Bears, Mice, Bulldogs, and Magic. Only on the AT
Standing Bear to Hot Springs
April 4 to April 7, Days 22-25
We hiked a short 9.7 miles from Crosby Knob Shelter to Standing Bear Hostel, just north of the I-40 crossing.
Although the day started wet and foggy, and the trail was a running stream, by midday the sun was shining again. I felt blessed by the experience, good friends, good weather, beautiful scenery. Just south of I-40 Paul and I sat for a while at an idyllic waterfall just soaking it all in, savoring the moment. Then it was off to Standing Bear.
Prior to arrival we didn’t have a consensus on how long to stay at Standing Bear. We all needed resupply and I had a mail drop waiting, so stopping was a must. I wanted to stay the night. I’ve heard so much about this colorful place over the years that I wanted to experience it. I felt it was a must-see cultural experience. Crunch Time was less impressed and wanted to move on. He is Crunch Time because his leave of absence only runs until mid-July. We agreed to decide when we got there.
Rhino greeted us and gave a quick, enthusiastic tour. Paul and I were captivated by the scene and took two spots in the cabin that is literally built over the creek that runs through the property. Crunch Time agreed and we all stayed.
The place is hard to describe. It’s a collection of small buildings, including a store, kitchen, bunkhouse, and a couple of cabins plus staff housing. It’s very rustic and crude but somehow cozy and relaxing. I don’t know anything about Tennessee building codes; I’m pretty sure they have some, but there was no evidence here. The laundry was an old-fashioned washboard. The store was on the honor system, except pizza and beer; you kept track of your purchases and paid up before leaving. The whole vibe was hillbilly/hippie.
Paul was fascinated. He said this kind of place just didn’t exist in Ireland, no matter how hard you looked. It couldn’t exist. Our roommates for the night were a trail couple who looked like they blew in on a tumbleweed. Yogi and Paint Splash were a couple only the trail could bring together. Many hikers take smoke breaks; both tobacco and marijuana are very prevalent. Yogi and Paint just took occasional breaks from smoking, mostly to eat or have a round of PBRs. I have to say here that I’m not writing this as criticism. They were the nicest people in the world, just trail caricatures. We shared a beer or two and talked a bit. Overall, I loved the feel and the people here, the must-see trail culture, but the next day it was time to move on.
Standing Bear to Roaring Fork Shelter (15.2 miles)
Rested and clean we left Standing Bear with Hot Springs on our minds. Hot Springs is the first town the trail literally goes right through. By now 33 miles only requires two days of hiking. The first four and a half miles were a continuous climb to the top of Snowbird Mountain to an FAA tower. The FAA tower turned out to be the Snowbird VORTAC, a navigational aid for aircraft. I’ve used this navaid in the air at hundreds of knots and now here by foot at a robust three miles an hour downhill. Most
importantly, I got to impress my friends with useless navigational facts.
FAA towers are exciting but the real gem on this stretch was Max Patch. This 4,629-foot mountaintop is a grass-covered summit. After a long climb I lay down in the grass and rested my head on my pack and just let my mind drift. It was so peaceful I only half jokingly posted on Instagram that I thought I might be in heaven.
Night of the Mouse-A-Saurus-Rex
That night we stayed at Roaring Fork Shelter. We met up with some old trail friends and had a pleasant meal. Paul and I and decided to save time and sleep in the shelter instead of pitching our tents. Little did we know this shelter was also the home of a mouse-a-saurus-rex. This vicious rodent spent the night terrorizing the shelter. He created havoc by running over and around us as we slept. He climbed vertically down the cords our packs hung on and leapt with ease from pack to pack looking for food or nesting material. We survived the relentless rodent bastard but not coincidentally we haven’t slept in a shelter since.
Roaring Fork Shelter to Hot Springs (17.9 miles)
Shaking off the effects of the mouse-a-saurus-rex assualt, we set off for Hot Springs. We wanted to zero but so didn’t every other hiker around due to the forecast of snow and ice. It was also a weekend, meaning Hot Springs would be packed. We secured a single night’s reservation from the trail and proceeded on an otherwise routine 18-mile hike into town.
Hot Springs delivered everything we hoped for. In addition to showers, laundry, and meals we socialized with old and new friends. It was especially nice to see Samesies, who I last saw in Georgia when I was still with Dixie. Unfortunately, she had to leave the trail with an injury.
The next morning I was up early drinking coffee in the lobby and discovered a cancellation opened up our room for a second night. I took it to not only avoid the freeze but also watch the UMD Bulldogs play for the hockey national championship. Another day of R&R ensued, then some unexpected town magic.
A wonderful couple from Asheville were weekending in our hotel with the intent of meeting and supporting hikers. It’s something they do often, usually while camping themselves, but the weather this weekend drove them indoors. We introduced ourselves and started talking.
They brought a cache of food and drink, most appreciated in a dry county, and we spent a great evening on the couch watching the UMD Bulldogs win the championship. Beyond hockey we had a great conversation about our lives and I felt very comfortable sharing my story about Brenda, her fight with cancer, and the aftereffects on the family. They shared aspects of their lives, too, along with plentiful snacks and drinks. It’s a form of trail magic; friendships form quickly out here and there is a comfort in sharing details that wouldn’t come out in “normal” life. All in all it was a pleasurable evening and a great end to our short stay in Hot Springs, N.C.
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