Angels Rest Creates Hiker Heaven
Angels Rest creates hiker heaven
PEARISBURG — Chiropractor Pippa Chapman bought her 7-acre wooded home site behind Pearisburg’s Food Lion Plaza so she could have privacy.
But on a Tuesday in late April, it’s anything but private.
Visitors have set up five tents and a hammock in her backyard. Three RVs stand in her front yard, lodging the crew helping Chapman with her hosting duties. Packs hang on several of the 15 bunks in the bunkhouse Chapman created in her garage. Guests mill around the kitchen of what was once a vacant trailer in the middle of Chapman’s property.
Now it’s a hostel with two spacious bedrooms and a community room.
The “bubble” of northbound (“nobo”) Appalachian Trail thru-hikers is just hitting Pearisburg, and Chapman’s Angels Rest Hiker’s Haven is drawing tired, sweaty backpackers like a magnet.
“Privacy, yes, I did want that once,” Chapman says, chuckling. “Now I host nearly 1,200 hikers a year, the biggest group in the spring. I hate to turn anyone away, but sometimes I’m at capacity — 80 people, according to town regulations for campgrounds.”
The vast majority of those who attempt to hike the entire 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail begin at Springer Mountain, Georgia, and hike north toward Mount Katahdin, Maine. Most of them hit Virginia in late April through early June, filling up the shelters and creating brisk business at convenience stores and hiker-oriented businesses along the route.
Chapman wants to give up her own bedroom, and other rooms in her house, so she can offer three more rooms to hikers. She’s moved into an efficiency apartment at the end of her home and is asking town council for permission to create an Airbnb.
“I’ve opened up my heart to the AT hikers. It seems right that I open up my home to them too,” Chapman said. “I don’t need a lot of personal space. I’m busy studying for my acupuncture certification.”
Chapman’s involvement with AT thru-hikers began in 2016, when she was attending the Jung Tao School of Classical Chinese Medicine in North Carolina not far from the AT. She met three thru-hikers seeking services from the school, became friends, and promised to host them in her guest trailer when they reached Pearisburg. About five weeks later, the hikers walked up her driveway and asked if they could “zero” (hang out, hike zero miles) for a few days in exchange for painting her porch.
“That sounded good to me,” Chapman said. “They kept saying ‘You have a great place here for a hostel.’ Little did I know that my life was about to change.”
Chapman’s property is in town, maybe 100 yards from a supermarket and close to several hiker-friendly eateries, yet surrounded by a strip of forest on all sides. The lawn is perfect for camping and parking for the vans of slackpackers (hikers who travel with daypacks and arrange to be transported to a comfy bed each night).
After talking with her three hiker guests, Chapman thought she could get hikers to exchange work for lodging and have a camping spot for the coming “sobos” (southbound thru-hikers who hit Virginia in the fall). But she found the town requires her to comply with 16 pages of state regulations governing campgrounds. This included building a bath house with at least three separate showers, toilets and sinks, and having the work done by licensed contractors.
“I was having to put real money into this venture, so I needed to get some income,” Chapman said. “I decided to make the garage into a bunkhouse and hope I’d eventually make enough to pay for it.”
She and hiker friends Rain and Walkin’ Tree readied the trailer for hikers. She had the bath house built with a kitchenette and a laundry in the basement. Then she turned her attention to the two-car garage, hoping to accommodate the next nobo bubble. When thru-hiker friends Beast and Thumper heard of the hostel’s need, they volunteered to return to Pearisburg from their Washington, D.C., jobs on weekends to do the construction. Within a year, thanks to a team of talented hikers, the property was transformed into a clean, fun, well-run hostel catering to the needs of hikers.
“It’s a vortex. It sucks you in. Hikers come intending to spend just one night end up taking a zero the next day. And hikers planning on a zero stay longer,” said Acadicus, a thru-hiker who came back to shuttle, police quiet hours, and help run Hiker’s Haven.
One of the things that endears hikers to Hiker’s Haven is the likelihood of a communal meal. Hikers burn an average of 5,500 calories per day. With two kitchens and a variety of food donated by community “trail angels,” there’s usually cooking going on as well as bonding over DVDs, campfires and games.
Hikers doing laundry are encouraged to don the hostel’s colorful loaner clothes, which mark them as hikers when they go into town. The annual Homecoming reunion in May features a legs contest for hikers in loaner costumes.
Although Chapman loves thru-hikers, she herself is not a hiker. She once walked a few miles into the trail to surprise friends with a snack and ended up having to call the rescue squad. But she does have an honorary trail name, Doc Peppa. She has become a volunteer Appalachian Trail community ambassador, keeping abreast of trail developments and checking in with the local business community about hiker needs.
Chapman encourages “flip-flop” hiking, starting or ending the thru-hike in a less conventional spot on the trail, usually in the middle. A flip flopper will be northbound part of the way, southbound the rest. The practice reduces wear and tear on the trail, overcrowding at the shelters, and spreads out the business at trail communities.
“We are a good flip-flop point,” Chapman said. “We have great shuttle service. We’ll go from Daleville to Damascus. We’re great for slackpacking and for hikers who are testing their interest in thru-hiking.”
Chapman says she sees hikers of all ages, some with disabilities. “One guy was 84; another had already had three knee replacements,” she said.
With hikers limping in with all kinds of ailments, Chapman is assembling a healing chiropractic clinic in her basement. She will offer special “hiker rates” on treatments and writes X-ray orders that they can take to the local hospital, sparing them expensive visits to the emergency room.
When she finishes her acupuncture studies, Chapman plans to outfit a mobile chiropractic unit. Then she’ll take her services out to the trail. To aching, hobbled hikers, Chapman hopes to be the trail angel from Angels Rest.