Live the Dash (Day 21-32)


Here are a few pro-tips I’ve learned since being on trail:

1. Hang your bear bag as soon as you get to camp or else you’re not going to feel like doing it after dinner.

2. If you’re yearning for fresh food on trail, pack it out! It’s cold enough at night (for now) that the food will be okay. Just make sure to eat it within a few days before your non-perishables.

3. Listen to the Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring audiobook on Spotify while walking through the forest, you won’t regret it.

4. Don’t skip the trail magic. It’s always worth it even if all you get are a handful of M&Ms.

5. Live the dash. I didn’t know what it meant either until one of my shuttle drivers, G-man, enlightened me. He said in response to why he thru-hiked, “you know how on a gravestone there’s the year you were born dash the year you died? I want to really, truly live a full life through that dash.”

Even if it means trudging through the mud in the pouring rain while sweating your butt off through your rain gear, I’m with G-man. I want to live the dash.

The latest fashionable rain gear including dish gloves from Dollar General

The Second Vortex of Hot Springs

The goal of my “tramily”, after surviving the Smokies, was to make it to Hot Springs. A new milestone! I really love milestones and checking things off if you haven’t caught on yet. Hot Springs was important for a few reasons. 1) It isn’t named Hot Springs for fun. There are actual geothermal mineral hot springs here that you can soak in. Ahh, a hiker’s paradise. 2) Our good pal Bootleg Ben would leave us for good as he had already hiked an 1800 mile section north of Hot Springs (but we’ll see you in Maine right??). 3) I was getting off trail for the first time to celebrate my cousin’s wedding!

The road to Hot Springs was fast and furious. We hiked hard and even woke up surrounded by a few inches of snow on the last morning before town. I woke up around 2am and noticed the side of my tent was caved in and touching my head. In my half asleep state, it took me awhile to realize my tent was covered in snow. A few good shakes of the walls and I was able to go back to sleep, very much nestled and bundled inside my sleeping bag. Z-packs, you’ve done me right in this cold weather!

Prepping breakfast in the snow

Hiking out of our campsite in the snow was pretty magical. We warmed up quickly considering it was all uphill for the first mile and I got to take it all in. Here we were, just a few days after sweating our way up Snowbird Mountain in 75 degree weather now freezing our baguettes off heading into Hot Springs. Nothing made sense but I sure was enjoying it.

All bundled up for the descent into Hot Springs

The sun came out and things started to warm up as we dropped out of higher elevation mountains and the town of Hot Springs came into view. We made it through what would hopefully be the coldest weather on trail. My legs were tired and my soul was ready for some rest, a hot meal, and a cold beer! 

Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn

If you ever find yourself hiking any of the sections of trail around Hot Springs, make sure to stay at Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn. Elmer’s has been one of my favorite hiker hostels thus far, if you can even call it a hostel. This historical home-turned-inn is an 1840s-era landmark in the town. From the moment I stepped foot inside, I could tell there was a lot of love put into this place. The staff is there to greet you and give you a tour upon entry.

You immediately walk into the kitchen that is almost always emanating delicious smells of home cooking. The halls are lined with books of art, history, and nature as well as artwork from around the world. There’s even a music room where guests can pick up an instrument of their choice to play if they know how (or don’t…hey anyone can learn!). Finally, they offer a delicious vegetarian breakfast made my Elmer himself where guests, staff, and Elmer all sit down together and enjoy conversation.

Wedding Festivities

After a wholesome stay at Elmer’s and a soak in the hot springs, I was almost ready to get back on trail. But first, there was a wedding to attend! My very supportive and thoughtful boyfriend (who deserves MVP for this) picked me up from Hot Springs to head to Atlanta for my cousin’s wedding. It’s amazing what a few good showers, a shave of the legs, and a dress can do in the transformation from hiker trash to wedding guest. The wedding served as a nice short break from trail life to be transported back into civilization. Seeing family and sharing conversations that didn’t revolve around the next resupply or campsite was refreshing but I found myself still yearning for the simplicity of the trail.

I Hate Goodbyes

One of the most difficult parts about stepping off trail, even briefly, is having to say goodbye to your trail companions who you’ve spent the past few weeks with. Ben, who I mentioned earlier had already completed most of the trail hereafter, flew home. The rest of our crew continued on, save for one hiker friend who was planning on leaving Hot Springs the same day I was. Enter: Sparks! Sparks and I are both nurses who have similar hiking paces and share similar ideas about the world which made for a good duo to continue along the trail.

The hike out of Hot Springs was memorable as the trail ran alongside the French Broad River and switchbacked up into the mountains once again. Sparks and I shared stories and laughs as the miles passed by and the uphill eventually began to descend once again. We eventually found the Southern Cookie Lady who lives right off of the trail in the most fairytale cabin. She bakes fresh cookies for hikers and provides filtered water and a place to dump trash. The day we saw her, banana walnut oatmeal cookies were on the menu and they 100% made our day. Once again, more milestones and challenges lay ahead but we were well rested, fed and ready for anything.

Peg, aka, The Southern Cookie Lady

Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head

“One must tread the path that need chooses.” I’m telling you guys, Tolkein may have had no idea how parallel his hobbits’ adventures would be to my thru-hike but man, sometimes it feels like he just gets it. Thunderstorms and high winds were heading our way quickly and decisions had to be made. Sparks, being the wonderful planner that she is, figured out how to keep us out of the danger of the storms while still getting miles in during the day. We temporarily skipped over a section that would be particularly precarious in high winds and opted for a milder section. Between hostel and hotel stays around the town of Erwin, we were able to stay out of the weather at night. Once the bad weather finally passed, we turned back to complete the section we had previously skipped and instead enjoyed it on a beautiful, sunny day.

My second pair of rain pants that ripped right down the butt-crack. My trail name is now Chappie…I’ll let you figure that one out.


I had never really thought about slackpacking until I started hiking with Sparks. Slackpacking is a term used for hiking sections of the trail without your full pack on. Sparks was planning on slackpacking the milder section of trail while we waited for better weather. Now, I know what some of you may be thinking: isn’t that kind of cheating? There are AT “purists” out there who would argue you can’t call yourself a thru-hiker if you’ve slackpacked. There are also “anti-purists” (a name I just made up) who say to just hike your own dang hike and stop worrying about what other people say. I mean, that’s simply a life lesson right there isn’t it?

Micah checking out the Nantahala River

Needless to say, I ended up slackpacking about 11 miles of trail with Sparks and our friends Sparrow (human) and Micah (dog). Sure, they were easy miles but man were they fun to do! It was kind of exciting to remember what it felt like to day hike with only a few snacks and some water in my backpack. It was the first time I could actually feel how strong my body was becoming now that I didn’t have all of the weight on my back. Slackpackers, I get it now!

Worth the Wait

Two of our stormy nights were spent at Nature’s Inn Hostel where we listened to the rain pour outside of our cozy cabins. Amy, our host, shuttled us to and from trail and recommended another shuttle driver, G-Man, for the spots that were out of her range while we shuffled around some miles. On the day we went back to the section we skipped, the sun was out and the wind was a little tamer. Big Bald proved to be a majestic viewpoint as we traversed the treeless hill. 

Sparks and I trying not to get blown over on Big Bald

The change in plans and succumbing to slackpacking had me stressed out in the moment but I soon realized it saved our butts from getting caught in a storm. Sparrow said it best one morning: “It’s hiking! It’s not meant to be stressful.” Those words of wisdom, as simple as they are, were exactly what I needed to hear. I’m learning a different kind of patience and flexibility on this venture.

I have to remind myself, I have no deadline and no hard-set rules on how I do this thing. This is my hike but I can’t control everything that happens. So, here’s to more spontaneity and changing of plans! In reality, heading north is the only thing set in stone.

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