He’s 65, wears hearing aids, hails from Boston originally, did his time in the military, and now devotes his life to taking care of the Appalachian Trail and the people who hike it. Bob Peoples, owner of Kincora Hikers’ Hostel in Hampton, Tennessee, is one person that every thru-hiker should shake hands with.

What’s it like to operate one of the most popular hiker hostels along the trail?
You have no idea who’s going to walk through that door. I’ve had homeless people, a mute, a double amputee, a guy who owns a brewery in South Africa. It’s amazing what’s out there. We’ve had 15,000 hikers come through our doors in 13 years, and I’ve only thrown one of them out. No drugs, no alcohol— that’s my only rule.

What is it you love about the A.T. and its hikers?
P: The trail is a great equalizer. Age, sex, career, education—the white blazes don’t care. And the thru-hikers I meet are a much more caring group of people. If the civilized world was half as caring as the A.T. community, we wouldn’t have any of the problems we have today.

Hikers gush about how friendly you are. How do you respond to the rumor that you’re the nicest person on the trail? (Peoples will wash your clothes, cook you dinner, even shuttle you around town for free.)
P: All I do is treat people the way I like to be treated. That’s it. People might be surprised when they find kindness out here, but that’s all it is.

You do a lot of trail maintenance. Do you think future generations will take care of the A.T.?
P: I think so. I work hard to get younger hikers interested in maintenance work. If we can get a 20-year-old kid hooked, we’ve got another 50 years of trail work out of him. It’s neat to think that if you paint a white blaze, then you’re contributing to the tradition of this footpath.


Set foot on the A.T. recently? Give back during Hardcore Trail Work, a two-day maintenance extravaganza organized by Bob Peoples and the TEHCC the Sunday and Monday after Trail Days: tehcc.org.