First “Zero Day” on the Appalachian Trail

Week 4 Update

Out With the Old, In With the Cold

Two hundred and fifty miles in, and I was still bewildered by trail life. Every day to that point had been different enough that establishing a routine was nearly impossible. The weather was the biggest hurdle. The temperatures in the Smokies were horrific, and climbing down from those higher elevations did not usher in a heat wave as I had hoped.

Admittedly, I opted out of most self care tasks during the cold spell. Brushing my teeth was entirely too low on my list of priorities to justify leaving my tent. Even inside my tent and all of my layers, I could barely sleep. I finally decided I needed my thicker sleeping bag liner, so my wife mailed it to the town of Hot Springs. But knowing this did not keep me warm those remaining nights.

The days were bearable once I was walking, but breaks were uncomfortable and brief. Not even the 360 views at the summit of Max Patch were enough to warrant a prolonged break. I took a quick look at the Smokies behind me, then continued trudging forward through the wind and mud.

Taken from the top of Max Patch. Photographer: Coyote

Town Day Joy

The next day I basically jogged the remaining 12 miles into town. I was beginning to learn that the promise of hot, greasy food was a powerful motivator. That night we planned dinner at a brewery in town. We even had some new friends join us: River, Grateful, and Jeremy.

When I got to Laughing Heart Hostel, where I was staying, I raced to get my town chores done so I could enjoy Hot Springs. I was planning on taking my first ever zero day, and didn’t want to spend it worrying about laundry and resupply. The Dollar General in town had a truly pitiful selection of groceries, so I did most of my resupply at the outfitter in town. I stuffed my food bag to the brim with cookies, beef jerky, and snack sized candy bars.

The Appalachian Trail runs along the main street of Hot Springs, NC.

Dinner at the brewery was delicious. Initially we sat together at a picnic table under the shining sun. The menu featured an assortment of Mexican food. I tried some fried plantains that were to die for. As the sun set, we gorged on burritos and nachos. Later we moved to a different restaurant, both to get out of the cold and have a second dinner. We sat and talked for hours. OG’s wife joined us. Jeremy was named “Cookie” after the seemingly endless stash of oatmeal cream pies in his pockets. It was a good way to end the long stretch of trail.

It was supposed to rain hard the next day, so I was prepared to spend it trapped in the hostel, antsy to begin hiking again. Instead, I spent the majority of the time with my friends, enjoying their company and loading up on calories. We each ate a huge breakfast at a diner in town. We had pizza for dinner, and snacked on free Girl Scout cookies in between meals.

Before leaving Hot Springs the next day, we joined a line of other hikers waiting for the diner to open. We had all discovered that the diner served particularly large and delicious cinnamon buns on Saturdays. This made leaving the hostel before sunrise incredibly easy. We loaded up on carb heavy breakfast foods in anticipation of a 19 mile day.

Last look over Hot Springs.

On to the Next One

Cookie and I ended up hiking together for the next couple of days. Our plan was to make it to Erwin in 3 days and spend one night off trail there. The weather was unforgiving during that stretch. We had a day where temperatures never rose above freezing. At least it’s not raining too, I reminded myself. The cold made it difficult to hike, but I never would have survived another day of freezing rain.

The day we descended into Erwin, we finally saw warmer temperatures. Cookie and I had camped somewhere beyond the rest of our group, so we ended up coordinating resupply and dinner plans once we got cell phone signals. We waited on our pre-arranged shuttle that would take us to the grocery store for our resupply and Pal’s for a more immediate bite to eat. I can say with confidence that the Pal’s burger was an elite fast food experience.

Later that evening, we finished our chores then rewarded ourselves by feasting at a Mexican restaurant. It was commonplace at this point for most of us to order two entrees a piece. I got myself a chimichanga and a heaping plate of fajita nachos and only left behind a few bites.

Each time I ate town food, I seemed to have a renewed understanding of the phrase “hiker hunger.” Thus far I had lost about 5 lbs and gained a black hole in my abdomen. And this was after just 344 miles. Little did I know just how exponentially the hiker hunger would grow.

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Comments 2

  • Jayne Hall : Mar 30th

    Brilliant what you are doing..happy travels ?

  • Erik : Mar 31st

    Makes me hungry just hearing it. Keep it up!


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