Travel writers love to say stuff like:
because they're paid by the word.
All I can tell you is the Appalachian Trail Cafe in Millinocket, Maine, is way more cool than I thought it would be. It's on Penobscot Avenue, but everything in Maine is "Penobscot" something. It's like roads named "Peachtree" in Atlanta.
I had no fear that the restaurant served perpetually rotating, weirdly pink gas station hot dogs, but I was surprised at how good the food tasted. I figured they could make a living from one-time transients, but the Appalachian Trail Cafe would be a favorite place to eat and hang out, if I were a local. (Which is not going to happen until winters there are warmer than they are here in Georgia.)
The Cafe was named the 2013 Business of the Year by the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce. You don't get that by serving Mystery Meat and nuked potato flakes.
Mt. Katahdin doesn't exactly loom over urban Millinocket, but it's the closest town to the end of the Trail for northbounder thru-hikers.
That's where the Appalachian Trail Cafe excels. When thru-hikers reach their goal and hike the (hello?) 5.2 miles back down the rocky mountain to re-enter "society," they're hungry and they want to sit, eat warm and/or cold food and pee indoors ... for the rest of their lives.
They're honored guests at the Cafe. It might not sound like a fabulous honor, but Trail Victors are allowed to sign the ceiling tiles.
That's one way to have people look up to you for achieving an almost unbelievable accomplishment.
Then there's the ice-cream challenge. Sure, thru-hikers try to down a half-gallon of ice cream at the halfway point in Pennsylvania's Pine Grove Furnace State Park -- home to the Appalachian Trail Museum and the Pine Grove General Store -- but they go all the way at the Cafe.
They call it The Summit Sundae and it's awesome. Here's how they describe it:
If you dare...try our Summit Sundae Challenge...starting with a banana, then 14 scoops of ice cream (one for each state the AT crosses), Snickers candy bar (hikers' favorite food), a handful of M&M's and an AT Cafe's famous doughnut (made famous in Washington DC) all that topped with choclate syrup, whipped cream & cherries.
Eat it by yourself and you get to add your name to the pole of fame and we'll give you a T-shirt & a bumper sticker and you get to keep the bowl!!
Ahh, the Pole of Fame. No, it's not guarded by ancient swordsmen ... only Janet & Amanda.
The faster you finish the 14-scoop-of-ice cream Summit Sundae, the higher your name goes on the Pole of Fame.
Please Note: Only names of survivors are allowed. Thank you.
Suzannah, my lovely assistant, and I loved listening to the conversations of the other diners while we ate.
That's how we met Paul and Asher Molyneaux. They have interesting Trail Names.
Paul is "Tecolate" -- a Spanish word for "owl" -- and Asher is "Venado" -- Spanish for deer. Together they are "The Barbarians," but they seem much nicer than that, frankly.
Paul's the author of "A Child's Walk in the Wilderness."
Can you guess who's featured in the book?
But I digress ...
When you've had your fill of delicious food and amazing characters at the Appalachian Trail Cafe, you're welcome to commemorate your trip by leaving a few dollars behind in exchange for some cool stuff.
By the time we were there, the T-shirts were pretty much cleaned out, but they'll have more.
If you're so snooty that even THAT isn't enough, head upstairs to the Trail Connection for seriously snooty Carrabassett Coffee espresso, frozen hot chocolate, Smoothies, vital trail gear and a close-up look at real live thru-hikers.
Please Note: Do not handle the thru-hikers. You may, however, feed them. Thank you.
Check to be sure, but somewhere around the last Saturday of September, Millinocket hosts the Trail's End Festival.
That's when the town is packed with folks who've finished the Trail and there's an abundance of good music, great arts & crafts, food, snacks and flocks of friendly folks.
It's all about celebrating the heroes who actually make it to the End of the Trail.
If you're nice to the folks at the Appalachian Trail Cafe, they might give you the secret directions to the perfect spot to take pictures of Mount Katahdin.
Trust me. You'll think they gave you bad directions or sent you on a prank trek to fetch a "sky hook" or something.
Just remember: the only ones who make it to Katahdin are the ones who don't quit.
But get there before the sun sets in the west or you won't see Mount Katahdin.
Tags: Tourism, Appalachian Trail, Hiking, Appalachian Trail Community, News, and Robert Sutherland Travel Writer
Dahlonega, GA, has the first Appalachian Trail festival annually. The Trails End Festival in Millinocket, Maine, honors the thru-hikers who never gave up.
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The 2016 Trails End Festival takes place September 16-18th with oodles of hikers and great music. The Tough Ones try the Hard Core Project.
Members of the Kallin family completed their Appalachian Trail thru-hike by climbing to the top of Mt. Katahdin on August 31, 2014! Hoorah for the Kallins!
Trails End Festival in Millinocket, ME, near Katahdin.