Erik Barstow is now owner of Rattle River Lodge and Hostel on the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire
Caroline Hafey | Special to the Leader
SHELBURNE, N.H. – The group of disheveled men and women are clustered together, taking items out of their worn packs. A long-bearded man, whose collarbones poke through his frayed T-shirt, begins lining up the remaining food he has for the week. The group’s clothes, unapologetically mismatching and shabby, collectively emit a malodorous scent. The long-bearded man is from Alabama. His companions, with whom he has kept company for the past 15 days, are from Florida, Virginia, Maine and California. He’s not sure what their first names are, let alone their last names. Instead, he calls them each by a unique nickname.
Five men and women from five different states are sitting on the back porch of the Rattle River Lodge and Hostel waiting for the owner, Erik Barstow, to see to it that they have a shower, a clean bed, and a ride into town for food.
This ragtag crew of misfits has found themselves in the middle of Shelburne, New Hampshire, a sleepy town of no more than 375 people. Like many towns in the White Mountain National Forest of northern New Hampshire, the economy, which was once propelled by the paper mills and logging, is now driven by the outdoor tourism industry. The inhabitants of Shelburne rely on the neighboring town of Gorham to supply them with gas, groceries and restaurants.
The unlikely bunch from five different states would very likely never find themselves in Shelburne, New Hampshire, but for one unifying factor: The Appalachian Trail.
The Appalachian Trail is one of 11 National Scenic Trails, stretching approximately 2,189 miles from Georgia to Maine. Over 1,000 miles to the west, the Ice Age Trail, another long-distance National Scenic Trail, weaves throughout Wisconsin. Each year, thousands of hopefuls begin the trek north from Georgia, with the goal of earning their title as a “thru hiker” of the Appalachian Trail. Due to its proximity to Maine, the “finish line” for many, Rattle River Lodge and Hostel plays a critical role in helping hikers achieve this goal.
The Rattle River Lodge and Hostel isn’t your typical hostel. It’s not your typical lodge, either. It’s a finely run machine that boasts warm breakfast, quick trailhead pickups, hot showers, and clean, cozy beds. The lodge sits on 7.4 acres of mostly wooded land abutting the bubbling Rattle River. It is located directly on the Appalachian Trail and so thousands of hikers pass by the lodge during their journey. In the backyard sits a small pond, just big enough for a couple of kayaks to float around on, with a large fire pit toward the back.
During peak season, the house surges with more than 25 guests and a crew of four to five workers at any given time. The main house, which has undergone numerous renovations, provides guests with plenty of space to relax, eat and stream movies. The cottage, which sits a few yards away from the main house, provides additional overflow space for the throngs of thru hikers.
It takes a specific type of person to be able to handle the whirlwind that is thru hiker season. Hundreds upon hundreds of hikers with different personalities, needs, goals and wants shuffle in and out of the lodge weekly. Some are there to stay for a night, others are there for a week and some for just a few hours to collect themselves. Each person who enters the threshold is given a towel, a clean set of “loaner clothes” and is guided to the showers upstairs. They leave their dirty laundry in individual bags and staff make sure that they are clean and dry by the morning.
Even with a full staff to clean, cook and check in guests, Barstow can still be found gliding in and out of the house. As owner and manager, he ensures that each bed is made to standard, the floors are dirt-free, breakfast is consistent, and customers are satiated and feel at home. There is no typical day, or typical week, at the Rattle River Lodge and Hostel. The only constant is the high quality of service Barstow and his staff give to each customer.
The Rattle River Lodge and Hostel stands out as one of the best on the trail. It was voted in the top three hostels on trail in 2017 and will undoubtedly stand out as a five-star hiker retreat in years to come.
In 2014 when he first moved there, he began working at the lodge, which was formerly known as the White Mountain Lodge and Hostel. On May 1, 2017, Barstow, originally from St. Croix Falls, purchased the lodge and since then has worked tirelessly to expand and improve it, while streamlining the services and goods offered. The charm and warmth of the New England Colonial house entices people to stay longer than intended in a phenomenon referred to as the “vortex.”
Running a hiker haven is no easy feat, but Barstow has managed to transform the lodge into a place that even nonhikers want to return to. Last summer he crafted a homemade waffle recipe and is currently working on developing other breakfast options to keep customers happy and satiated. He strives to meet all dietary needs and so gluten-free and vegan options are always made available. He provides highest