[at-l] A town that steps up on the Appalachian Trail
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
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
FRED FIELD FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE
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
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
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
75 years ago this summer. Monson is the last town the trail passes through
hiking north, or the first for those hiking south.
Either way, thru-hikers arrive in Monson in desperate need of some trail
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
food as their backs can handle - on top of 25 to 70 pounds of gear. The
magnified, in a modern sense, by the fact that it is the longest stretch
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
When they get to Monson, many want out, beg for a ride to Bangor, 57 miles
they can get on a bus or a plane and leave this entire mistake behind. These
Take off your boots, she will say. Take a shower. Put on some clean loaner
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
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
of all time: she is known as "Double Zero."
Being a "hostel momma" is not an easy job. She spends her life cleaning
are dirtier than dirty. Hikers arrive at all hours, and if her 11-year-old
comes along to pick up a hiker at the trailhead three miles north of town,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Woods," a best-selling book about his failed attempt to thru-hike the trail.
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
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
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
they are safety.
"There's a kindness and anonymity of a hostel owner that's like a
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
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
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,
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
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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