Max Patch and Asheville Zero

Day 20

I awoke to soft light filtering into my tent. I was tempted to stay in bed, but felt an urgent need to dig a cat hole. There was poison ivy in the area so I chose my spot carefully. Birds were already singing and I admired the intense green of the forrest.

We walked ~1.5 miles to reach Standing Bear Farm Hiker Hostel. To reach Hot Springs, I needed 1.5 days of food and Dragon Queen needed 2.5 days. Luckily the Bear Hostel had a decent selection at a very reasonable price. I got instant mashed potatoes, cheese, GF instant oats, bars, and chips plus postcards. The owner had all the prices marked so we tallied our own total then paid in cash or Venmo. Afterwards we hung out for an hour, snacking on new food and chatting with other hikers. Psyched showed up and we met a friend who is hiking with him to Hot Springs.

After our hostel stop it was 11 am and we had over 15 miles and 5,000 ft. of gain to reach Roaring Fork shelter. The first big climb was to Snowbird Mountain, which has an FAA tower on top. We stopped shortly after the top for water and a snack, met some people slack packing the opposite direction. (Slack packing is walking with only what you need for the day while your pack gets shuttled ahead or you get shuttled ahead and walk back to where you left your pack.)

At one point Dragon Queen said, “remind me why we are doing this?” I said “because it’s fun!” The second big climb was to Max Patch, a 392-acre grassy top mountain. We came upon the tail end of a wedding, a couple guys taking pictures of the bride and groom. Sunset was near, but we continued on and reached the shelter just as dusk fell. After the Smokies, it seemed lightly populated. We slept inside the shelter with four others. I had no desire to set up my tent in the dark.

Day 21

Wow, it was my first night in a shelter where someone didn’t snore loudly. It was nice.

This morning we discovered that Psyched made it to camp last night. His friend was having a tough time of it and bailed around Max Patch. It is hard to join someone mid-trail, getting thrown into high mileage and elevation gain. Psyched is a fun hiker to be around. He’s 21 and is always upbeat and excited to be on trail.

We came across two gaps with roads and hoped for trail magic at each, but no luck. In between, the sky rumbled and it rained. I was ready; put on my rain jacket and pack cover, let my shorts get wet. The rain lasted around an hour and it wasn’t cold. When I reached the top of Bluff Mountain I turned to enjoy a small breeze while I munched on a Lara bar. Soon the birds returned to singing and I slowly dried out.

We were excited that our 14.7 mile day felt short and we reached camp early. It meant time to eat a leisurely dinner, wash feet, and plan future resupplies. The shelter area was nice, lots of tall trees with no underbrush around. I saw two tiny salamanders in the water pool below the spring pipe. Yay! My bear bag felt empty, I had one breakfast and a few ounces of olive oil left. I’d say perfect planning except I would not mind a small dessert.

Day 22

We had breakfast and were on trail shortly after 8 am, our earliest start yet! I was eager to walk the 3.2 miles into town for a second breakfast and nero (a day where you walk nearly zero miles). Once we reached Hot Springs, the trail merged with the main street’s sidewalk, marked by embedded diamonds featuring the trail logo.

We stopped at the Smoky Mountain Diner. Kneelynd was sitting alone at a table inside and invited us to join him. We did and I got to know him better. Shortly after he left Psyched showed up and joined us. I was excited the diner had GF toast to go with my omelette and grits. We kept chatting and drinking coffee, which is such a treat as I am not carrying any on trail.

I accompanied Dragon Queen to her hostel, the Appalachian Trail-er. It is owned by Jennifer Pharr Davis and I hoped for a chance encounter. No such luck! But it was a nice space to hang out and the lady working there gave me tips on hiking the CDT. Plus I discovered that my base weight is 18.8 pounds. At 1 pm we headed uptown, Psyched and DQ to float the river in a kayak, myself to get my replacement pack from the post office. Using my current pack as a reference, I adjusted the hip belt and straps on the new pack. Then I switched my gear over and boxed up my old pack. Granite Gear made the process so easy!

I sat in the grass and soon Johanna picked me up. I met her on a van in Costa Rica in January. When I mentioned hiking the AT, she offered to host me at her Asheville residence when I passed through Hot Springs. So generous, especially as it is a 45 minute drive each way. The first thing I did after we arrived was take a long, relaxing epsom salt bath. Dinner included a huge salad with avocado. Then I slept in a real bed with sheets.

Day 23

My first zero day! That means no trail miles walked, though I couldn’t help myself from walking a mile to the grocery store. I got caught in the rain on the way home and Johanna rescued me. A short while later the sun came out.

We met Johanna’s friend Hank at a nearby water hole on the river. They went swimming in the murky brown water. I waded around in the shallow pool created by a line of rocks. It felt good on my feet. I’m not big on immersing my full body in chilly water, though my standards may change by the end of a hot, humid summer on the AT.

In the evening, Johanna loaned me a skirt and cute top. We headed to downtown Asheville and got dinner at a sushi restaurant. Then we went to 5 Walnut Wine Bar for live music. It was a jazz swing band in which Hank played guitar. I really enjoyed the music, each member played their instrument with the utmost talent. The space was tight, but occasionally people got up to dance and it was fun to watch. (In college, I took swing dance lessons.) I joined in on dancing for the last song.

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