On day eighty-three of my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2014, I decided to call it a day at George W. Outerbridge Shelter just south of Palmerton, PA. It was a small shelter that was designed to sleep six but when I arrived I was alone in the hut. I had just taken off my backpack and removed my food bag when a fellow thru-hiker showed up. I had met this drummer with dreadlocks the night before at the Allentown Hiking Club Shelter. He was a very quiet young man and our conversation was little more than an introduction.
As I was opening my food bag to select a delectable delight for dinner, I asked the drummer if he was planning on spending the night in the shelter. No, he said he was just grabbing a quick bite to eat and then he was headed to a free hostel in Palmerton (1.2 miles ahead). Free! Hostel! I immediately started to pack up and asked if I could tag along.
Within an hour we were in downtown Palmerton and standing at the door of Jail House Hostel. Located at 443 Delaware Avenue is the city’s town hall and in the basement of this municipal building is a hostel with free showers and a bunkroom for tired pilgrims like us. It has a tile floor, block walls and six bunk-beds situated along the walls. It is not fancy but all I was looking for was a warm place to sleep and a restaurant nearby to satisfy my hunger. And the cost was perfect!
From time to time, the hostel, run by volunteers from the town itself, would put together little “gift baskets” for the hikers with shampoo and soaps and toothpaste. I had not timed my visit to coincide with the welcome basket but I thought the idea was more than just thoughtful. Being city property, there were some common sense rules: no alcohol, no dogs inside, and leave the place as clean as you found it – pretty easy, pretty simple.
I had an enjoyable to stay in the hostel, but my new found hiking friend did not. About 10:00 pm, the typical time for “lights out” for hikers, a half-hysterical, half-enraged female hiker came into the bunk-room claiming a peeping tom had watched her take her shower. Within minutes the authorities arrived and escorted my now ex-buddy out of town. He was a bit odd, but most people who consider hiking 2,200 miles are. I felt badly for the young lady, who ended up getting off the trail for a while but managed to return and complete her thru-hike. It was a negative experience and I couldn’t help but think that behavior like this gives thru-hikers a bad name.
Evidently the town agreed with me. My acquaintance, it appears, was not the only idiot who demonstrated poor judgment in Palmerton, because after 40 years of ministry to thru-hikers, Jail House Hostel closed its doors due to the misbehavior taking place at the facility. There are no other comparable places to stay in Palmerton so this closing will cause a significant shift in strategy for many hikers. The town is not pointing to any single incident, rather just years of accumulated frustration and expenses. I find this sad news…. sad for the hiking community, sad for Palmerton, and sad for the reputation of many fine men and women who travel from Georgia to Maine.
Hostel Photo found at http://veggieandsquare.com/2011/07/25/lesson-learned/