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Imagine, for a moment, that you're hiking the Appalachian Trail, 2,119 miles from Springer Mountain, Ga. to Mount Katahdin, Maine. A little while ago you crossed into New York State, and now you're stepping warily along a rocky north-south ridge paralleling nine-mile-long Greenwood Lake, 700 feet below. It's mid-July and you're saut�ed. The last lean-to you slept in was 30 miles back, the next is 20 miles north, and shining Katahdin is still 800 miles away. What would you barter your soul and boots for? A cold drink and a hot shower.
Something ahead catches your eye, a battered signboard propped against a rock: FREE OVERNIGHT LODGING FOR LONG-TERM HIKERS. APPALACHIA COTTAGE� MILE DOWN TRAIL.
At the cottage a cheerful man of middle age appears, dark wavy hair displaying the faintest intimations of gray.
"Uh, I saw this sign up on the trail," you mumble.
"Sure, come on in," he says. "There's beer inside." And then, "You wouldn't be...?" and he says your name. As if he's been expecting you!
In all this imagined scenario, only one presumption insults credibility—that you wouldn't know Roger Brickner as the proprietor of Appalachia Cottage and the Samaritan of the Appalachian Trail. The trail grapevine is far too efficient for tales of Brickner's wondrous hospitality—the cold drinks, the food, real beds under a real roof—not to precede any hiker's approach to Greenwood Lake.
Brickner, 50, a social studies teacher at Benjamin Cardozo High School in New York City's borough of Queens, is a genial bachelor who sees the irony of his Hiltonesque habits. In 1973 he acquired a modest summer place—three rooms with kitchen and sun porch—backed up against a hill rising from the west shore of Greenwood Lake, 50 miles northwest of New York City. Just the setting for contemplative summers away from clamorous classrooms.
But two acts of kindness scrambled forever those idyllic prospects. A thunderstorm one night late that first summer deposited four drenched young hikers at his door. "I could hardly turn them out," Brickner recalls. "But they were accidentals, they don't really count."
Late the next summer, during another storm, Brickner recalled the incident and wondered if there might be other wet and miserable hikers on the trail. He climbed the ridge and left a note offering dry accommodations. Before nightfall a young man named Tim Williams, a through hiker from Georgia, came knocking to see if the offer was genuine.
During the balance of the 1974 season, seven other hikers followed the path to Brickner's door. The next year, given a full summer, 37 came, and in 1976, 88 hikers dropped by for a meal and a place to crash. Brickner keeps a list of each visitor in yearly logbooks and posts running totals of the number of stoppers-by on the sun porch.