When Benton Mackaye first envisioned the Appalachian Trail early in the twentieth century, he envisioned much more than a recreational footpath. His writings from that era tote the benefits of the trail, not just for the walker to receive a necessary reprieve from the stresses of city life, but also as a cultural and economic lifeline to the rural communities and way of life that he treasured.
He writes about farms and work camps scattered along the trail, where hikers could get their hands dirty, and the increased traffic could rejuvenate these rural places. Many places along the trail manage to successfully hold true to Benton Mackaye’s vision. Woodshole Hostel in Sugar Run gap is one of those places.
Like many special places, Woodshole has a history of its own that is too long to recount here. Many cultures believe that memories exist outside of the human mind, imbued into the places in which the events occurred, that they are not merely triggered by the smells and places that call them up, but that they actually reside there. In this way, the memories of people and events past can trickle down to those who were not there to experience the first event. Woodshole’s history is one of several love stories. “Discovered” on Christmas Day in 1939 by the grandparents of the current owner during their graduate studies of the wild elk population then living in the area, it was a dilapidated chestnut log cabin with no floor that they rented for $5 a year, and later bought (together with a hundred acres) for $300. Those same grandparents opened it as a hiker’s hostel in 1986, when the current owner, Neville, was Cartwheel’s age. She’s been going to the cabin every year since, first to help her grandmother run it, and now to run it herself, together with her husband Michael whom she met on his 2005 thru-hike.
We arrived early in the day at this rural retreat. The kids helped Goat rebuild the stone wall, swept out the cabin and bunkhouse and beat the rugs, and fed the pigs while Mama Bear and All-In helped prepare the family-style home-cooked organic dinner for thirty hikers. Orion roamed free, playing with their dog and learning to leave the cats and duck alone. Stone Bear (a hiker who returns each year to help run the place), adopted the kids as surrogate grandchildren. Our family found kindred spirits in the Woodshole family, and spent a remarkable twenty-four hours staying with them (we hope to return).
RobinHood finished Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” and, while he loved it throughout, was very upset with Mr. Kipling for not returning to Mowgli’s story and providing more closure (which Walt Disney helpfully supplied decades later). After some time went by, he made peace with the book and moved on.
We were all sad to walk away as we continued our journey north.
The beauty of experiences like this is that they never really end. The fond memories of your stay at the hostel is now a permanent part of your experience and will return again and again, often when you least expect it, triggered by a smell, a pig wallowing in the mud, or talking to someone about long distance hiking.