Day 24: Walking Into Hot Springs

Morning in the Appalachians

I love the southern Appalachian woods on a late spring morning.

Walking this trail at sunrise bathes me in joy and peace. Perfect light filters through the trees, highlighting the subtle shades of green and brown, as well as the rainbow of vibrant reds, yellows, and blues in the flowers and sky.

The feel of damp mountain air on my face and in my ears energizes me. I’m chilled and nearly shivering, laughing with the incongruity of sweat dripping off my forehead as I plod up the first steep climb of the day. The morning air bites at my nose and fingers, but sooths my soul. The dampness softens the trail and quiets my plodding footsteps, but seems to amplify the calls of unseen birds. If I lived in the woods, I would be a birder. I’d need to know who was talking to me.

In the early mornings I walk alone, my face clearing cobwebs left floating across the trail by impressively ambitious spiders. I have the woods to myself, to see, to listen, and to think. Morning is for quiet contemplation. What does all this mean? How can I make sense of yesterday’s events? It drives me to prayer.


The afternoons are for trail business. How far have I come? Where will I camp? When will I need to filter water? Am I making good time? Afternoons are also about social interactions. Who is that hiker? Who have I passed? Who passed me? Hikers seem more willing to stop, lean on their poles, and chat as the day progresses.

But afternoons are also for breaks. For stopping at the end of a long climb, sheltering from the persistent wind behind a tree or rock. For soaking my feet in a cold stream. For staring out at the trees or up at the clouds and thinking about nothing at all.

Hot Springs

This morning, I hiked out of camp just as Survivor’s crew were climbing out of their tents. Somehow, I managed to stay ahead of them for the rest of the morning. I didn’t see a single soul on the trail until I walked into the Laughing Heart Hostel on the edge of Hot Springs. More than once, I was so lost in thought, I’d realize I hadn’t looked for a white blaze for at least an hour. But each time, I found that my feet had followed the trail even when my eyes had not.

Hot Springs is my first real trail town. AT logos are cast into the concrete sidewalks right down the main drag. AT banners hang in the streets and in front of stores. I stepped off the trail onto pavement and saw two AT trail signs, white blazes, and Jennifer Pharr Davis’ trailer. If it’s not hiker friendly, you won’t find it in Hot Springs. I’ve never been here before, but I recognized more faces as I walked around than I do in my own hometown. The AT runs through the heart of this little town.

Hello, Goodbye

Walking downtown, I passed by a restaurant patio and saw Fancy Feast having an early lunch. I thought he’d be in Damascus by now. I was stunned to learn that a family situation and some other factors were taking him off trail. At lunch, I saw at least 30 hikers either just arriving or just heading north, most of whom I’d met at least once.

I’ll be taking a zero day tomorrow so Mrs. I can catch up after visiting our granddaughter in San Diego. She’ll be returning with just one dog. Roux has decided to live with my cousin’s daughter in Chattanooga for a while. They have four kids and another doodle who all love her. Gus will be returning with Mrs. I, glad to be king once again. But he’ll stay with Mrs. I until we get past the worst of the poison ivy, if such a thing is possible.

Mrs. I is also bringing the van, which means I say goodbye to a heavy pack, wet tent, and Mountain House meals, and hello to a warm, dry bed, healthy food, and my best friend. Life is good.


Sadly, Survivor will leave the trail for a month for a family obligation, but plans to return to finish the section to Damascus this summer. Then, having done the rest of the trail up to New Hampshire before, he’ll try to reconnect with Wheels and Machina in the Whites for the trek to Maine in the fall. Even sadder, he left without hearing “the story.” Not for lack of trying. I hope to cross paths with Wheels and Machina again, but they are much faster than me.

Daily Stat’s:

  • Start: Stealth Site (Mile 267.4)
  • End: Hot Springs (Mile 275.1)
  • Weather: Sunny, clear, and cold.
  • Earworm: Hall and Oates…will it never end?
  • Meditation: Jn 13:5
  • Plant of the Day: Mountain Laurel in bloom (finally!)
  • Best Thing: Alone on the trail
  • Worst Thing: Goodbye to Survivor & Fancy Feast

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 6

  • Kelli Ramey : May 3rd

    Mountain Laurel used to bloom in late May, for my birthday. Last year, a wind storm took out the tulip poplar blooms while they were full( main nectar for mountain wildflower honey) and the Mtn Laurel bloomed early. So, not having a better choice, our honeybees made Mtn Laurel honey which is narcotic and poisonous( look it up one day ).
    We had to throw it away and hope for other honey.
    The bees came through with some other choices for the best crop ever…..
    I know really random Mtn Laurel story…..

    Enjoy each day!

    • Jon : May 4th

      Interesting. Go bees!

  • thetentman : May 4th

    Buck up, pal. Salvation is coming. There is no PI in NJ. LOL

    Wanna buy a bridge?

  • Can I Divorce my wife for not sleeping with me : May 4th

    thanks for sharing.

  • virginia prenuptial lawyer : Jul 25th

    thanks for sharing.

    • Jon : Jul 26th

      Lol. You should meet the guy who commented above.


What Do You Think?