Hostels: A Day Above the Clouds and the Legend of Nimblewill Nomad
It was a frosty Thursday morning on April 1st, day 4 of my thru hike of the Appalachian Trail.
I woke up at shelter at about 7:30am. The sun was just beginning to peak out and many of us had packed in tighter than sardines in a can. In fact, the double decker had been completely full, and I had arrived to camp at dusk cold and soaked. In fact, since my hammock had, like nearly everything else, become damp from the constant rain (I had also lost my backpack cover going across Sassafras Mountain), I had opted to sleep atop the picnic table inside Gooch Mountain Shelter, which was conveniently placed underneath the overhanging rooftop, thus providing me sufficient cover from most of the rain and wind.
Thankfully, my sleeping bag had remained mostly dry and so had the sleeping pad. I had one pair of socks and a fleece jacket. Everything else: wet. This would get me through the night. However, tomorrow morning, the temperature was going to drop below freezing. A cold front was passing through and was forecasted to keep temperatures low for the next couple of days.
Overpacked, soaked, and shivering so hard that I could feel my bones rattling, I needed to get somewhere to get warm, get dry, and evaluate my supplies. I was eager to get to my newly determined 1st waypoint, the small town of Suches, GA. A reputable hostel lied along the main road into town called Above the Clouds, managed by a highly regarded and respected duo along the trail. Their names: Lucky and Nimrod.
I had considered going the extra mile the evening before, but the hostel had been fully booked, as I had been traveling within a hiker bubble of considerable size. Nonetheless, I secured a bunk for the next day and arranged for a ride. That morning, I packed my camping gear up as quickly as possible and departed for the gap.
I arrived at my waypoint. I had overestimated my progress along the path by 22 minutes. No vehicle in sight. Fearing that I had missed my ride, I checked my phone. It was at 3% battery and had a single bar of signal. I desperately dialed the hostel number. Just as the phone was answered and I uttered my location, my phone died. Uncertain as to whether my message had come across, I threw down my pack, weary and defeated.
A WEARY TRAVELER AND A WELCOMING FACE
It was within about 10 minutes that I began to make out the faint hum of an approaching vehicle. Around the turn, a red jeep made it’s way down the road and pulled up next to me. I stood up from the ground as the driver rolled the passenger window down. Inside, a fellow sporting a ball cap, large grey beard, and piecing jewels for eyes greeted me with a smile that stretched from cheek to cheek. It was Nimrod.
“Hey there, let’s get you warmed up and dry!”
A figurative and literal weight had been taken off my shoulders as Nimrod helped me load my gear into the trunk. I eased myself into the passenger seat and onward we went up the winding gravel road into town.
Suches was a small unincorporated community known for its scenic views and outdoor recreation. There wasn’t very much within the town itself. There was a country store, a post office, what appeared to be an auto shop, and a couple of retreat destinations. As we pulled onto the main strip, Woody Lake stretched across the way to the left as we began our approach toward the hostel.
It was a cozy and quaint house facing the lake. Adjacent to the main house was a larger white brick building that looked like it could be a shop. I didn’t ever see inside it but it was my understanding that it served as a place for overflow lodging when the house was fully occupied and had a place for a fire (I’m guessing a wood furnace for some sort) and some additional furnishings for other weary travelers. I believe there was also a barn located on the property, too. I had been too tired to check and upon pulling up, Nimrod guided me to the front room, which served as a kind of locker room where backpacks and gear could be stored. There was also a door to the back to what I referred to as the Hunger Room. There, arranged almost like a mini grocery store was a plethora of drinks, snacks, pizzas, and other treats.
To the immediate right of the locker room was entrance to the kitchen, which maintained an aroma of baked goods and spices. Just beyond was the dining room and to the right of the table was the entrance to the community room; a large living area with chairs surrounding a warm inviting fireplace. To the left and behind the dining area were a series of halls and corridors that lead to designated bunk areas. I would stay in the far back of the house, where an additional 2 bathrooms, a shower, and laundry room were also available.
First thing’s first, I wanted to get warm and clean. I was given clean clothes so that mine could be put through the wash, along with both a towel, and a rag. I undressed, stepped in the shower, and stood under the spray of hot water. After three days I had longed for what had become a luxury.
I dried off, cleaned up, and began to look over the contents of my backpack, plugging in electronic devices to charge and determining what items to send home. There had been some familiar faces arrive that day. James (He would later become known as “Groovin'”), who I had met in passing at Hawk Mountain Shelter and then briefly while going up Sassafras Mountain was helping around the place and helped me sort through many of the items I didn’t need. He also provided me great advice regarding some other items I needed to acquire once I got to Neel’s Gap (Mile 31).
I met Lucky later in the day, as he had been slack-packing some other hikers throughout the day while Nimrod had been tending to some chores at the hostel. Lucky sported a ball cap as well. While his beard was shorter, his eyes seemed just as piercing. His skin reddened by the labors below the beating sun. Most noticeable about both Nimrod and Lucky was how they exuded a welcoming charm. Many of us were first-time long-distance hikers, and yet, both Nimrod and Lucky made us feel like we had been part of the community for years. It was as if I was already part of the tramily.
Many of us meandered to and from the dining area and community room. When Nimrod and Lucky weren’t out tending to the hostel or shuttling other hikers, they were often mingling amongst the group, sharing their personal tales from the trailhead, often jesting one another in good, spirited humor. They were both also very well versed in the history of the trail and of Suches.
While it was still frigid cold outside, it was sunny and clear. I decided to make a quick walk over to the local post office to send some possessions home before they closed. It was a quick, 45 minute walk down the street and back. By the time I returned, Nimrod was already talking about dinner. On the menu, chicken and dumplings.
It was also revealed that we were in for yet another treat; A very special guest would be making his way to the hostel today by the name of Nimblewill Nomad. Now, Initially, I didn’t know very much about the individual, but had been informed that he was a bit of a hiking legend. Referred to as a “perpetual hiker,” Nimblewill had traversed over 34,000 miles on foot throughout his adventures, and to our delight, he just so happened to be passing through on yet another great journey. Tonight, we’d have the privilege of sharing the dinner table with him.
A LIVING LEGEND
He had arrived in quiet subtlety. Underneath a US Flag ball cap flowed white, cottonlike hair far below his shoulders and a beard just as long. His eyes were piercing but kind, and when he smiled, he squinted his eyes and his face lite up as if he had witnessed the sunrise for the first time in his life. There was certainly a magic to him. He exuded an almost zen-like calmness and jovial disposition.
It was time for eat. Now, I must mention that Nimrod is quite the chef. Let’s just put it this way; I absolutely hate dumplings, and I ended up devouring 3 bowls within mere minutes. I couldn’t tell if it was hiker hunger or if the dumplings were simply just that delicious… Maybe both? Needless to say, it brought both Nimrod and my stomach delight.
After we finished dinner, we gathered around the fireplace in the community room, eager to hear stories of Nimblewill’s many adventures and absorb his proverbs of wisdom.
Nimblewill spoke briefly of his life prior to embarking on his first long distance hike. Once an optometrist in Florida, he had enjoyed backpacking and hiking since the 80s, but at the ripe age of 61, he would embark on a journey stretching 4000 miles from Florida to Quebec, and since then, he’s never turned back from the lifestyle.
“What is your favorite trail?” One woman hiker asked.
“Do you have children?” He asked.
“Yes, I have two.” She responded back.
“Well, I bet you can figure out how I might answer that question,” implying that each trail was special and unique to him in their own way, and that it was impossible for him to pick a favorite.
On top of having completed the Triple crown of long distance backpacking (the Appalachian Trail, The Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail), Nimblewill had completed all 11 national scenic trails in the US and had even walked the length of Historic Route 66 from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California. This year, he would be journeying on his final pilgrimage, starting at the Southern terminus of thee Pinyoti trail on Flagg Mountain in Alabama all the way to the Northern end of the Appalachian trail atop Mount Katahdin, Maine, altogether spanning over 2,600 miles. It would be his odyssey from “Bama to Baxter.” (https://nimblewillnomad.com). Did I mention that during this journey, he would be celebrating his 83rd birthday?
“What are your plans for after you finish this hike?” Asked one of the hikers sitting amongst the group. Nimblewill expressed his hopes to return to Flagg Mountain, where he had been serving as the official caretaker for the past three years under an agreement between the Alabama Forestry Commission and the Alabama Hiking Trail Society. (https://thetrek.co/
“What is the best animal sighting you’ve ever witnessed?” Asked another.
“I believe what she is asking is if you have ever been attacked by a moose.” Lucky interjected with quick wit as the room erupted in laughter.
“They will scare you for certain.” remarked Nimblewill, and he mentioned in passing having walked upon Caribou. Lucky then mentioned the reintroduction of Elk into the Smokies over the past few decades.
“Which trail would you consider the hardest?” Asked Lucky.
“When I hiked it, it would’ve been the Divide (referring to the Continental Divide Trail) simply because it’s not marked. It’s not blazed. I was 17 miles off trail at one time.” The crowd gasped. “That was the main challenge.” Nimblewill
Small talk proceeded thrughout the rest of the evening. Eventually, hiker midnight was upon us and it was time to turn in for the evening. I made my way to my bunk, laid down, closed my privacy curtain, and drifted off into a deep and peaceful slumber.
To think, I had started the day off so disheartened and beaten. But now, with high hopes and full belly, I felt reinvigorated and ready to take on the next day. Nimrod and Lucky had been the most delightful of hosts. They took the utmost pleasure on providing the best experience possible for beginning and seasoned adventurers alike, and they knew how to lift a weary traveler such as my spirit when it was at its lowest. For that, I will be forever grateful.
And what a serendipitous chain of events that I would happen to arrive and meet a celebrity of sorts of the trail, the legendary Nimblewill Nomad, who exuded just as much charm and liveliness as the place of which we had gathered. My stay at Above the Clouds showed me the strength of the hiker community and when one finds themselves in dire need, sometimes, the trail provides just what you need, and a little extra, too.
Happy Hiking, and I will see you on the trailhead.
1. Nomad, Nimblewill. Retrieved from https://nimblewillnomad.com/
2. Evans, Clay Bonnyman (2 January 2019). “After Tens of Thousands of Miles, Has Hiking Legend “Nimblewill Nomad” Finally Retired?”. The Trek. Retrieved April 16th, 2021
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I could be wrong BUT I do believe you didn’t mention the Easten Continental Trail that Nimblewill did:
•The Eastern Continental Trail (ECT) is a combination of North American long-distance hiking trails, from Key West, Florida to Belle Isle (Newfoundland and Labrador) a distance of 5,400 miles [not 4,000] (8,700 km), not including the Newfoundland section. A thru-hike on this system of trails requires almost a year to complete.
But I did love your posting and I will subscribe. Thank you