As I’ve written before, I appreciate single-serving friends. Even greater is my appreciation of single-serving friends who become long-term friends. Such is the case with several people I met at a shelter in Maine last year.
I was out in the woods on a section hike on the Appalachian Trail south of Rangeley. The weather was beautiful, and I was enjoying backpacking after a couple months away from the mountains; thus, my deciding to stop hiking early and at a shelter one day was particularly uncharacteristic.
I don’t believe in fate or destiny or karma; I don’t think the Universe willed me to stop at that shelter. But, I am very glad that I did.
Tenting near me were Joe and Jay, a father-son duo who were section-hiking near their Bemis Road home. Interesting characters who were passionate about the outdoors and eager to learn more about the trail, they talked for some time with me as we all ate.
That night was Joe and Jay’s last night on the trail that summer, but they met me again 36 hours later, as I crossed Bemis Road. It was chilly and raining, and they invited me to climb into their truck and go to their house, where I talked with them and Joe’s wife, Betsy, and ate sugar snap peas and brownies before they drove me somewhere to wait out the deluge. They invited me to stop by and park my car at their home next time I was section-hiking; I thanked them for being trail angels and figured that morning marked the end of our interactions.
I was wrong.
This past August, I decided to head to the Maine woods again and looked up Joe and Betsy. I called them a bit hesitantly, but when I said that I’d hiked with Joe and Jay the previous year, Joe cheered, “Rainbow! It’s good to hear from you.”
They said that the offer to leave my car at their home still stood, and I did so. I hitchhiked to the Rangeley trail crossing and headed south to Bemis Road, picking up a section of trail I’d missed. As they’d instructed, I called Joe and Betsy at the Height of Land, the Oquossuc trail crossing, so that they could meet me at Bemis Road. Betsy answered the phone and, with this sweet but no-nonsense, trail mother voice, she told me that she had already prepared a bunk for me and would have dinner ready by the time I got to her home. Touched and astounded by her generosity, I stammered my thanks and hiked down to Bemis Road.
My wet day of hiking ended with a hot shower, a delicious dinner and a pumpkin beer, great company (including the canine variety!), and the best night’s sleep I’d had in weeks. At the end of the evening, I sat at Joe and Betsy’s counter, snacking on caramels and chocolate, as they presented to me their idea of turning their camp into a hostel.
There are some fabulous hostels on the Appalachian Trail: Kincora, the Appalachian Trail Lodge, and the (now-closed) Blueberry Patch are some of my favorites. However, I honestly believe that, when it opens next year, the Bemis Road Hostel will be among the best of the best. Joe and Betsy’s camp is warm and cozy, and it’s situated in a stretch of woods that is quite in need of an affordable hostel. More importantly, Joe and Betsy genuinely care about hikers; they’re the type of trail angels that most of us sorely need by the time we reach northern New England.
If you find yourself on the Appalachian Trail in 2015, be sure to stop in at the Bemis Road Hostel and tell Joe and Betsy that Rainbow Dash says, “Hi!”
Incidentally, it seems as though I should add that Joe and Jay weren’t the only friends I made at the shelter that night. Soon after I’d arrived, as I flipped through the shelter register, a southbounder (a “SOBO”) arrived at the shelter for the night. The hiker introduced himself as Ups and asked whether I’d seen a friend of his who was south of him on the trail. Then, we fell into easy conversation about the AT, weather, Massachusetts (where we both had been living), intentional communities, New Hampshire’s 4000-footers, and life in general. We talked for a good hour or so before I decided that I should ready my campsite for the evening. We exchanged contact information and tentatively talked about hiking together after he’d completed his thru-hike; honestly, I doubted we’d ever see each other again. We have, indeed, stayed in contact with one another and met for several hikes, and we may very well be starting the Pacific Crest Trail together next year.