End: The Mayor's House, Unionville, NY
Tonight I'm staying at the Mayor's Houe in Unionville, NY. Almost every AT hiker I've met in the past few days said I had to spend a night here. Technically it's called the Outhouse, since the mayor retired last year after a 12-year stint, but on the trail it's still known as the Mayor's House.
Until I got there, my day just hadn't been going well. I had a nice breakfast of eggs and pancakes at The Mixing Bowl, a diner in Vernon. But then it took me over a half hour to hitch a ride back to the trail (3 miles from town).
Once on the trail, which wasn't until 11, I was moving very slowly. My feet hurt and I just couldn't get my legs to move.
I passed through Pochuck Swamp in the morning, which was pretty beautiful. There was a mile-long boardwalk to walk on, and to my happy surprise there weren't a lot of mosquitos. I also crossed Pochuck Bridge, which is goes over a stream on the trail. It's a suspension bridge that can withstand massive floods. Apparently it's an engineering feat. It also cost $30,000. And it's only used by hikers.
In the late afteroon, I passed through Walkill River National Wildlife Refuge. It's the only wildlife refuge on the AT. It's a huge, manmade wetlands that's home to many rare birds.
On the trail, I met Marked Path. As he mentioned, he was the only black backpacker that some through-hikers on the AT had seen since they got on the trail in Georgia. Now that I think about it, most of the AT hikers I've seen have been white males (80%), with white females comprising the remaining 20% Of the perhaps 100 hikers I've seen on the AT, Marked Trail was the only one outside these two groups. Age-wise, though, the AT hikers spread the gamut. Sure, there are other people in their 20s, but there are also a lot of hikers in their 60s.
Anyway, Marked Trail was looking for Moses and Misplaced. His wedding ring slipped off his finger a few days earlier (he lost some weight on the trail), and word traveled up the trail that Moses and Misplaced had found his ring. Now he just had to find them.
Like me, Marked Trail started walking out his front door. He lives in Maryland, outside Washington, DC, and he began hiking the Chesepeake and Ohio Canal towpath from Georgetown until it intersected with the AT in Harper's Ferry, WV, when he got on the AT. When I told him about the Long Path, and how it starts at the George Washington Bridge, he said he would get on the Long Path when it intersected with the AT and take it to NYC. I said he could take a bus or train from the AT and save himself waking 50 miles on the Long Path, but he said he might as well walk it.
Now, about the Mayor's House. I feel like I could write a book about it, but I'll try to distill my thoughts as best I can.
When I got to Unionville, I went to the general store and asked about how to get to his house. They were all out of directions, so the cashier called him up and, within 60 seconds, someone was there to pick me up. He introduced himself as Butch, "the mayor's Secret Service agent." During the short ride to the house, Butch explained the rules:
-During your stay, the house is yours. Please treat it as such.
-No shitting in the downstais toilet.
-Absolutely no washing dirty dishes.
-You need to send us a victory photo when you finish hiking.
-No using words longer than 3 syllables in the house.
-Wake up at 6:30, breakfast at 7.
I got to the house just as dinner was being served. I put my pack in the basement (where there were 6 bunks for hikers to sleep on) and went to the kitchen to meet Dick, the mayor.
Dick was finishing cooking dinner. "Dick, this is Jacob. He's hiking the Long Path," Butch said.
"Are you fucking crazy? You're worse than these assholes on the AT!" Dick said. " Welcome to the Outhouse."
Dinner was pasta and stew with a bean salad and garlic bread. Then they brought out dessert: a huge cookie covered in this strawberry pudding and whipped cream.
In addition to Butch and Dick, there is Bill. Bill is 81 years old, Dick is 70, and Butch looked like he was in his 40s. Every third word out of their mouths was a swear. Since they first took in hikers two years ago, they have hosted over a thousand. Last year they hosted over 700.
After dinner, we sat with Dick in the living room for an hour while he gave us an inspirational talk and showed us our "required viewing." He showed us the winning performance on Britain's Got Talent by Paul Potts, a phone salesman who always dreamed of singing opera. He sang a beautiful aria (which I've heard before but forget what opera it's from). It ends with him saying three times "vincero!" - I will win.
Dick explained that they wanted us to win. The reason they welcomed hikers was because being able to help us gave meaning to their lives. "Three years ago, Bill was in a senir home with people waiting to die," Dick said. "Now, he has a reason to live and his life is meaningful. He's looking death in the face and saying 'fuck you!' "
Dick said none of them were hikers. "I don't, for the life of me, understand why the fuck you crazy bastards do it. But I hope, when you leave here, you'll accomplish your goals and finish what you started."
Our pep talk lasted for an hour, and I wish I could transcribe it word for word. It really stuck with me. I do believe that Dick, Bill, and Butch do this because it makes them feel good and gives meaning to their lives. They are amazing people.