Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Review of Standing Bear Farm Hostel

I wanted to talk a bit about my impressions of the hostel. You also need a frame of reference. I stayed overnight on Friday, May 6, 2016. This is near the end of the AT thru-hiker bubble. They may get year-round clients since they are about the only lodging/shuttle service at the north end of the Smokies. But I'll assume thru hikers provide most of their annual income.

I've also heard that last year the proprietor passed away and his relatives have taken up operations. 

Morgan (aka Comrade) did most of the upkeep. Maria seemed to be the new proprietor   Morgan was friendly and always helpful. Maria did not seem as upbeat, and seemed more worried about finances. I got there early and Morgan had me in the Creekside cabin by noon. Shortly after Maria stopped by and asked me if I was staying there?  She asked if I knew it was $30?  I asked if there was something wrong as she seemed a bit upset. She said a couple wanted a cabin for privacy and they charged two people a total of $50. 

That behavior was not professional and bothered me. Later when I paid early because I wanted to hike out early the next morning before the staff was available, she asked me twice if I had made all the purchases I was going to from the self-service resupply store. Again I was a bit irritated. 

I'll assume their income and expenses were tight and give Maria a pass. 

Now to the hostel itself. It's a great operational approach, but it has some bugs. You get an intro from Morgan but it misses some key details. Like towels, sheets, and who washes dishes you use. 

They have two port-a-potties which is fine and one traditional privy I didn't find. They don't restock the toilet paper and the contractor apparently doesn't do a good job either. They have a shower area but I couldn't find any towels...

They have a small common kitchen with gas stove, microwave, and pizza ovens. A large table with a bench around it was promising, but extension charger for phones left only one entry. People left musical instruments on bench, trash and dog food on the table. People were leaving dirty dishes in the sink and someone had stopped up the drain. Dirty towels were all around the sink and there was no obvious scrub pad or clean dish cloth to clean the dishes with.   I used the microwave and left. 

The laundry area had two sinks for hand washing and a dryer. With the number of hikers staying this was probably more 'wash' efficient than a couple of coin washers and dryers would be with everybody waiting interminably. But my muddy socks did not get as clean as I would have liked. 

There was a picnic table and chairs outside the food/laundry area for use in good weather. 

They had a small building dedicated as a self-serve resupply store. You just noted on an envelope all of your purchases and paid up when leaving. It was a great (and I mean great) little store for food while you were staying at the hostel. But it didn't have freeze dried entrees for the trail. Mail drops were free if you stayed overnight. 

The bunk room was what you might expect in a submarine if they made subs out of wood. It was packed with bunks like sardines. Every one had a hikers kit spread out on it. Maria had told me to get pillow cases there, but I couldn't get close to the shelves with the linen because of the mass of hiker packs and hikers around it. 

They seem to be extending the main house to two stories. Don't know if it's only for the staff or if they will include rooms for hikers. 

My little one room cabin was past the main house on a little creek. The creek side was all glass with double doors. A grated balcony extended over the creek with a rug and two iron chairs. The one room had a double bed, a fan and a half-height bookcase/night-stand. No heat and despite having two electrical outlets (that didn't work) they had an extension cord coming through the window. Good enough, but I could have done the wiring in an hour. 

They had a larger cabin with two beds near the shower and they had a glass tree-house near the back of the property. I was not aware of other lodging. 

In summary, their operation was a little more extensive than most hostels. The self-serve store and free laundry were the highlights. If they had paid attention to the details or the cleanliness in the eating/cooking area, the hostel would be outstanding. They could make improvements anytime that would help. 

The hostel provides an essential service for thru hikers leaving the Smokies. But it's not everything I had hoped. 

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