to the purists out there who never do an inch without their full pack on, you’re better than me…are you happy now?

I cheated. A lot.

I slackpacked all 52.2 miles between Springer Mountain and Unicoi Gap in four days of hiking. I spaced them out, working in-between, which gave me a chance to recover.

Starting at Springer on a very cold day, happy knowing I’m sleeping indoors that night.

It allowed me to enjoy sections of the trail that I had found brutally punishing before. It let me hike long days and still be back in time to fold laundry and help serve dinner.

The Walasi-Yi Interpretive Center at Neel Gap, GA mile 31.1

Most importantly, it allowed me to bag 52.2 miles without an injury, which couldn’t be said of last year’s puritanical approach.

I love Above the Clouds and am eternally grateful for the opportunity to work alongside them, and for their help and generosity in letting me be a slacker.

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