Thru-hikers find respite from trail's rigors in Hanover

by Charles Davant | 7/31/96 5:00am

There are some people who find Hanover too urban, too loud, too busy and entirely too crowded.

Take, for instance, Jeff Lacatell.

"I can't take this hustle and bustle," Lacatell said. "I'm going back into the woods where I feel at home."

Lacatell is an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker. He left Springer Mountain, Ga. with nothing but a backpack on March 24 and has been walking north ever since.

Lacatell is one of the hundreds of people who pass through Hanover every summer attempting the 2,144-mile foot-trail, which ends at Mt. Katahdin, Maine. The trail passes through Hanover, following the white blazes painted on telephone poles on West Wheelock, Main and Lebanon Streets.

This year about 4,000 people left Georgia with the intention of hiking the entire trail, according to Lacatell. Less than one-fourth will make it as far as Hanover.

Less than 10 percent of thru-hikers hike from north to south, because the White Mountains are virtually impassable until early summer.

Not all thru-hikers are seasoned outdoorsmen. One middle-aged man from Georgia said the 1,713 miles he just hiked are part of his first hiking trip. He bought a backpack three days before he started hiking.

For a thru-hiker, Hanover represents a rare glimpse of civilization. Most hikers last showered, shaved and restocked in Manchester, Vt., which is five or six days away. The next town along the trail is Gorham, N.H., several days to the north.

One of the first things thru-hikers do in Hanover is check their mail, which friends and family members send "General Delivery."

Post Office Clerk Sue Perry said about a dozen hikers come in every day during summer to get packages. A series of shelves at the Hanover Post Office is devoted to the hundreds of boxes that come marked "Hold for Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker."

"Mostly it's food," Perry said, referring to the packages. "Some of it is winter clothes. A guy this morning had a winter sleeping bag, and he mailed home his summer bag."

The post office has a notebook so hikers can leave each other messages. Most thru-hikers sign their messages with their "trail names," the names they are called by other hikers.

Lacatell, whose trail name is "Bloody Nose" said his packages contained "a lot of food, some home-cooked brownies and maps of the next section."

Lacatell said most hikers spend the night at the Panarchy undergraduate society, Foley House and Tabard coed fraternity. Foley is an affinity house.

Panarchy member Justin Stearns '98 said so many thru-hikers try to stay at Panarchy, members have had to turn some away. Members have set a limit of five hikers per night, and no hiker may stay more than three days.

Stearns says Panarchy has housed hikers for years, and is even listed in a guidebook to the Appalachian Trail.

"The house has always done this," Stearns said. "It seems like the right thing to do. They really need a place to stay."

Thru-hikers sleep in Panarchy's basement, which has a plush carpet and several mattresses. Members have even posted a set of rules for thru-hikers. For instance, hikers are not allowed on the house's residential floors unless accompanied by a member.

Lacatell said he did not know where he would sleep in Hanover until another hiker suggested Panarchy.

Thru-hikers also use their time in Hanover to eat, since calories are a rare commodity on the trail.

Thru-hiker Ted Gerlach, a certified public accountant from Rhode Island nicknamed "Turbo," said he has lost weight since he started hiking in March.

Lacatell said he has lost 20 pounds, despite a diet of oatmeal, dried fruit, pasta, trail mix and candy bars dipped in peanut butter.

Lacatell said he recovered some energy in Hanover by drinking beers at 5 Olde Nugget Alley and by ordering all-you-can-eat pasta at Everything But Anchovies restaurant.

A recent college graduate whose trail name is "Blue Sky" said EBA's all-you-can-eat pasta is part of Hanover's reputation among the hikers, along with the information that the student organizations offer them housing.

Food and equipment tend to cost more in Hanover than many other trail towns, but that is typical of the northeast, Lacatell said.

But for most thru-hikers, Hanover is a town like any other, a place to shower, eat hot food, wash clothes, drink beer and check mail. Blue Sky said he might be tempted to stay longer than just a single night.

"Some people get sucked in and just stay," he said. "I think I'll just roll with the punches."

But sooner or later, hikers face the prospect of the trail's final 431 miles, which cross the perilous White Mountains. An old trail maxim states that Hanover marks 80 percent of hikers' distance and 50 percent of their work.

But hikers in Hanover remain optimistic about their trips final weeks.

"I've been walking for four months, and we got snow and cold in the Rockies," Lacatell said. "I'll be alright."