From Hot Springs to Erwin: A Trail Update
So you’ve survived Georgia, powered through Fontana Dam, conquered the Smokies, and breezed into Hot Springs, NC, at mile 275…
While researching the Appalachian Trail last year, I came upon heaps of information about this past section (Amicalola to Hot Springs does see the vast majority of thru-hiker traffic, after all). There are plenty of sights worth seeing: Northern Georgia’s cloud-kissed peaks; Fontana Dam and the Smokies as its backdrop (a wet slog followed by a snowy Smokies welcome); Clingmans Dome and the tourist mecca that is Gatlinburg (in the same day!); and the (in)famous Max Patch, just to name a few. Having little else off which to base my list of favorite sections, I convinced myself that this was the most beautiful stretch of trail.
Struggling to absorb all the blogs, vlogs, advice columns, and pictures of the first 275, I neglected to research what lay ahead after Hot Springs.
After taking an unexpected yet much needed zero in Hot Springs, our tramily (dubbed Ravioli and the Sauce, a story for another time) exited on a beautiful stretch of weather (even for May’s standards). Morale after town is always high; clean socks and bellies full of anything not rice sides brings out the best in hikers. We began to chip away at the miles separating us from Erwin, TN, and I must say, this section is something to see.
North of Hot Springs, the mountaintops transform from jagged peaks to balds (pastures previously used for livestock), leading to daily 360 degree views for miles. Walking through a meadow or over a bald evokes the same feeling as a hot cup of coffee, and I’ve since lost count of how many times someone has shouted “Is this The Sound of Music?” while looking out over the surrounding mountains.
Drunk on the luxuries of town days before, I came to the realization that my food bag was a day short of Erwin (tip: don’t eat anything in your food bag until after you leave town) and, not wanting to appear a mooch to my tramily, spent the evening before Erwin pounding dry TVP and olive oil. Luckily, homeboy Uncle Felix (AKA Felix, M&Ms, Hot Chocolate, and Moon Boots) had plenty of ramen to spare, and Not Chris offered granola bars that honestly saved my hike (tip: find a trail family; they’re the best).
After shuttling into Erwin from the trail, we spent the majority of the afternoon inquiring about hiker rates at the local hotels, making calls in between bites of Bojangles biscuits (worth the hype). After scrubbing off the four-day hike grime, we went about the usual town chores: laundry, resupply, and more food.
That night, we sat on the motel beds, laughing and reminiscing of the past few days over a vegetable and hummus feast.
It’s hard to believe how greatly each section can vary, or how much the landscape can change over such a small distance. While there’s still a lot of trail ahead, we’ve now settled into life on trail and all that comes with it.
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