Some A.T. Hikers Take a Piece of Daleville With Them
By Annie Thompson //
The Roanoke Times //
Appalachian Trail hikers who pass through the Roanoke Valley are frequent visitors to Botetourt Commons in Daleville. They look forward to the outdoor gear, groceries and gourmet coffee they can get there without straying too far from the trail.
And some of the businesses at Botetourt Commons thrive on the hikers' presence in the summer and early fall.. Among them are Outdoor Trails and Mill Mountain Coffee & Tea.
Mark Futrell, manager and part owner of Outdoor Trails, said the hikers account for more than half of his business in the summer months. His store is the last outfitter within walking distance along the trail for northbound hikers until Harpers Ferry, W.Va., and the third closest to the "A.T.," as it is commonly called, overall. For southbound hikers the next outfitter that is close to the trail is in Damascus, Va.
The Appalachian Trail spans from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine and attracts hikers from around the world. It takes about six months to hike the entire 2,174-mile trail from start to finish. Some start in Georgia in March, others start in Maine in June. Since 1936, when the first person hiked the entire trail, more than 7,000 people have completed it, according to the Appalachian Trail Conference, a nonprofit organization that coordinates trail maintenance. The number of through-hikers to complete the trail has increased in recent years.
At times along the way, through-hikers find that civilization looks pretty good, and they may stay overnight in a hotel or dine at a restaurant for a break from roughing it. Daleville is conveniently close to the trail and offers an array of services for hikers.
According to Futrell, the main reason hikers stop at Botetourt Commons is to resupply on food and gear. But they can also grab a cup of coffee at Mill Mountain Coffee & Tea, pick up or deliver packages at United Parcel Service, and buy liquor at the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control store, wine and cigars at Wine Gourmet and food at Kroger.
"They've got everything they need here in Daleville except a hostel and laundry service," Futrell said.
He has seen trail hikers come in with extensive gear and supply lists, made while waiting for the next outfitter. One such hiker had made a list on the binding of a book.
Southbound hikers, or SOBOs as they are nicknamed on the trail, recently began passing through the area and will continue to pass through until mid- to late October. Most of the northbound hikers, or NOBOs, hiked through the Roanoke Valley in June on their way to Maine. The bulk of through-hikers can be seen from the beginning of May to the end of June.
On Sept. 8, southbound hikers Megan Sweeney, 23, and Brian Matthews, 26, needed socks and called Futrell, who offers a shuttle service when he's available, for a ride to Outdoor Trails from Comfort Inn in Daleville, where they'd spend two nights before continuing south.
"I haven't bought a new pair yet since I started," said Sweeney, from Ames, Iowa. She started hiking alone on June 14 and met up with Matthews, who was also hiking alone, near Harper's Ferry about two weeks ago. He is from Wakeville, Mass. and started hiking May 22. They didn't know each other before meeting on the trail.
They enjoyed Shoney's all-you-can-eat buffet and the pizza at Bella Pizza & Italian Restaurant.
"Only 714 miles until you're done," Futrell told them.
Sweeney graduated from Iowa State University in May with a degree in forestry. She did trail work in Vermont last summer and was envious of the Appalachian Trail hikers who passed by. She said she's wanted to hike the entire trail for a couple years.
Matthews was laid off from his job as an electrical engineer for a small company in Massachusetts.
"Three weeks later, I was on the trail," Matthews said.
He was planning on quitting the job next year to hike the trail, so he was excited about getting laid off.
"It's tough to say how I'm going to feel when I get off the trail," he said, adding that he might want to go into another line of work because of his experience on the trail.
Billy Atkins has worked as a barista at Mill Mountain Coffee & Tea for a year and a half and has seen hundreds of hikers pass through the coffee shop doors.
"This is the best coffee they've had the entire trip. They come in the coffee shop and it's like being born again," Atkins said.
Most of the hikers are in their 20s, but Atkins recalls an 80-year-old who hiked the trail while his wife drove from town to town along the trail, ensuring he made it to each destination.
Most hikers get back on the trail right away after stopping in Daleville, but some get stuck waiting for packages to arrive. Summer hikers commonly ship winter clothes home in exchange for summer clothes and vice versa during colder months. If a hiker gets sick, medicine can be shipped to a point along the trail.
Some customers at Mill Mountain and Outdoor Trails are intrigued by the hikers; others can be turned off.
"Hikers can tend to smell because they don't get showers often," Atkins said. "A lot of people don't like that."
There are no fees or permits required for hiking the Appalachian Trail, but it can cost $2,000 to $8,000 with transportation, hotel, restaurant, and equipment expenses. Futrell said people from the Midwest end up spending more because they tend not to have the proper equipment before deciding to hike. The cost varies depending on how often hikers want to stay in a hotel, eat out or drink gourmet coffee.
"A lot of people get here and run out of money," he said. Then they take the bus home.
Futrell said he saw a lot of Europeans hiking the trail this year.
"They say you can't do this anywhere else."
© 2005 The Roanoke Times