Every year, roughly 80,000 travelers from at least ninety countries pass through the doors of HI New York City, the largest hostel in the Americas. Each week, Narratively’s Daniel Krieger will spend a few hours in the landmarked building on New York’s Upper West Side, listening to their stories for our Hostel People series.

Geoff Ellis, 67, Noosa, Australia

What do you do back home? I’m a connoisseur of leisure. I retired from the Western Australian Department of Fisheries when I was 54.

HI New York City
HI New York City

What’s the reason for your trip? I just spent six months hiking the Appalachian Trail. For me, it was a personal ambition to be a ‘thru hiker’ and do it all in one hit, from start to finish, all 2,190 miles. Unlike ‘section hikers,’ who do it in parts, a thru hiker starts from one end and walks all the way to the other. I could’ve done it a bit quicker, but I had quite a few issues with my bad knees, and then I had Lyme disease, which knocked me out for a little while, and then I had an incident with a large tree falling on my tent while I was sleeping. I also had two confrontations with a mother bear whose cubs were getting near me. Every day was a learning experience.

Did you go alone? I did, but people go out of their way to make sure you’re okay. Trail friends are unbelievable. I walked with two veterans I met for the last two months. One was a Vietnam veteran. I served in Vietnam as paratrooper with an infantry battalion.

Australia fought in Vietnam? The minute America is involved in a war we are there beside you as an ally. We’ll always be there regardless of what war it is. Any Australian general will tell you there’s no way we could defend our country in this world today, and if we get attacked we need America to come and help us.

All that experience being in the wilderness and the jungle came in handy to help me get through the tough part of the trail. I needed to fight my way back to fitness after stagnating for the last few years and putting on a lot of weight. I lost sixty pounds. I’m extremely pleased with my new image, without meaning to sound vain.

How’s it going in New York? I’m not taking any buses or trains. Just walking. Now I’m addicted to walking. I’m here for a week. One thing I hope is to meet a nice lady to ride around Central Park with in a horse and buggy. I’ve always wanted to get lost in Manhattan. Now I’m doing that, and it’s wonderful, as good as I thought it would be. I went on a few walking tours with a guy called Jerry, who took me everywhere – Central Park, Midtown, Hell’s Kitchen, Brooklyn; I can’t even remember all the names of the places. In Harlem, we stopped by a church to see gospel singing, which was very stimulating and animated. It was like a celebration, with all the clapping and dancing, everyone was getting fired up in the spirit of the moment. I can say that if church were like that all the time, I might’ve been going for the last fifty years.

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Come back to Narratively next Wednesday for more Hostel People.

This interview has been edited and condensed. HI NYC management has granted permission for this project, but plays no role in shaping the stories and has no affiliation with Narratively.

Daniel Krieger

Daniel Krieger, a contributing editor at Narratively, is a freelance journalist in New York. He contributes to The New York Times and his work has also appeared in Fast Company, Wired, Slate, Salon, and New York magazine.