Getting to town today was 12 miles downhill. The first miles from the ridge were fairly flat and wide but the trail soon became recognisable as a descent into town. That is to say it narrowed to around 18 inches wide, cut into the side of a steep hill. Into Belden, the hill is densely forested and relatively humid, so for much of the hike I was doing the mosquito dance. Thankfully I was fairly fast and soon found myself crossing the railroad tracks and entering the small resort that passes for town.
I wandered through a campsite, which gave way to cabins and chalets and eventually a small row of buildings which housed the shop and restaurant. I had planned to call Brenda Braaten, a local trail angel, on arrival and ask to stay in her hiker annex, but it being only 10:30am it was a little early and I decided to eat breakfast first.
The bartender was wonderfully weird, but allowed me to sit at the bar and gave me a menu. By the time she finished chatting to other hikers and standing around gazing at each patron in turn, it was 11am which she said meant I had to pick from the lunch menu. I must have looked sufficiently horrified at this pronouncement that she relented and said I could still have breakfast. Oh and could I get my own coffee as the waitress serving the tables was super busy and she didn’t want to look after coffee as well as the bar? I was pretty happy to keep wandering into the kitchen servery when I wanted refills but it seemed an odd request.
I chatted to TreeHouse, Stretch and Motown as I ate my omelette and swapped trail stories. They are pretty laid back and would make a great new bubble but they stop in towns more often and for longer than I do so we might move at different speeds. I hope this isn’t the last time I see them. They had stayed in BeldenTown overnight in the camping area, hanging out at the bar during the day. It seemed fun but expensive so I called Brenda Braaten and arranged to meet her in an hour to be taken to Little Haven.
The Braatens have set up their hiker annex with everything a hiker could need and it runs with military precision. They have town clothes for use whilst you’re doing laundry, proper beds, kitchen and shower. I helped Brenda fold some clean laundry and then went about my chores. Soon after I’d showered and started to kick back and read “Freakonomics” from the bookshelf, Laurie Braaten arrived home with Chug in tow! He has decided to come back to the trail and preferred to skip 200 miles and rejoin me than to go back at Echo Lake and hike alone. So I have a hiking buddy once more! We wandered a quarter mile down the road to the rather bizarre Caribou Crossroads, which serves as post office, store and campsite in one, to get some dinner and were rewarded with some rather good burgers. They are perfect town food, fatty and high in meat protein both of which are hard to get on trail. We waited in the small cafe until my laundry was done, then headed back to Little Haven.
The Braatens have several board games in the hiker annex and we entertained ourselves that evening with Boggle, switching to Scrabble when we tired of the rattling sound. Over the course of the evening several new guests arrived; Doc who I haven’t seen since Big Bear, TikiMon and Van Gogh. However Brenda turned away the people who showed up a little drunk after hours and told us we should do the same if anyone else arrived. She explained her rules to everyone and threatened to shut down if she woke up to vomit on the deck. It’s entirely fair, and we promised to look after the place for the night. It’s sad that there are these threats to trail angels. People expecting hotel service from someone allowing them into their home. Especially with the number of hikers increasing, providing an oasis like Little Haven is becoming a mammoth task, and it must be tiring. The pleasure of meeting hikers and sharing stories has to outweigh the hassle of hosting them, and we have to make sure that we do everything possible to ensure it. We left a note for Brenda and Laurie as well as donations in the donation jar and made sure our beds were changed and the place was tidy before we left. Hopefully we can leave the feeling that hikers are respectful and pleasant rather than entitled and rude. It would be a shame if the class of 2016 all had to stay in the Belden resort with the weekend raves.
Camping: Mile 1288, Little Haven (not camping)