When I am not sleeping in my tent on the Appalachian Trail, I sleep in a hostel or a motel. This gives me an opportunity to shower and resupply.
Two of my favorite hostels could not be more different. One is like Dodge City when it was a frontier town in the Wild West. The second was sort of like a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's court.
The irony with the first hostel however is that the proprietor reminded me of Eddie Haskell (from “Leave it to Beaver”) – with sunglasses and a straw hat.
For the longest time I was absolutely 100 percent sure that he was the fourth and missing member of ZZ Top. And I still think he might be that person.
And irony of all ironies is the fact that this guy's name was "Lumpy" – just like Eddie Haskell's friend Lumpy from “Leave it to Beaver.”
Lumpy managed Standing Bear Hostel which is the first hostel that you come across after exiting the Smokies. It is one of the best located hostels I've yet to encounter because every hiker on the trail has to walk past it and almost every hiker exiting the Smokies was somewhere between exhausted and comatose – ready for a shower and food.
I liked Standing Bear because it was exactly what it was – nothing more and nothing less. The showers were cold, the port-a-lets needed changing out and there wasn't anyone actively "in charge."
Plus, the self-service kitchen, library, and dining area were always active and full and engaging conversations abounded. I would also be remiss not to mention the resident rooster that begins crowing at 3:30 a.m.
Lumpy always seemed to hang out with the worst hiker trash imaginable – usually drinking moonshine and smoking (which was not uncommon initially on the Trail). The shades never came off even after dark. Bad guys were there, good guys were there and everyone just got along.
The first thing that happened when you walked into the hostel was that Lumpy would give you a tour. He would show you where the self-serve kitchen/breakfast area was, walk you through the bunk room, show you the latrine and he always saved the best for last: That was the general store on the property.
To visualize the general store at Standing Bear just imagine a fully stocked convenience store with all that food and all those edibles and all those day-to-day items on all those shelves.
All the items had prices on them, and as you walked through the store with Lumpy he would point to a box on the wall that was full of used envelopes – like letters the people had written that I always suspected he gathered from the local post office trash and had saved to recycle.
"So whenever you need something from the store” Lumpy would say, "You just walk in and get it. And make sure you pick up one of those envelopes and keep track of what you take.
“The store is unlocked from sun-up to sundown. When you decide to leave, just come find me and turn in your envelope and tell me how many days you stayed here, pay me and we're good."
That is Lumpy: in his dark glasses, his straw hat and free-wheeling ways. Expecting you to be honest instead of the reverse. In the real world, as we know, it works in just the opposite way.
I remember pulling Lumpy aside and warning him about two hiker-trash dudes in route that would steal him blind. Lumpy listened to me and didn't say a word. When the two guys walked into the hostel later that afternoon he took matters in hand in a brilliant way.
He knew they probably didn't have any money and were probably going to try to steal from him anyway. So he put them to work doing chores around the hostel for credit – credits for food and credits for staying the night.
In his own way he was brilliant. He ran the hostel and expected everyone to respect each other. He refused to babysit or look for the worst in anyone. Yes the hostel was edgy, a bit outside the norm and a number of people didn't feel comfortable staying there. So they didn't. Of course, I loved it.
You'd only find someone like him and a place like Standing Bear on the Trail. I do not expect to see another like him. He is a legend out here.
Woods Hole Hostel (WoodsHoleHostel.com) was probably the polar opposite of Standing Bear. Think “The Waltons.”
Genteel. Tradition-rich. Orderly. Rich in quality and scope of services. Woods Hole and Mountain Retreat made one feel at home because, well it sort of was like home in many ways.
Proprietors Neville and Michael personally managed every aspect of their hostel and made everyone feel comfortable and secure. They were involved and engaged from their gourmet meals offered in a family sit-down-together dinner setting – including giving short bios to the group at the table – to the home-made ice cream, organic everything, and, yes, massages and yoga!
Mind you, these were not ordinary massages. They were massages in a location so isolated in the Virginia back-country that it is close to impassable in winter and is only accessible after a long drive on gravel roads during warm weather.
These were massages given in a log cabin hostel built from extinct chestnut wood – rough-hewn chestnut logs.
The 100-acre property – including the streams that run through it – was purchased by Mr. Wood in the '40s and included the original (1880s) log cabin. Since then it’s been expanded to include a bunk house, kitchen with glorious wide plank hardwood flooring, and a shower house.
There are hogs, cattle, goats, chickens, ducks and beautiful vegetable gardens.
My wife Christina met me at Woods and we stayed in one of the private rooms that overlooks the dining and living room and the wood burning fireplace. We slept under a handmade quilt and a soft, heavy comforter.
Each morning we came down for one of the wonderful serve-yourself breakfasts at Woods featuring homemade fresh bread and jelly, fruit, and homemade yogurt.
Yes, we were way out in the isolated woods in Virginia and no, we were not suffering from a lack of any healthy, home-grown creature comfort.
Woods Hole is a legend in the hiker community and deservedly so. Sustainability, environmental responsibility, and respect for humanity seem to be the cornerstones upon which this amazing hiker hostel was built.
And yes, Woods remains a thru-hiker-centric destination but they will also let you stay there even if you're not thru-hikers
When we finally departed from Woods, Neville walked us out to the car to say goodbye. She also asked us to deliver this message to a relative in back in Georgia: "Tell Uncle Jere (Roswell Mayor Jere Wood) he is way overdue for a visit."
It was his father Roy and mother Tillie who discovered Woods Hole over 70 years ago. I promised her I would let him know.