Days 21-25: Karaoke, Trail Magic, & 300 miles

  1. TLDR: drunk karaoke in Hot Springs, 3 trail magics in one day, 300 miles, and my personal vendetta against my Big Agnes tent.

Day 21

Hiking from: Roaring Fork Shelter

To: Laughing Heart Hostel

Miles: 17.6

Total grade: 491.6 ft/mile (-)

Motivation: Food, friends, and beer in Hot Springs

Favorite part of the day: Karaoke at the local bar

Comments: We started hiking at 6 AM to maximize the amount of time we could spend in Hot Springs. This was the morning I learned that if you’re the first person on trail, it’s your job to sacrifice yourself and run into all the spider webs for the other hikers. I must’ve run into 50 spider webs in the first two hours of hiking. Watching the sunlight slowly light up the forest in the morning is a sight I don’t think I could ever get tired of. It was absolutely beautiful and a great start to the day.

By mile 14, the hike was getting a little old. There were lots of surprise ups when we thought most of the day would be down. That, plus a desert-like heat, made for a frustrating last few hours of hiking. It didn’t help that when you hike into Hot Springs, you can see the town when you still have 3 miles to go and it feels like it’s taking forever to get to a town you’ve been looking at for over an hour.

Once we got to the hostel, we set up the tent and headed straight for food. After stuffing ourselves with tater tots and burgers, we resupplied and walked back to the hostel to shower and do laundry. It seemed like everyone we’d met in or around the smokies was all at Laughing Heart, so there was a pretty fun tent city going on. Then we learned about karaoke at the local bar from 5-9. We all walked down and spent the evening singing Purple Rain (the sun god), Man! I Feel Like a Woman! (all the hiker trash ladies including myself), Buy Me a Boat (the other disciple), etc. It was a super fun night.

The sun lighting up the trail that morning
Tent City at Laughing Heart Hostel

Day 22

Hiking from: Laughing Heart Hostel

To: Spring Mountain Shelter

Miles: 11.3

Total grade: 479.6 ft/mile (+)

Motivation: Tackle the big ascent out of Hot Springs

Favorite part of the day: Breakfast at the Smoky Mountain Diner in Hot Springs

Comments: I originally wanted to wake up before sunrise, pack up everything, and walk to the Smoky Mountain Diner for breakfast before getting an early start. But, given that we stayed up later than usual at Karaoke, we got a later start to the day. I’m trying to be better about allowing setbacks to happen and focusing on enjoying my day. Marathon, not a sprint and all that. I’d rather enjoy my morning in Hot Springs, sipping my coffee slowly than try to rush myself just for the sake of getting back into the woods sooner.

After breakfast, we packed up, said goodbye, and made our way to the trailhead across town. We’d heard the climb out of Hot Springs is challenging and as relentless as the descent into the town. To my surprise, I really enjoyed this climb. Instead of the normal flat, steep pine needle trail, the ascent was made up of large rocks. Coming from Maine, this is familiar and, actually, my preference because I can bounce from rock to rock. Before I knew it I was at the top. Trail Legs, is that you?

We got to camp around 5:30 PM, set up camp, made some dinner, and went to bed. It was a short day, but more relaxed than most which was a nice treat.

Sidewalk of Hot Springs

Day 23

Hiking from: Spring Mountain Shelter

To: Flint Mountain Shelter

Miles: 22.5

Total grade: 478.7 ft/mile (=)

Motivation: Mile 300!

Favorite part of the day: Trail Magic Galore!

Comments: We started hiking around 7:30 AM. We knew it was gonna be a long day, so we were determined to kill some miles early. Well, until we got absolutely spoiled. About 2 miles into our hike and before the biggest incline of the day, we were treated to Trail Magic by Emoji. She gave us poems and treats. It was bliss.

Then, about 30 minutes later, we ran into yet another trail magic setup. Beer, Dr. Pepper, bananas, snickers, and more! One of them had thru-hiked in 2019 so we stayed to chat a while and swap bug stories. We finally pulled ourselves away and began to hike again when…we found the Southern Cookie Lady. Famous on the trail for her cookies, of course, we stopped again. While we didn’t get to chat with her for too long as she needed to run out to buy more chocolate chips, we enjoyed perfectly baked cookies on her porch. Her property is absolutely beautiful. Honestly, I felt a little like Hansel and Gretel at the witch’s candy cottage.

The rest of the day feels like a completely different day. We hit 300 miles, passed Big Butt Bypass, hiked in the rain, sunshine and hail. Sometimes the weather on the AT feels like we’re in the Hunger Games dome. Despite all the happy delays of that morning, we made it to our destination of Flint Mountain Shelter by 7:50 PM.

The perfect cookie in the perfect location from the Southern Cookie Lady
Mile 300!

Day 24

Hiking from: Flint Mountain Shelter

To: Stealth Campsite a little after Street Gap

Miles: 14.8

Total grade: 517.2 ft/mile (+)

Motivation: Be happy

Favorite part of the day: Shrek with Breakfast

Comments: After one of our biggest mileage days the day before, waking up at 8 AM to do another big day was not the vibe. Instead, we woke up, realized it was still raining, and turned on Shrek the movie. We ate pop tarts (breakfast of champions) and finished our candy bags while we procrastinated on packing up our wet tent. We finally got moving around 11 AM. Knowing we probably wouldn’t complete the miles we originally planned for (19 to the next shelter), we decided to wing it and find a stealth campsite by 7 PM. Given the shorter mileage day, it meant we’d have another big day to get to Erwin, TN by the following evening. So we set an alarm for 5:30 AM and passed out after a big dinner.

Sunset from Stealth Campsite

Day 25

Hiking from: Stealth Campsite a little after Street Gap

To: Uncle Johnny’s Hostel

Miles: 21.0

Total grade: 521.1 ft/mile (-)

Motivation: Reach Erwin for a shower, laundry, and my tent poles!

Favorite part of the day: The top of Bald Mountain

Comments: Another early start meant…you guessed it…more spiderwebs. Rain too. But, by the time we got to the top of Bald Mountain, the view was gorgeous and it was pretty much downhill to Erwin from there. All good things.

Once Erwin was within reach, it was 4 PM and I received the following texts notifying me

1. To look out for a 5-foot rattlesnake at the end of the trail before Uncle Johnny’s Hostel

2. There was no working bathrooms at Uncle Johnny’s because of a septic issue and,

3. My tent poles did not come despite Big Agnes telling me they would.

This wasn’t what I was hoping for. I proceeded especially cautiously down the remainder of trail (while praying I wouldn’t encounter the snake), and knowing the end of my 21-mile day wasn’t going to be as blissful as I’d hoped.

We figured out an alternative place to stay, hitched into Erwin, went to Taco Bell, and restocked at Food City, and I plan to call Big Agnes and demand a refund for my tent. I wish I had better news to report about my Tigerwall UL2 or the customer service of Big Agnes, but my tent broke on night 9 and I’ve been ghosted by my customer service representative so, respectfully, f*ck Big Agnes for making me sleep in a broken tent on rainy nights. No recommendation here.

Top of Bald Mountain

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