The Mountain Harbor is a cozy little Bed & Breakfast in Roan Mountain, Tennessee, run by a delightful older couple from California, Terry and Mary Hill. Catering primarily to newlyweds and Nascar fans drawn by the nearby Bristol Motor Speedway, the Mountain Harbor struggled initially to find consistent customers. Realizing their destiny in their close proximity to the trail, Mary and Terry decided to open a hiker hostel in a room above their barn in 2004, and have never looked back. From the impression I got, the hiker cabin is now their primary source of income.
Despite its hay loft being now taken over by the hiker hostel, the barn itself is still fully functional. Lying in one's bed at night, one could still hear and even feel the horses moving around below. Even with this seeming inconvenience, I found the place to be warm and inviting, the perfect antidote to the awful degradation I was suffering through every day on the trail. The porch even offered an idyllic view of the paddock, where the horses grazed and commingled with a pair of ornery goats. It was wonderful.
Bandito and I arrived to find we were far from the first to arrive. P-Nut, Hobbes, Redwing and Lil Dipper were there and had already claimed the uppermost bunks for themselves, leaving only a "semi-private" King size bed and a rather dumpy pull-out couch still free. Hating them with a burning intensity, I reviewed my options: hike on, share a bed with another man, or tent outside in the rain with only the goats to keep me company. I decided to share a bed with another man. Another taboo broken. First I was eating meat, now this? What insanity would be next?
"Bandito, we're taking the King bed," I ordered, leaving no room for discussion.
"Okay," he shrugged, "But we're putting a row of pillows in between us."
"What're you, eighteen years old?" I said, bristling at his immaturity.
He had me there. "But it could get cold!" I whined, "What if I want to snuggle?"
"Don't touch me!" yelped Bandito, laughing. "Why don't you go snuggle with P-Nut or Hobbes?"
I actually paused to consider this, but I doubted they would have me. P-Nut and Hobbes looked down at me from their perch and laughed, probably enjoying a little inside joke at my expense with their equally adorable and precious British friends. How I loathed and resented them. I would never be on their level. The thought was too painful to bear. I suddenly missed Fredo, and wished we had hiked on.
"So I just paid for the room," said Bandito, interrupting my reverie. Damn! "You can pay me back now, or go into town and buy my resupply for me." He smiled at me, hopeful.
"I have a better idea!" I snapped, "How about I go into town and buy your resupply for you?"
"Okay," said Bandito, puzzled. "Should I tell you what I want, or should I write it down?"
"Write. It. Down!" I said, my eyes bulging.
I don't know why I was always taking out my frustrations on Bandito. I also don't know why he put up with me. But he did, and I was grateful for it.
P-Nut and I went to barter with Terry for a ride into town. There was a nominal one dollar fee for a shuttle, but Terry magnanimously waived the charge. Or he forgot. We were soon cramming ourselves onto the bench seat of his pickup alongside Redwing, forcing Lil Dipper and Hobbes to ride in the back. They smiled cheerfully and gamely waved to us through the rear window, but I knew they must have been miserable and freezing. I secretly enjoyed their torment, then felt terribly guilty about immediately afterward, to the point that I insisted on switching places with Lil Dipper when we returned to the hostel. She was only too pleased to acquiesce to my selfless and chivalrous offer. Following my lead, P-Nut volunteered to switch places with Hobbes. And so it went.
The ride back after our resupply was soothingly brisk, like sitting in a hot tub that didn't work on the deck of a boat lost somewhere in the North Atlantic. Above the Arctic Circle. During a ferocious blizzard. Being a stout New Englander, I was used to the cold, and relished in it, even taking my shirt off to the amusement of my companions. Except for P-Nut, who unfortunately had to look at me the whole time, and watched in morbid fascination as my nipples slowly turned blue, iced over, and then fell off. In retrospect, it was a stupid thing to do. Whatever.
We returned to find the hostel filling up. Tintin had arrived with a couple others, and they had found spaces on the floor, on the couch, in a horse trailer, or had tented on the lawn. Before making myself dinner from scavenged food out of the hiker box, I was delighted to discover that the hostel had a copy of Braveheart on VHS. Everybody huddled around on the floor and gazed up at the 10-inch television in the corner, soon caught up the Oscar-winning masterpiece.
Bandito had never seen Braveheart before, and I was eager to expose him to something new that I could personally vouch for. I even did him the favor of fast-forwarding through the naughty parts. Which was a lot. We ended up finishing the movie in about fifteen minutes, but not before I forever endeared myself to my three new British friends by raucously cheering and whooping ecstatically every time an evil, ugly, despicable Englishman got his leg chopped off, his throat slit, his testicles impaled, or was viciously decapitated. I'm sure they found it charming.
Tintin lamented that the hostel didn't have copies of Apocalypse Now or Fahrenheit 9/11.
"How dare you," I said, picking out Top Gun to watch next. Because after watching a brutal two-hour evisceration of English history and its national character, the next best thing would be a shameless ninety minute infomercial for the US Navy, and perhaps the seminal cinematic exaltation of American exceptionalism in history. Top Gun is also quite possibly the most homoerotic film ever released by a major Hollywood studio, as it's all about sweaty, shirtless men playing beach volleyball, staring at each other longingly, and taking out their sexual frustrations by flying giant, gleaming phalluses around the sky and squirting missiles at each other. Awesome.
Twenty minutes in, I turned to the room and said, quite honestly, "I don't want to freak anybody out, but I've had a boner for this entire movie." Redwing was so amused she wrote it down in her journal.
A little later, Mary walked in with a birthday cake for Lil' Dipper. Redwing confessed that she'd arranged with Mary to get the cake in secret. Which wasn't really true. We were all in on it. In fact, it might have been entirely my idea. But Lil' Dipper was totally surprised and overwhelmed, until we sang her "Happy Birthday," at which point she became disgusted by our failure to maintain four-part harmony. Everybody ate a slice of cake, and even then there were leftovers. Not wanting the cake to go to waste, I let the others cajole me into eating three more pieces. A mistake, as it turned out. I would later wake everybody up during the night with a particularly unsavory visit to the bathroom.
I could scarcely believe I had regarded these same people with bitter resentment just that morning. Or had it been earlier that afternoon? They were now my truest friends, either my second or third trail family, and I knew in my heart that I would never leave them for anything.
There we were, in the converted hay loft of a barn, again, but this night we were happy. Lil' Dipper had celebrated her birthday, Redwing had successfully pulled off her secret plan, and I had repeatedly humiliated myself while offending nearly everybody. It was a good day.