An Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike: Part 26 - Hospitality Along the Trail
Anticipation is a major motivating factor when hiking the trail.
Dave and I had been hiking the Appalachian Trail for more than three months when we crossed from New Jersey into our home state of New York on June 19th. We were excited to cross the border into New York State. Not only did we feel like we were home, but our mood was buoyed by several things that we were looking forward to.
Anticipation is a major motivating factor when hiking the trail. Anticipation of a place to stay with a shower and a meal or a visit with family puts a spring in hikers’ steps, and speeds them along towards their upcoming destination or rendezvous. When we crossed into New York, we had a series of rendezvous’ and interesting destinations spurring us forward.
We were looking forward to visits with our relatives, one visit directly after another, which was to start the next day. First, though, we had heard of a guy that had a vacation house a little ways off the trail, near Greenwood Lake. It was said that he welcomed AT hikers to his house during the summer while he was staying there. His name was Roger, and his vacation house had been dubbed "Roger’s Appalachia Cottage".
From what we had heard, we just had to look for a little sign with a blue blaze painted in the corner that pointed the way down a side path that led to his cottage. Sure enough in the afternoon as we hiked along a ridge above Greenwood Lake, we suddenly came across the small sign that pointed down the side trail. A few moments descent led us to the back of a small house with a deck. There we were welcomed by the owner. Roger was a schoolteacher in New York City who owned the summer cottage near Greenwood Lake. He had gotten to meet several AT thru hikers over the years. Over time he had gotten more and more interested in them until he started inviting them to stay at his cottage. He soon realized how grateful they were for a place to stay, a shower, and a meal. Before long he put out the sign and turned his hospitality into a regular service.
He told us to make ourselves at home and that he was going into town to pick up a few items. He asked us if we wanted to go along. Dave chose to tag along with him while I stayed there and read a book on his deck. A few weeks earlier we had encountered the "Ice Cream Lady" near Carlisle Pennsylvania. She was very social and spent a lot of time in conversation with us. Roger was different. He left hikers mainly to themselves while he went about his business. He had a very matter-of-fact way about him. He told people what the situation was then would go off to accomplish his tasks. The guests would occupy themselves, or they could join him if they chose. By the end of the day Dave and I had been joined by another thru hiker. It was an old acquaintance from Virginia. Dave, the younger of the "Chaw Brothers" arrived at Roger’s as well. We hadn't seen him since Shenandoah National Park. He was hiking with a friend who had joined him for a few days on the trail. Roger also had a guest of his own - a young guy, a little younger than Dave and I, who was the son of a family Roger was friends with. All in all there were six people at the Appalachia Cottage for the night.
In the evening Roger made a large pot of spaghetti with tomato sauce and cut up hot dogs to substitute for meatballs. There was also salad. It was a very basic and filling meal. After dinner, Roger assigned everyone a job to help clear the table and wash the dishes. He then announced that the entertainment for the evening was to be a slideshow of pictures from his recent trip to Norway. Before we knew it, the slide projector and the screen were set up, the lights were dimmed, and we were all treated to dozens of images of fishing villages, fjords, and forested countryside. Roger explained each slide – where it was, and what he did there. When he was done we all asked so many questions and showed so much interest that he broke out some slides of other trips – one to the Canadian Rockies, and another to England – and he showed those as well.
I can remember sitting in the dark on the floor of his cottage watching the images of those exotic places, listening to his practiced narration, and craving to see all those places for myself. Already on a grand excursion of my own, seeing possibilities for exploring an even wider world lit a fire in my imagination. The pictures of the Canadian Rockies especially impressed me. I was surprised at how the mountains in his slides were so rugged and spectacular. I had never thought that the Rocky Mountains extended that far north. Up until then I had only thought of the Rockies as being a mountain range in the United States. Dave, it turned out, was impressed with the Canadian Rockies also. We talked about the slideshow later and I found out that he hadn't known about the Canadian Rockies either.
If you want to read this series from the beginning, click the link below:
- An Appalachian Trail Thru-hike: Part 1 - Deciding to...
Two teenagers hike the Appalachian Trail from end to end in 1982. This episode describes how they decided to hike the trail and their preparation for the trip.
"Already on a grand excursion of my own, seeing possibilities for exploring an even wider world lit a fire in my imagination."
Back to New Jersey
After many thanks to Roger the next morning, we shouldered our packs and moved on down the trail. The weather was sunny, breezy, and cool. There were some nice views as we hiked 15 miles to the intersection of the trail with Route 17. There we found a spot to settle in while we waited for my Uncle Paul to pick us up. It was great to see my uncle when he arrived. He came to get us in his big yellow van, and he brought us back to Midland Park, New Jersey. That evening was a fun reunion with my uncle, my aunt Janet, and my cousins, Laura and Paul. We had fried chicken for dinner, and Dave and I spent a lot of time telling stories about our trip. We also had the opportunity to do our laundry. My Aunt Janet helped us get our laundry into the machine and she had a similar reaction as my Aunt Millie had had when we stopped to visit her and my Uncle Bill in Falls Church, Virginia. The best way to describe it would be shock at how dirty and smelly our clothes were, especially our socks.
The next day Laura and Paul still had school. They were in the middle of their last week. Dave and I were left to ourselves for the morning, but the family showed us how to set up the Atari on their TV. Dave and I spent a lot of time playing "Pong" on the Atari. In the afternoon, my cousins came home from school, and we went outside. There was a basketball hoop in the quiet street in front of their house and we spent some time shooting baskets. Then, later in the afternoon, my Uncle Paul took Dave, my cousins, and I to the movies to see Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It was the second Star Trek movie starring the original cast from the TV show. It also starred Ricardo Montalban who reprised his role from one of the original episodes as Khan, the genetically altered human with super capabilities. Unfortunately he was also a madman who tried to take over the starship Enterprise so he could fly it back to earth and either take control of the planet or destroy it. It was up to Captain Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the Enterprise crew to stop him. Needless to say, everyone enjoyed the movie.
In the evening after the movie, we had another delicious dinner and then we took a bike ride around the neighborhood with my cousins. I can't remember whose bikes Dave and I used for the ride. It might have been my aunt and uncles.
The next day my Aunt Janet took us shopping so we could resupply for the days ahead, then my Uncle Paul drove us back to the trail intersection with Route 17 and dropped us off. With heartfelt thanks for the rejuvenating break we waved goodbye. Then we settled in for another wait – this time for Dave's parents who were in the area visiting his Uncle Eric, his grandmother, and some other relatives who were staying at his Uncle Eric's camp in Newburgh, New York. The reunion with Dave's parents was very exciting. We were both hugged and kissed by Dave's mom. They drove us back to the camp which was a comfortable house in a pleasant neighborhood in the small town of Newburgh. Compared to New York City, where Dave's Uncle Eric lived, a little place in Newburgh could be described as a camp. For dinner there was baked lasagna. Dave and I were becoming well-versed in recounting the adventures of our trip. We spent dinner telling all about it. Afterword, we spent the warm summer evening sitting in lawn chairs in the backyard listening to news from home. At about eight o'clock Dave's parents had to leave and drive the 2 1/2 hours home. We said goodbye and wished them a safe trip, and then we talked on into the night with the other relatives until we finally turned in. We slept that night on a couple army cots that Uncle Eric had. It reminded me of the night we spent at the "Ice Cream Lady’s" place near Carlisle, Pennsylvania back on Memorial Day.
It was Dave's Uncle Eric who brought us back to the trail where it crossed route 17 the next morning. He bid his good luck and farewell, then drove off, leaving us to get back into the rhythm of hiking on the trail. The weather was good. It was sunny and not too hot. We entered Harriman State Park and found the hiking to be more rugged than we expected. The trail went through both Harriman State Park and Bear Mountain State Park. This part of the AT included the lowest elevations of the whole trip. The mountains were 1000 to 2000 feet high, but the ascents were still significant since the trail dropped to near sea level between the heights. We hiked 12 miles on the day and stayed at William Brien shelter.
"It was a split boulder where we had to walk between the two halves. A narrow crevice made it so we actually had to remove our packs to squeeze through."
Harriman and Bear Mountain State Parks
During our day’s hike to William Brian shelter we had noticed a few things besides the unexpectedly steep hiking. First, we started seeing some beautiful flowers in bloom on shrubs that grew profusely on the mountainsides. These were mountain laurel shrubs, and the flowers were thick clusters of white blossoms with pink centers. We had passed other areas where there were shrubs that were famous for their profusion of flowers, but we had not hiked through them at the right time. We were too early for both the rhododendrons in Georgia and North Carolina, as well as the flame azaleas in Virginia and North Carolina. Finally, we were getting to see some flowering shrubs in bloom.
The second thing we encountered in Harriman was an interesting rock formation fairly close to the shelter where we ended up spending the night. It was called the "Lemon Squeezer", and the trail went straight through the middle of it. It was a split boulder where we had to walk between the two halves. A narrow crevice made it so we actually had to remove our packs to squeeze through. It was only a distance of 15 to 20 feet, but going through dragging our packs sideways behind us, with the rock wall so close on either side of us was unique and memorable.
We crawled into our sleeping bags that night still glowing on the inside from all the hospitality we had experienced over the previous four days. New York State was proving to be a treasure trove of fascinating and generous people, and we knew from trail guides and conversations with other hikers that we would encounter more on the next day.
There is a well-known monastery a few miles east of Bear Mountain Bridge called Graymoor Monastery. During the 1980’s Graymoor Monestery was famous along the trail for taking in AT hikers. They treated them to a dinner, gave them a place to sleep and take a shower, and then provided them with breakfast the next morning. Dave and I were very curious about what it would be like to meet the monks and what it would be like to stay in a monastery. All my images of monks were based on history classes I had taken where monks were depicted as men that wore brown robes and sandals, lived in drafty castles, and made handwritten copies of the bible by the light of flickering candles. I figured monks of the 20th century lived more modern lifestyles, but I still had to wonder. The name Graymoor sounded like the perfect name for a castle.
Before we could find out about Graymoor Monastery, we had a fair amount of hiking to do. First we passed the lowest point on the entire trail – the crossing of the Bear Mountain Bridge over the Hudson River. At that point we were about 124 feet above sea level. There was a toll that had to be paid at the bridge, even by pedestrians or hikers who crossed. Just before crossing the bridge, the trail meandered through a zoo in Bear Mountain State Park. Dave and I found ourselves hiking along the path through the zoo with our backpacks and hiking sticks surrounded by tourists and young families pushing strollers. One friendly dad asked us where we were heading and we gave him our usual answer of Maine and that we had started out in Georgia. He had the usual surprised and interested reaction, but then he asked us a question that no one else had ever asked us:
“Do you guys carry guns?”
We told him no. He explained that he thought we would need one to protect ourselves from bears or other wild animals and maybe to hunt for food along the way. We told him that wild animals were not a problem and that we didn’t have time to hunt. Besides, carrying a gun would be too heavy anyway. It had never occurred to us to backpack carrying guns. Dave owned some guns back home which he did some hunting with, but we had never hiked or camped with them.
We Enter the Monastery
Beyond the zoo and the bridge, the trail ascended again. We climbed 2 mountains in the afternoon – Anthony’s Nose and West Mountain. Once again we were impressed by the ruggedness of the hiking, even though the elevation increase was not much. There were good views from various vantage points as we climbed those mountains. The Hudson River and Bear Mountain Bridge were visible and the sky was clear and blue. Finally in the afternoon we came out of the woods onto a road where we saw the entrance sign for Graymoor Monastery, and in the distance a complex of buildings. None of them looked like castles, but we were still filled with anticipation and curiosity. Even though we had heard about this place and had been told that they took in hikers for a night’s stay, we felt a little strange walking up to the doors of the main building to let them know we were AT hikers and to inquire whether we could stay.
Our apprehension was baseless as it turned out because the first monk that we encountered knew exactly what we were talking about and escorted us to the right person to set us up with our rooms and show us where the dining hall was. We passed small groups of monks in the hallways. Many did wear brown robes. We said hello as we passed and were greeted in return by some, but others just smiled and nodded or simply walked on by without any acknowledgement. We were each given small rooms that we were told were called cells. The cells were spare, maybe 10 feet by 12 feet, with a twin sized bed, a chair, a dresser, and a small bathroom. The whole building was clean and bright with white tile floors. Dave and I retired to our separate rooms to get washed up before dinner, then met up again at the dining hall at the time we were told that dinner would be served.
We walked into the dining hall tentatively, not sure exactly what to do. Oddly enough, it was a familiar scene, because it reminded us of our school cafeteria, except that the tables were circular with chairs rather than the long rectangular tables with bench style seating that we had eaten lunch at for the previous 12 years. Shortly after we walked into the hall, a monk got up and came over to us. He explained where we went to get our trays and food. It was all you can eat style and there was a lot of food to choose from. Dave had liver and onions and I had two types of German-style sausage called Wurst. According to the journal I kept, we also had green beans, salad, bread, and water.
Dave and I found an empty table to sit at and we began to eat the delicious food. We ran into two other hikers who were fortunate enough to be sharing the hospitality of the monks. They had started their hike in Massachusetts and were going to end it the next day at Bear Mountain Bridge.We were only there a little while before a smiling man came over. He introduced himself as the Abbott of the monastery and asked if he could join us. We agreed and he sat down. He was very talkative and told us many funny stories. He also asked us a lot of questions about our trip. After a while we started asking him some questions too, about the monastery and the monks. One thing we found out was that some of the monks in the monastery had taken vows of silence, which explained the different kinds of greetings we had received in the hallways. The Abbott told us when breakfast would be served in the morning and then left us to ourselves for the rest of the evening. After dinner Dave and I went back to our rooms for the night. There was no TV and no radio. I read a little and wrote in my journal, then went to sleep. I could see how life there would encourage habits of study and contemplation as well as developing values of community and simplicity.
"The purpose behind a person’s AT hike is often difficult to define, but it has to be more than simply going from point A to point B."
Hospitality and Purpose
In the morning we met up at the dining room again, this time for a breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage, cereal, juice, milk, danishes, toast, and bananas. We started hiking at 8:30 and left the monastery with gratitude at how much they had shared with us. Certainly the tremendous meals were a boost to our bodies. All the great meals we had received over the previous week from strangers and family alike, had been necessary to build up our energy and nutrients. Backpacking between 15 and 25 miles per day drains a body of essential calories and nutrients. Periodically getting large good meals does a lot to replace what is lost through the constant hiking over rough trail. While the bodily sustenance was important, the hospitality addresses the spirit as well. The monotony of hiking the trail day after day needs to be relieved from time to time for a hiker to find some purpose in their hike. The purpose behind a person’s AT hike is often difficult to define, but it has to be more than simply going from point A to point B. For Dave and I, it became about learning and experiencing new things. It was about meeting new people and connecting to a wider world than we had ever known before. It also became about gaining appreciation for what we had known all our lives – the comforts and basic goodness of our own families. I can’t say that I consciously understood those things as I hiked away from Graymoor Monastery that morning, but they were there inside me as Dave I once again set our feet upon the northward path.