Fate. Coincidence. Serendipity. As Vickey Kelly would say, with emotion brewing in her eyes, somebody had brought us all together under one roof, at that exact moment, for a very special reason.
Last week, I walked through another small, quaint downtown in Pennsylvania. The trail walks through the heart of Duncannon, following white blazes that have been painted on telephone poles and street signs. It’s an old railroad town, an old war town, and just an old, simple town that many would probably overlook. But for hikers, it’s a haven. It’s a stop on our journey north, or south, with a real hiker-friendly atmosphere offering a few restaurants, a few pubs, a laundromat, a market and an old historic hotel, called The Doyle. I approached the hotel, and beamed when I had a flashback. Ten years ago, on a sweltering hot July morning, I walked into this town, and into the hotel’s pub, a little oasis of cool air compared to the 100-degree heat outside. Now, the temperature was much more mild, and as I approached the hotel, an older man sat on a bench, calmly reading a newspaper. He casually looked up to me. “You hiking the trail,” Pat asked with a calm, kind expression, and with a tone that implied that by hiking, he meant thru-hiking. “Yes, I am,” I said, mentioning that I’d visited this hotel ten years earlier. We exchanged a few thoughts, and then he said to head inside, make myself at home, and that his wife would take care of me. I had a few packages to pick up there, a generous service that The Doyle offers for hikers, and I was most certainly excited to have a pint of lager while I sat back and enjoyed the simple pace. While enjoying my beer, the phone rang, Vickey answered, and a few seconds later I heard her say, “Yeah, she’s sitting right here.”
Long story short, Jabba, also known as the Hiking Viking, has become a bearded legend in that he’s been hiking southbound along the Appalachian Trail since early December. It’s a ballsy feat in itself, and before setting foot on my own just-slightly-less-than-ballsy winter thru-hike, I watched his progress south with much admiration and awe. Again, long story short, which is hard for a girl who can go off on a wave of tangents, Jabba had been slackpacking this section as he’s from the area and his friends, family and girlfriend live nearby, and well, we managed to miss one another, by like an hour! (Slackpacking refers to carrying only a small day bag, or just some of your gear, and usually you end up in a bed that night so you can spend time with friends, family and girlfriends, etc.) I had been imagining the moment when I’d cross paths with this legend, excited to swap stories with someone who knows what it’s like to be a thru-hiker, and especially having coped and cursed their way through the frigid, snowbound miles of the winter, and we missed one another by an hour! But as it was, it was easy for him to catch a ride back to the Doyle Hotel that night and over two short short hours, and two pints of lager, we tried our best to fill each other in on months worth of stories. It’s a challenge, at best.
And although short, it’s a special moment that only two hikers can ever share. It only happens once, when the first northbound hiker of the year meets the first southbound hiker of the year. And it happened at The Doyle, where on an otherwise quiet Thursday, tables were filled with patrons, friends and supporters of the hotel and its owners Pat and Vickey Kelly, who faced the very real likelihood of having to shut their doors because of financial trouble.
The Doyle Hotel is an icon of the Appalachian Trail. It’s history runs back into the 1700’s, and in the 1900’s it was bought by Adolphus Busch, then later Jim Doyle, at which point it traded ownership a few more times until landing in the hands of Pat and Vickey Kelly in 2001. It’s offered a clean, simple pub menu to hikers for years, including burgers, cut-to-order fries and in-house soups. For $2.25 you can get a pint of Yuengling Lager or a few other tap choices, and for $25, you can get a simple room, with linens and towels. But after a hard, unprofitable winter, Pat and Vickey had fallen behind on their taxes, and besides keeping the bar running, much of the hotel fell into a state of disrepair.
That night, and only a few hours after their story made the front page of the newspaper, a dozen people came to donate money, and technologically-savvy friends set up a GoFundMe Campaign to raise enough money to pay off the back taxes, at which point the banks would then work with Pat and Vickey to get them back up to speed, and to finance the necessary electrical and plumbing restoration required. Additionally, both Jabba and I appeared on the local news, he the day before on ABC, and me on FOX.
So, was it coincidence that the livelihood of The Doyle, and legendary Appalachian Trail icon, sees two prominent thru-hikers walk through its front door at virtually the same time? I think not, and judging my the look in Vickey’s eyes that afternoon, somebody or something brought us all together under that roof, and at that moment, so that together, with our uncompromising love of the trail, we’d save the Doyle Hotel.
Also, The Doyle used to keep photos of all the hikers. These were pictures in a binder dated from 2006. I was such a baby! And I had really short hair.
And lastly, thank you to two of my followers who spoiled me with thoughtful care packages! Chocolate, snacks and many mini bottles of whiskey. Thank you!
In a matter of days, The Doyle raised the money needed to preserve it’s legacy, but if you’d like to still donate to the Doyle, I’m sure they wouldn’t one bit. click here.