Day mileage: 3.9
AT total mileage: 273.9
Time: 1.3 hours
Greetings from Hot Springs, North Carolina!
A quick early morning walk through the remainder of yesterday's lower mountain ridge dropped the Appalachian Trail right down Main Street of the most easily imaginable southern town I've ever seen. A place once famous for its naturally hot mineral springs, popularity with tourists rose and fell a few times over the last century and a half. Main Street itself is only about 1/2 a mile long, and consists of two dozen brick buildings lining the wide road with businesses like a 60 year old hardware store, a library, diner, two taverns, a 'hiker ministry', hiking supplies outfitter, laundromat, and ice cream parlor. On the other side of the train tracks headed out of town is the grand entrance to the historic World Famous Hot Springs Resort. I'd imagine that the town was once thriving with tourism, and has gone the way of the Historic Route 66, with new highways and more modern amenities stealing the spotlight away. If you've seen Pixar's film 'Cars', imagine Radiator Springs. Stuck in the 21st century, this not-even-one-traffic-light-town seems to enjoy the constant flow of hikers coming through and keeping businesses alive.
Regardless, it's a cute place, nestled into the Appalachians of western North Carolina. Crusoe, Whitey, Cheesepuff, and I ate a delicious breakfast at the Smoky Mountain Diner along with a dozen other hikers and some locals. Pricing was absolutely fair & my pancakes were delicious. We strolled Main St. looking for a cheap place to stay, and ended up at the Alpine Court motel for $60/night. The two-queen bed rooms are still cleaned with then same shag-carpet destined champagne colored Electro-Lux vacuum cleaner that probably rolled off the production line the same decade the motel was built. Split four ways it's absolutely reasonable. My objectives for time in town were to resupply food, charge electronics, get a hair cut, and do laundry. Unfortunately there's no cell service here so I am left at the mercy of Wi-Fi hotspots which are few & far between. First order of business after dropping bags off at the motel was a haircut. I stopped by the 'hiker ministry', a lovely log-cabin style building with a sign boasting free snacks, backpack babysitting, Wi-Fi, and coffee. It's owned by a wonderful woman in her late 40s who happily caters to hikers needs, hunger, and questions, baking muffins & cookies while hearing stories from the trail told by hikers comfortably plopped on the many couches. My question for her was simple- where to get my hair cut- but I wasn't answered until I had a chocolate chip cookie in hand, and a photograph taken with my trail name and start date, to add to her Facebook page so hikers can see where their friends are. Come to find out she moves her operation to the New Jersey segment of the trail during June, and Maine during August & September. I don't know what she did or does for a living to afford this, but she's a wonderfully caring woman who was lovely to talk to. She directed me down the street to a small salon run out of a double wide trailer.
Normally, walking into a place of business that can be hooked up to a tractor trailer cab and rolled away would cause me to hesitate, but seeing as I was in Hot Springs, I didn't miss a beat. I entered and met Jewel, the sister of the owner of the salon. She admitted that she didn't regularly do men's hair cuts, but that she would 'give it a go'. When I told her I usually cut my hair myself, she handed me the clippers and sat me down in the barber chair, keeping conversation as I trimmed. We spoke for a good 20 minutes or so, with me laughing as I've never had anyone watch me cut my hair before. She got quite a kick out of how I do it, double checking my own work before calling it a wrap. Thanks to the great conversation and laugh she charged me nothing for the use of the trimmers and sent me on my way, wishing me good luck and safe travels. The next stop was Dollar General to pick up some cheap shampoo before showering. There are few words to describe how good a hot shower feels after a week of high-intensity activity in often humid, hot, and dusty mountains. Standing there letting water pour over me was heavenly, and I did my best to not take note of how much dirt and grime was flowing down the drain. 3 shampooings and individual detailing of all 10 soapy toes later, I hopped out and put on my 'town' clothes. This fashion statement is comprised of a light long sleeve New Balance shirt, NB underwear, and a new-to-me pair of gym shorts I got for $1 at the 'thrift shop' in the gas station next to the motel. How often in life do you get to buy clothes from a Salvation Army type pile in a gas station?!
Whitey, Crusoe, Cheese, and I shared a $2 bottle of detergent and each did our load of laundry at the laundromat. While mine was running I walked to the hiking outfitter, as my water filter broke a few days ago. Where the filter joins the reservoir of 'dirty' water, the o-ring had come loose and was spilling unfiltered water into my bottle. Explaining this to the guy at the shop, he returned with a zip-loc baggie of new o-rings and explained that it's a common thing. New o-ring at zero cost to me, and now my filter's working again. The rest of the afternoon went by quickly, and food shopping at the Dollar General netted me two weeks of food for $40. We retreated to the motel where we watched The Big Lebowski followed by the Red Sox playing the Yankees, snacking on trail foods and enjoying some cold beers. Around 2030hrs we left for the Iron Horse Station, a local restaurant establishment founded in 1865. The history of this place must be incredible, with photos showing it operating in the same building under the same name almost 150 years ago. When we walked in we were greeted by loud 'hoorays!' and were delighted to see a long table filled with our friends from the Connected Warriors program. They had finished their section hike and were heading back for Annapolis in the morning. Each and every one of them gave us high-fives and shook our hands as we were seated. Dinner was a delicious burger, and I stuck with free refills of lemonade instead of a beer.
We returned to the motel just before 10, and I routinely inflated my sleeping bag air mattress with the same 21 deep breaths that I do every night. Whitey and Crusoe will get the beds, and I'll crash on the floor. Cheesepuff left for the night to see her dad who is in NC with business, and will be back on the trail tomorrow. Due to some ankle pains and swelling, I think Crusoe will stay in town another day or two, so tomorrow I'll head out on the trail without him for the first time since A.T. mile 10. Crazy to think that in two weeks we've walked 263 miles together, and just today exchanged phone numbers for the first time. I'm sure we'll meet up again down the trail. It's been fun to inform people we only met at Springer, as it seems most hikers think we've known each other since elementary years.
Days in town are strange, and tug at different emotions. It's hard to go from modern amenities back to the woods, and sometimes makes me miss home. At the same time, however, there's something so much more freeing about being alone with a dozen or so hikers in your shelter-to-shelter group, and thousands of acres of trees. Tomorrow morning I'll follow the A.T. logo that's literally stamped into the sidewalk down Main Street, and will leave Hot Springs to head back into the woods. The next big thing in my sights is Damascus, the first town over the Virginia state line. It'll take just under two weeks to get there, but as far as milestones go, Damascus is a big one. Until then I'll just keep walking, because that's what I do.
Onward and upward, ascend and descend, rinse and repeat.