The barter economy can be a beautiful thing. It's a market that removes the root of all evil from the transaction. Its prevalence in the long distance hiking community sits well with me.
'Work for stay' is a fine example of how hikers embrace the barter economy but to give you a good example, I have to first describe the 'hut' system used in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The Whites are beautiful. Some of the best hiking in the country. Every summer, thousands of people want to hike these trails but they are very remote and thus, hard to get to. These trails also cross rare alpine and Forest Protection Areas so you don't want thousands of people stomping around and camping everywhere. The solution is a system of primitive buildings up in the mountains where people can stay overnight. These are the 'huts'. Kind of a cross between a hotel and a bunkhouse, they only offer the basics: a dinner served 'family style', a bunk bed for the night and breakfast the next morning. These huts are run by the Appalachian Mountain Club and staffed by college kids for the summer. The huts are not cheap: It can cost up to $150 per night for a peak-season, non-AMC member guest. There are no showers, no electricity and you have to pack out your own trash. They sell out every night during the summer. Why does someone pay $150/night for a basic meal and a bunk? Location. These huts make all the best trails and mountain peaks accessible.
Unfortunately for the poor AT thru-hiker, you cannot camp above treeline forcing you to either get back down off the mountains (and off the trail) or stay at the huts. But what hiker can afford $150/night? Luckily, the AMC and the young adults that staff the huts sometimes offer WFS (Work For Stay). Here's how it works (or, at least, this is how I do it):
I try to get to the hut at around 4pm. Any earlier and they'll probably tell you to keep hiking. Any later and you risk not getting a spot. They can only offer WFS to a few hikers each night. I park my backpack outside (as is customary before entering any place of business) and ask for the 'Hut Master'. This is the person in charge.
Me: I am Wolverine. I'm a SOBO thru. I understand that you sometimes offer WFS to grateful and hard working hikers.
Hut Master: We do.
Me: My body is sound and I have a strong work ethic. Would allow me to WFS?
Hut Master: We'll see. Bring your pack in and have a seat. I'll let you know.
If you get the opportunity, here's the deal: You may have to help prepare and serve dinner or you may have to clean up afterward, do dishes, sweep... Basically, what ever they tell you to do. In exchange, you get to eat any leftovers from the paying guests and you get to sleep on the dining room floor after the guests go to bed. In the morning, you can stay for breakfast and usually can get a similar deal - you get a shot at the leftover food in exchange for cleaning up afterward. Then you pack up your gear and keep hiking, grateful for a belly full of food and a night indoors.
I think the paying guests (whom hikers sometimes call 'Hut People') are fascinated by us. They marvel in disgust as the thru-hikers shovel down the leftover food, slurping and sopping... Occasionally growling if they get too close to one another's plates. They wonder why we're so glad to sleep on the floor like a dog. We, on the other side, wonder why their packs are so huge and why they would hike in a cotton hoodie. The two groups, castes if you will, look at each other curiously, each wondering about the other's life.
I had a particularly positive experience at Lakes in the Clouds Hut near Mt. Washington. It's notable for it's size (they handle about 90 guests a night with a crew of about 7) and its location at the foot of Mt. Washington. The views from the hut itself are spectacular. I was fortunate to trade work for both dinner and breakfast. I had established a good rapport with the crew there (the Lakez Croo, they call themselves) and was glad for the experience. Before I left, the Hut Master asked me if I would do him a favor and deliver a message to the next Hut Master. I was headed there anyway and was glad to be able to help. He handed me a note written on cardboard that was taped tightly closed. The outside said 'Open Immediately'. When I finally got to the next hut, I presented the note to one of the crew there, a young lady who was busy baking fresh breads and desserts for that evening. This was the note:
I was so surprised! This was one of coolest things that has ever happened to me.The young lady invited me around to the kitchen and offered me a huge plate of pure goodness: She had been making a tray of brownies that morning and had poured too much mix into the pan. While baking, the brownie overflowed from the tray and she had cut off all the edges from around the tray and she served them to me with a hot cup of coffee and instructions to eat all of it. What a treat!
The long distance hiking community embraces the barter economy in many other ways. We share and trade food on the trail. A lady might give you a ride to the trail head if you offer to pump her gas for her. There are 'Hiker Boxes' at almost every hostel and hiker hang-out along the trail. These are similar, in theory, to the 'take a penny, leave a penny' trays you might see at a convenience store check out. You might take out a roll of TP and leave some AAA batteries. Or you might leave a package of Ramen noodles and take a pair of boot laces.
Goods and services exchanging hands without money. I wish it happened more often.
People who know me know that I belong on the Trail. I've thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail (twice),the Pacific Crest Trail and the mighty Continental Divide Trail. I've hiked many of the long trails here in Michigan including being the first to hike both the Ironwood Trail and the Great Lake To Lake Trail. In 2017, I hiked the Israel National Trail and the Golan Heights Trail. I was the first to hike the Baja Divide Trail in Mexico but failed miserably to thru-hike the Bruce Trail in Canada. In 2019, I hiked the TEMBR in Ecuador and now, I'm going to attempt to hike 1,150 miles of the North Country Trail as it runs through my home state of Michigan.
The purpose of this blog is to keep anyone who is interested informed of my progress and to encourage those who are able to support me in these endeavors.