Gatlinburg to Hot Springs: Figuring Out a Few Things
29 Days and 274.9 miles since Springer Mountain.
Just a little update because I might not get to it again for a bit. The Smokies are in the past and I’m feeling fine in Hot Springs, North Carolina. Mile 274.9. Life is pretty good.
As I read my last couple of blog posts I need to remind myself how good life really is. Bunk mates waking up loud in the hostel, or folks complaining at shuttle drivers is such a trite and ridiculous thing to bitch about and dwell on. I didn’t go to work yesterday or today, nor will I tomorrow. The sun is shining and there’s no reason not to consume 7,000 calories if I want to. There is much to be thankful for and focusing on such aggravating minutiae is entirely missing the point out here.
My cynical side is one that I’m not hugely proud of. A little cynicism is natural and nothing I’d be embarrassed of. But a life in the service industry among other contributing factors has left me with a somewhat inflated contemptuous side that I’m hoping to shrink or eliminate while I’m out here. People are awesome and out on the trail is a fabulous place to remember that. As we stray farther from social media and closer to actual sincere human connections, it’s important to embrace differences and disagreements as simple variations in the human journey. Not jump to the split second decision that someone is in need of ridicule, discipline, or insult.
My last post left me in Gatlinburg on April 18th. Pretty much finished cranking out the blog post at a little microbrewery and heading back to the hotel. Caught up on a little correspondence and fell asleep half sitting up in bed. The next morning I walked the mile from my hotel to where the free church shuttle was departing at the NOC outpost. I spent the walk chatting with my wife who was in Las Vegas for work. She got to hear people approach me asking to buy me breakfast and asking how long I’d been on trail and stuff. It was a cool tiny window for her into some of the experiences of a hiker. I also narrated Gatlinburg for her as I walked. We will probably have to go back there one day together. Enough character in the town for a unique vacation and kitschy enough to stay busy and overstimulated the whole time.
After the shuttle dropped me off at Newfound Gap I did 15.7 miles to what would be my last shelter in the Smokies and my last shelter for a while. While it was more than 50 degrees in Gatlinburg, I had a sub freezing day on trail where nearly everyone I spoke to had a tale of slipping and falling on the ice. The views of icy trees were incredible.
Everybody was talking about Standing Bear Hostel on Wednesday which is just a couple miles after the Smoky Mountains. I had planned on walking out of the National Park the following day but I was feeling good and decided to do the 18+ miles to Standing Bear. It felt good to finish the infamous mountains and celebratory to walk into the hostel grounds and see so many familiar faces. Standing Bear Hostel was lovely. Not for everyone but it was my kind of weird. It was 4:20, International Cannabis Day, and the proprietors also have their hands in the dispensary business. The celebration was pretty good sized, and while I was too wiped out to partake, the hostel vibe was fun and remarkably laid back. It felt like part house party, part hippie convent, and with a slight David Lynch style oddness to it. I’m glad I opted to check it out.
The following morning, the $10 provided breakfast was not provided because anyone employed by the hostel was in no shape to be operating a range stove or even a microwave. The party had gone pretty late but I slept actually quite well. The hike from there was tougher than I was ready for. Lot of ascent that I hadn’t mentally prepared for. That’s what I get for not even looking at my trail guide before leaving. Max Patch was the final mountain of the day, topped with a nice big field providing amazing 360 degree views. Camping used to be über popular there but because of the overuse it is prohibited for a few planned years of habitat restoration. There was a burger place in the middle of the woods after Max Patch down a side trail. I skipped it because Standing Bear was already an unplanned stop. I still haven’t heard the end of it. He closed it down a couple days later but plans to reopen in August. It’s the Green Heart something, and supposedly the best burgers on the entire trail. Oops.
Started out Friday in a funk. Mind racing, negative thoughts, getting homesick at times. But after an extended water break at a shelter five miles into my day, I started viewing things more positively and actually enjoying my day quite thoroughly. I ended the day tenting at Deer Park Mountain Shelter only three miles shy of Hot Springs. I’m digging this strategy of positioning close to town the night before. You sleep for free but then get to town bright and early for a full day of showers, clean clothes, hot food, and beer.
That’s pretty much exactly how I spent the day. Hot Springs is a small little mountain town with an endless stream of Harley riders and hikers passing through. The Appalachian Trail itself cuts straight through town, forcing hikers to consider their many offerings as they pass. Hostels with outdoor laundry and beer fridges, the diner, tavern, outfitter, brewery. It’s a cute little town. The kind of town where the post office’s Saturday hours are literally 9:00am to 10:30am. I found that to be adorably quaint. I stayed at the Happy Gnomad hostel a tiny bit outside of town. Comfortable and restorative. Highly recommended.
Sunday we went to the outfitter and Dollar General for resupply. That was it for productivity. It was resting legs and watching movies beyond that. Just what I needed. At its core what a zero day should be about. Relaxing body and mind.
A zero day is where you hike zero trail miles. Not certain if I’ve defined that for those who needed it defined.
Now here I sit on the patio of the town diner. Just finished breakfast with friends and as they hit the trail I announced I’d be hanging back for a short while. While updating the blog was the technical reason, the real reason is I just kinda wanted to. Sit around and enjoy the sun for a spell before diving back in and sweating in it. Say hello to some familiar faces and embrace the last opportunity to just take in the town. What’s the rush after all?
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