Racewalker and I had just met in Hanover, NH and decided to hike a few days together. It ended up being 37 days –all the way to Mount Katahdin in Maine. But on the first day of hiking together we climbed over Moose Mountain and ended our 17.5 mile trek just outside of Lyme, NH. Shortly after that we passed the Grafton Turnpike. We noticed a sign painted by an angel, a trail angel that is, for free ice cream from the Ice Cream Man.
Without discussion or a vote, we both immediately took a left off the trail and made a beeline for some frozen delight. The Ice Cream Man, Bill Ackerly was not home when we arrived, but at least a half dozen hikers were there sitting on his porch and chatting about the trail. Racewalker and I join the group of pilgrims only to find that Bill was gone and no one knew when he would be back. The understanding was that he was perfectly fine with us camping in his backyard as long as we did not bother his croquet course.
Racewalker and I decided to pitch our tents and enjoy the soft grass (being very careful to stay off the immaculately manicured croquet field). In fact Racewalker and I decided to pitch our tents on the back porch, enclosed by a screen to keep the bugs out and the rain if any decided to fall. The back porch was open and we made our beds hoping that Bill would not mind.
Just about dark, Bill drove into his driveway. My fears of invading his porch quickly faded as I met this wonderful older man who just loved to meet and visit with thru-hikers. He had frozen ice cream bars with him to share with any thru-hiker that would sign his logbook. Many said that he had one of the most accurate list of thru-hikers because just about everyone who passed through New Hampshire stopped for free ice cream. Rowdy’s name was quickly added to the book and I was enjoying some cold ice cream that just hit the spot.
Not too long after his arrival, Bill came out to the backyard with cheese and crackers for us. He sat and talked and laughed with us until almost nightfall. It was a real privilege to stay on this man’s property, but it was a wonderful blessing to meet him and hear his spirit of adventure and enjoy his sense of humor.
This story could be told thousands of times by hikers who met and appreciated the hospitality of Bill Ackerly. Unfortunately, the Ice Cream Man died on May 23, 2016 at the age of 87. Bill, born in 1928, grew up in Louisville, KY, attended the Clark School in Hanover NH, Wesleyan University, and the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. He was married in 1954 to Frances, who passed away in 2011. During their 57 years of marriage they raised four children, Spaff, John, David, and Susan.
According to his published obituary, his last wish was to thank all the people in Lyme who made his life so happy, and the hikers on the Appalachian Trail who stopped by for ice cream and a visit. “They are the greatest”
There is a short youtube video of Bill being interviewed by a thru-hiker that reflects the attitude of hospitality of this trail angel. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xEFc2oU9W9c He will be greatly missed by many.
Photos of Bill and his Ice Cream Sign http://www.bowmanswritingnook.com/2015_03_01_archive.html