1/4 of the way there! Lessons and Places to stay Miles 0-500
What a wonderful feeling it was to hit, first 500 miles, and then the 1/4 of the way marker in the space of a week!
The trail continues to be amazing and beautiful and to teach me things every day. We’re actually in Pearisburg, VA (mile 635), right now, but I thought I’d celebrate such significant milestones by sharing the most significant practical things I wish I’d known before I came out here, and also a quick round up of the places we stayed during that first stretch, in case it’s useful to anyone else…
- Put everything you own in either a zip lock bag or a dry bag. Hell, if it’s precious, put it in a zip lock bag in a dry bag. Backpack rain covers can only do so much…
- Ditch the rain coat that weighs a ton, and go for a poncho instead. It’s so hot in there that all it will do is create a jauntily coloured layer between your ‘soaking wet with sweat’ layer underneath, and your ‘soaking wet with rain’ layer on top, but it will keep your pack drier.
- It’s definitely worth having three pairs of socks. Extra weight be damned.
- This one may be really obvious to Americans, but for the benefit of international hikers, it turns out that FedEx, UPS and the US Postal service are different. You can send boxes to yourself addressed for ‘General delivery’ marked ‘Please hold for thru-hiker’ to a Post Office via the postal service. But if you order something from a company or website, they’ll use a courier to send it to you and so the Post Office won’t hold it for you. You’ll need to have it sent to a hostel or outfitter.
- Don’t rely on being able to buy something along the way if it’s really important to you. I thought it would be really easy to buy a hiking skirt on trail, and in the end had to buy one online after 270 miles of disappointment (and then found out the vital information above, slightly late)
- The shuttle bus from the Budget Inn in Hiawassee and in Franklin leaves the inn at 9am and 11am to go and pick up hikers from Dicks Creek/Unicoi and Winding Stair Gaps respectively, whether or not you call them. So don’t worry that you don’t have cell phone service at the gap, no-one does. Just hang out at the appropriate gap at about quarter past nine or quarter past eleven if you want a shuttle into town.
- Electrolyte replacement drinks really do help (not so surprising when you consider that I’ve been sweating so much I leave lines of salt on my clothes…). And so far I’ve found Nuuns to taste the best. Effervescent refreshingy goodness. But you only seem to find these in outfitters – stock up when you find them!
- The Uber app doesn’t work anywhere. But sometimes outfitters have a phone number for a local uber driver.
- The Smokies permit system is not nearly as complicated as it appears. They do ask your estimated date of arrival when you pay for the permit online, but you don’t need to stick to that date. Basically you have 30 days from the day you buy your permit to enter the Smokies, and you just write the date you enter on the bottom part of your pass and stick it in the box on the way in. Done.
- Most washing machines you come across are top loaders and won’t wash your sleeping bag. You will really want to wash it after sweating all day up and down mountains for days on end without showering and sleeping in it until it’s covered in a layer of stickiness. Worth having a liner so you can wash it.
Places to Stay
- Mile 0 – Hiker Hostel, Dahlonega – the people at the Hiker Hostel were fantastic. We were delayed arriving and had to change our planned arrival date three times, and they were super about it. They picked us up from the MARTA station at Atlanta airport, and took us to the trailhead in the morning after a super breakfast. The place was really relaxed and the staff very helpful to newbie hikers!
- Mile 31 – Blood Mountain Cabins, Neels Gap – the people at Blood Mountain cabins were amazing and let us check in at 11am, they also did our laundry and returned it all clean and dry within a couple of hours. The cabin was cosy and clean, plus the pizza was the best I’ve had so far on the trail.
- Mile 69 – Budget Inn, Hiawassee – cheap, clean, a little outfitter on site and a free shuttle to and from the trail. What’s not to like?
- Mile 110 – Gooder Grove Hostel, Franklin – there’s quite a hippy vibe here, the owner was very sweet and drove us to get food at no charge, and the shower was amazing. Not the quietest place I’ve ever slept though.
- Mile 164 – Fontana Village Resort – the cabins here were great, with wrap around porch complete with rocking chairs thrown in. Not the cheapest, but totally worth it.
- Mile 241 – Standing Bear Farm – we paid for a campsite (per person, not per tent, despite sharing a tent) which was to include shower and laundry, but the shower is outdoors with walls that don’t reach the floor, and there’s no washing machine, just a washboard and sink to use. I wished we’d just had the pizza (which was okay) and camped elsewhere.
- Mile 274 – Alpine Court, Hot Springs – this was the cheapest place we found in Hot Springs, and was a fairly standard motel. (FYI the Hot Springs resort and spa no longer does a thru hiker rate and their cabins don’t all have bathrooms, or bed linen, so we have that a miss)
- Mile 342 – Uncle Johnny’s Hostel, Erwin – very reasonable rates, 3 free shuttles to town included (though it must be noted, at set times to set destinations only), really nice showers and relaxed vibe. Pretty loud overnight though!
- Mile 393 – Mountain Harbour Hostel – we tented one night here and stayed in a B&B room for a second night. Both were good options. When tenting there was access to a nice communal sitting area and shower. There’s also a hot food van right on site serving really good burgers, fries and hot dogs. The B&B room was pricey but amazing and did include breakfast, laundry done for us and free breakfast leftover cakes all day. Amazing.
- Mile 421 – Braemar Castle Hostel, Hampton – the caretaker here drove us to get food and then to Dollar General for no extra charge, they also did our laundry for us. The place was really roomy and clean and was within walking distance of the trail. Win.
- Mile 469 – Dragonfly Inn, Damscus – we got to Damascus on Memorial weekend and everything was full. The lovely chap at Dragonfly Inn took us in for one night and found us somewhere else for a second night (as he was full that night too), cooked us breakfast, gave us menus for nearby restaurants and laid out our stuff to dry on his porch. Amazing. The room was clean and the blankets floofy.
I hope that’s helpful to those planning, and I hope the next 500 miles is equally jolly. Here’s to Virginia!
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