[at-l] A town that steps up on the Appalachian Trail

Clifford McDonald clifmcdon at comcast.net
Sun Sep 16 19:31:11 CDT 2012

From: Trailwife at aol.com [mailto:Trailwife at aol.com] 
Sent: Sunday, September 16, 2012 6:36 PM
To: clifmcdon at comcast.net
Subject: Re: [at-l] A town that steps up on the Appalachian Trail


However I tried this link, It routed me to a page where I had to  set up an
account so the Boston Globe could get email. I get enough SPAM! what does
the article say?




In a message dated 9/16/2012 5:06:33 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
clifmcdon at comcast.net writes:

>From the Boston Sunday Globe:


A town that steps up on the

Appalachian Trail

Monson's 'angels' are a sight for sore hikers

By Billy Baker | G LO BE S T A FF S EPT EMBER 1 6 , 2 0 1 2


Wes Johnson was looking to hitch a ride in Monson to the trailhead.

MONSON, Maine - For thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail, there is a

known as "trail magic." As a rule of serendipity, it arrives when it is most
needed, when

the hikers are beat, downtrodden, lonely, hungry. When the weight of their
pack and the

miles ahead of them are crushing their will. That's when trail magic

MetroMaybe they turn a corner in a remote section of woods and find a
cooler, just sitting

there on the path, filled with Coca-Cola and beer and sweets and fresh
fruit. It is a sign

of respect from a stranger, a nod of appreciation for this grand thing the
hikers are

attempting to accomplish - to walk the entire 2,184-mile trail from Georgia
to Maine in

one year. Trail magic regularly reduces hardened woodsmen to tears.

The hikers have a term for these strangers. They call them "trail angels."

Deep in the woods of central Maine, there is a tiny,
don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it town of

just under 700 people called Monson. Thanks to an accident of geography,

found itself positioned at a pivotal point on the Appalachian Trail when it
was completed

75 years ago this summer. Monson is the last town the trail passes through
for those

hiking north, or the first for those hiking south.

Either way, thru-hikers arrive in Monson in desperate need of some trail
magic. And

they get it.

For generations, the people of Monson have

met their geographic accident with legendary

altruism. They are famous up and down the

trail for opening their homes, their cars, and

their wallets to hikers in need. It is a town full

of trail angels.

Experiencing the magic

When emaciated hikers come through the doors of her Lakeshore House - an

incongruous combination of hostel/Laundromat/restaurant - Rebekah Anderson

to ask them a simple question: "What can I get you right now?"

Her role in life, she believes, is to be "a

port in the storm and get the Appalachian

Trail hikers where they're going."

Because of Monson's unique location,

they often need a lot of help.

In 1937, workers from the Civilian

Conservation Corps cut the final two

miles of what was then the longest

Her role in life, she believes,

is to be 'a port in the storm

and get the Appalachian

Trail hikers where they're

going.'marked walking path in the world,

stretching from Springer Mountain in

Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. It

was envisioned as a grand trail through

the Appalachian Mountains, connecting

mountaintop work camps where city-folk

could go to toil and recharge in the

natural world. The work camps never

happened, but 11 years later, a young

man fresh out of the Army named Early

Shaffer accomplished a feat that even the

trail's founders thought impossible: he

hiked the entire thing.

Each year, between 1,000 and 2,000

people attempt to copy Shaffer's feat, to

walk all 5 million steps. Only between 10

and 25 percent make it. Many quit at the

first opportunity. For those who are

heading southbound from Mount

Katahdin, that first chance to quit is


Monson is situated 114 miles down the

trail from the northern terminus at

Mount Katahdin, at the foot of something

called the "100-Mile Wilderness."

Cruelly, and perhaps fittingly, it is

considered by many hikers to be the

most grueling stretch of the entire trail.

It is certainly the most remote. There are

no resupply points in the 100-Mile Wilderness, which means hikers must carry
as much

food as their backs can handle - on top of 25 to 70 pounds of gear. The
remoteness is

magnified, in a modern sense, by the fact that it is the longest stretch
without a

cellphone signal.

For southbound hikers, the 100-Mile Wilderness can be traumatizing. They
don't havetheir trail legs under them yet, and they have come to the
realization that they had no

idea what they had gotten themselves into. Often, they have been out of food
for days.

When they get to Monson, many want out, beg for a ride to Bangor, 57 miles
away, so

they can get on a bus or a plane and leave this entire mistake behind. These
people are

Anderson's specialty.

Take off your boots, she will say. Take a shower. Put on some clean loaner
clothes. Eat

something. Eat everything. Take a "zero day" - the Appalachian Trail term
for a day

where they don't log any trail miles - and think about it.

Eventually, everyone on the trail gets a hiker name, something that just
sticks, defines

their personality, their reason for being on the trail. Anderson isn't a
hiker; she's had too

many knee surgeries to go near the trail. But she was given one of the great
trail names

of all time: she is known as "Double Zero."

Being a "hostel momma" is not an easy job. She spends her life cleaning
bathrooms that

are dirtier than dirty. Hikers arrive at all hours, and if her 11-year-old
daughter, Bella,

comes along to pick up a hiker at the trailhead three miles north of town,
she will

demand a new air freshener. Hikers smell like the zoo.

There's almost no money to be made; a bunk runs $25 a night, but many stay
for free in

exchange for a couple hours of chores. She regularly ignores declined credit
cards, gives

supplies to those who have none. They are "smelly, Sasquatch-looking
people," but she

knows they could be anyone - CEOs or college students, empty-nesters or
divorcees -

and Anderson considers it a supreme responsibility to recognize their

accomplishment. And then she wants to make sure they walk out of Monson.

On Labor Day weekend, Anderson picked up a southbound hiker, a young man

Alex who had just come out of five years in the military. There are a lot of
Iraq and

Afghanistan veterans on the Appalachian Trail; it's known as "walking off
the war." In

Monson, they still see many trying to walk off Vietnam.

Alex had been defeated by the 100-Mile Wilderness, swore it was infinitely
harder than

anything he'd done in the military, and desperately wanted a lift to Bangor
so he could

quit. After a double zero under Anderson's care, he walked out of Monson, on
his way to


A little stretch of historyFRED FIELD FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Monson, Maine, is located near the

Appalachian Trail's most remote

section, making the town crucial for


In the early years of the trail, when it cut straight through downtown
Monson, thruhikers were extremely rare, a huge curiosity in town. The hikers
would camp out by

Lake Hebron, and the kids in town would ride their bikes out to see them,
just to look at

them. "They were real frontiersmen," said Dawn MacPherson-Allen, "and when

would go by, my mother would say, in a hushed voice, 'Dawn, there's a
hiker.' "

Today, MacPherson-Allen and her partner, Susan

Stevens, run Shaw's, the most famous hiker

hostel on the entire trail. Shaw's began in 1977,

just as thru-hiking was becoming popular, when a

man named Keith Shaw turned his boarding

house into a hiker hostel after seeing some thruhikers walk by, looking a
mess, and took them in.

With Shaw's as a trusted stop, Monson took off as

an Appalachian Trail town.

Shaw's is famous for its breakfast. It is an iconic

part of the AT experience. Hikers dream about it,

wonder if they will ever taste it. In its 35 years,

Shaw's has fed 100,000 hikers - including many "section hikers" who spend
years or

lifetimes trying to walk the entire trail in a piecemeal fashion - and it is
perhaps the best

place to see the legendary hiker appetite in action. "The central feature of
life on the

Appalachian Trail is deprivation," the humorist Bill Bryson wrote in "A Walk
in the

Woods," a best-selling book about his failed attempt to thru-hike the trail.
When hikers

get near food, look out.

The southbound hikers will eat, for sure. But the northbound hikers are a

animal. By the time they reach Monson, they have walked more than 2,000

already, and the trail has eaten away their body fat and is starting to take

Late summer and early fall are the peak times for northbound hikers to hit

most start in Georgia in early spring, and it takes about four to six months
to get to

town. This makes the $7 all-you-can-eat breakfast at Shaw's a thing to
behold. The

menu is simple: bacon, sausage, eggs, homefries, and pancakes. And hikers
order with a

number: How many of each do you want? Many answer with a question: What's

record? One guy went to 11.

Northbound hikers have gone through a transformation on the trail. They are
very often5

zen-like, nonverbal, having spent so much time in nature, in their own
heads, away from

the real world, away from human contact. But hostel owners are symbols on
the trail:

they are safety.

"There's a kindness and anonymity of a hostel owner that's like a
bartender," said

MacPherson-Allen, who took over Shaw's seven years ago, after Keith Shaw

away. "They cry, they spill, and they leave. Your job is to listen. This is
their cathartic

moment where they verbalize the work they've done in their head on the

The storied 'Ponytail Paul'

Paul Stiffler is one of the most famous trail angels in Monson, where he is
known by the

trail name "Ponytail Paul."

Stiffler is 46, prefers to call himself a "trail head," and seems to carry a
cloud of fun

around with him the way the hikers carry a cloud of dirt. His self-assigned
role in life is

to turn "zero days" into special days for the hikers. He'll give them rides,
take them to a

local swimming hole to jump from a 30-foot cliff, let them crash on his
couch, feed them,

resupply them, and make sure they leave Monson feeling more than rested. He

them to feel inspired.

Trail angels in Monson lead a strange existence. They go through very brief,

intense relationships with people who are at their most vulnerable, their

And then, most of the time, they never see them again. But there is always
another one

right behind them.

This is Ponytail Paul's life. And like most trail angels in Monson, his
altruism comes with

benefits. The hikers have inspired them. In four years, when his youngest
son is in

college, he's planning to copy them. He's going to thru-hike the trail,
climb Springer

Mountain in Georgia, put his head down and start walking. He wants what the

have. He wants to arrive in Monson and feel like he's earned it. And rather
than supply

the trail magic, he wants to feel it.

Billy Baker can be reached at billybaker at globe.com.C 2012 T


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