Amazing, the only word I can think of to describe these magical holes in the countryside carved out by the most loving and kind souls anyone could ever hope to stumble upon. Hostels are nothing short of oases nestled in the corners of the desert we call the trail.
Most days we cross a road, an insignificant tidbit until you consider what a road means to a hiker. We run out of food, we like beer, beds are nice and so are laundry and showers. There’s no quick running to the trailside laundromat or a group of overzealous girl scouts branching out from cookies to sell proper meals for a convenient resupply scattered throughout the trail. If we need it we’d better figure out how to get it. Most of the time this involves finding a road and using our never-ending charm to conjure up a ride to wherever we need to go. Usually this means going into town which can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s great if the town has a Walmart (unfortunately the best option for hikers), an outfitter, a post office and a hotel within its borders but more often than not we are faced with the simple question of, “how the heck do I get to all these places??” Towns can be miles long and are often much less simple than they are depicted on our maps. Sure, a ride can usually be procured from a friendly chap with a pickup truck but this takes time and time is wildly important when you want to cover any miles, much less have leftover time to actually do laundry/shower/relax/etc.
Now enter, hostels. So far the best one we’ve seen is Uncle Johnny’s in Erwin, TN (hands down, this place is legendary) but some are hardly more than a shack with bunks and a well stocked pantry of treats for hungry hikers. These places get us through our days. Heck, they practically ARE oases with their clean water (no filter required for once) and frozen pizzas and cups of hot coffee that didn’t start as crystals that smell remarkably like old dirt. Many of these places even have shuttles to town so we don’t have to figure out how to get around on our various errands. Can anybody say angels from hiker heaven? Some places, like Uncle Johnny’s, even offer work for stay to a select few hikers (I did this twice at his hostel) who want to get up early and do tedious things like change garbages and clean bathrooms (honestly I loved it). Hostels are full of hikers (duh) so we get a chance to catch up on more trail lore and gossip than we would at a shelter (hikers often stay numerous nights at hostels) which, oddly enough, is extremely interesting and important without TV or news of any kind. They also have Wi-Fi, the Holy Grail of all creature comforts, the tree of life to the outside world. In addition to all these things hostels also have the ever sought after hiker boxes! Here you may find exactly what you need to fix or replace some odd piece of gear, score a couple goodies someone else thought were too heavy, or even upgrade for something you would love to have. In addition, here things can be dropped off if they are of no use to you any more or, as is usually the case, too heavy.
Hopefully it’s clear how much of a godsend hostels are, they really do get us through whether we stay at one or simply stop in to one a half mile down some road for a quick resupply and hot food we DIDN’T HAVE TO CARRY. If you ever have the pleasure of visiting even the most rundown of hostels while hiking thank your lucky stars and remember how amazing they are to thru hikers. Thank the hosts generously and treat them better than they treat you, if possible.
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