Out of the Smokies and on to Erwin, Almost

The Discerning Hiker Hostel was great.  Super clean, organized and comfortable.  Big Shout out to Ken.  Stayed there with Simone and Shera.  Got up the next morning and Ken is giving us the weather forecast for severe weather and flood watches.  Probably going to get here this afternoon.  Great.  We talked about options, he was already full for the night with folks that were going to be coming in wet. Ken threw out the option of slackpacking the 32 miles into Hot Springs.

Slack Pack Plan

Slack packing is where someone drops you off at one gap in the morning and picks you up in at another gap in the afternoon or evening.  They keep your pack for you.  So all you have to carry for the day is lunch, water, maybe a first aid kit, and maybe an emergency tarp if the weather were to get real bad.  You don’t have to carry all 28 – 35 lbs of gear and multiple days of food.  We had been doing about 12 miles a day with the full pack.  There was 32 miles between I-40, where we got off and Hot Springs, NC.  Ken made it sound like you could do 16 and 16 in two slack pack days, and not sleep in the woods and the rain.  Sounded pretty appealing at the moment.  Couple of complications though.  By road, its along way from I-40 all the way around to Hot Springs.  No shuttle drivers make that drive.  They either go from I-40 to the gap in the middle, or from Hot Springs to the gap in the middle.  Ken said he didn’t normally do it, but for $85 he would take the three of us to Hot Springs, and we could figure it out.  Simone and Shera had already planned to take a zero there.  We said, “Deal” and we hopped in his truck and headed to Hot Springs.  Ken gave us a few numbers of shuttle drivers he recommended and dropped us off at the Laughing Heart Hostel in Hot Springs.

The Appalachian Trail runs right thru the little town of Hot Springs.  Its marked right on the side walk.  I can’t believe I didn’t take a picture of it.  It is a one street town, there are a couple of cool taverns, cafes, a brewery, a diner, cabins, hostels and the Hot Springs Resort.  The resort actually has some hot springs that you can soak in, hence the name Hot Springs.  The resort actually was an internment camp for German POW’s during WW I.  What is wrong with that picture? We went ahead and reserved a bunk at the Laughing Heart Hostel for the night and then started on trying to execute the slack pack plan.  Sketchy phone service, people taking along time to get back to you, shuttle drivers only wanting to go in one direction or the other from the gap in the middle, was frustrating and took a lot of time.   Also, as you looked at it closer, the gap wasn’t right in the middle to make it 16 and 16.  It was more like 18 and 14 miles.  It was also going to pretty expensive.  It was going to take three shuttle rides at $80 to $100 each and two more nights in a hostel.  

A White Blaze in used to mark the Appalachian Trail

Yellow Blazing

So, a white blaze is used to mark the AT so you stay on trail.  A double white blaze means, there is something different coming up, like merging with another trail, a sharp turn, a shelter or something.  A blue blaze indicates water source.  

Water ahead!

So in hiker jargon there are several other terms used to describe different things people might do on the trail.  Some of them derogatory.  There is “Platinum” blazing, which some out here may consider me to fall in that category.  That is someone who is willing to pay for an entire hotel room for themselves rather than share it with 3 other people like a lot of the 20 somethings like to do to save money.  There are also purists out here that are of the opinion that if you don’t hike every foot of the AT from Springer to Katahdin, that you aren’t’ really a thru hiker and that you “cheated”.   Some think slack packing is cheating.  There is also “Pink” blazing, referring to someone who is infatuated with hiking, (chasing) after someone of the opposite sex, invitation or no invitation.  There is “Blue” blazing, which there are a few opportunities, I understand up ahead where you could raft or canoe a river or lake adjacent to the trail and lop off certain sections.  Could be fun.  I am not a purist.  Then, there is the most derogatory term that is “Yellow” blazing.  That is where you get a ride around a section, you skip it, and don’t go back and hike that section.  

So, previously I had thought I might consider blue blazing, or slack packing, while not very seriously, but had never thought about yellow blazing.  I wouldn’t normally do it, but is was really worth it if it was going to consume so much effort and money just to hike 32 miles?  2 days?  That’s close enough to home, that I could come back and do anytime?  It’s 32 miles out of 2195.  The three of us just decided it wasn’t worth the trouble, we would just enjoy the rest of the day in Hot Springs, and hike north from here when the severe weather had passed.  The saying out here is “Hike your own Hike”.  If any one thinks any different of me for skipping 32 miles, that I could come back and do later, then they have mistaken me for someone that really cares about what what they think.  So there. 

As I was sitting in the Spring Creek Tavern, enjoying the most ginormous Buffalo Chicken Sandwich I have ever seen, the bottom fell out.  I was feeling really good about our decision right about then.  Pouring, blowing sideways.  I had to drink two more beers before it passed.  Then I went to the library and did my last post.  There was a lot of hikers in Hot Springs because of the weather.  Went to the brewery that evening and had some brisket tacos, there was Karaoke inside, not my thing, so a half a dozen of us stayed outside since it wasn’t currently raining.  Went back to the hostel, a very different experience than the previous night.  More like sleeping in a bunk in a high school field house.  Long time since  I had a top bunk.  However, I as heard the storm move in during the night I was very thankful.  

A New Day

I was first up at first light, as is normal.  Sat it the little common area that had three stools and started the coffee, listening to it rain.  Looked at the radar, and it looked like it was going to let up in a few hours, which it did.  So, packed up and headed to the diner as soon as it stopped about 10:00.  Had breakfast, with Suzy (mother), Taco Cat (daughter) and her husband, whom I didn’t get his name, who has been following them around to different gaps. 

Angry, rapidly rising French Broad River walking out of Hot Springs

Simone, Shera and I were headed out of town and as we were walking by the Spring Creek Tavern, which sits right on the creek, it was rising so fast it was about to take their wheel barrow and some other stuff under their porch.  We stuck our head in the door to let them know.  Not sure if they saved the wheel barrow or not.  There was a big climb as usual out of town and had some great views of town and the rapidly rising river.  Would be surprised at the rate it was rising if part of the trail that ran along the river was not impassable a few hours after we walked it.  

View of the French Broad River climbing out of Hot Springs

The weather felt awesome, and it was a good day for hiking.  Didn’t start walking until 11:30 and did 11 miles to Spring Mountain Shelter by 5:00.  Felt pretty good.  A lot of people there also walking out of Hot Springs.  

Mountain Laurel blooming

Billy Bob and the Cookie Lady. You are the bomb!

Got off the next morning about 8:20.  I am almost always the first one up, but never the first one out of camp.  Not sure what that says about me.  Felt really good and mid way thru the morning got Trail Magic from the Southern Cookie Lady.  She lives in the woods, just off the trail and leaves cookie out for hikers.  What a sweet heart.  She wasn’t there while I was enjoying my cookie, but was pulling in the gravel road as I was leaving.

We are Gonna Get You Home Bubba  

Kept keeping on, because I knew there was a chance for some afternoon weather.  I got to the top of a big climb and had signal.  Checked the radar and could see a small nasty cell headed directly to me.  I had set my pack down, drank a little water and the wind started to blow and it started hailing.  Luckily it didn’t hail but for a minute and by the time I had got my rain jacket on it had stopped but the wind and spitting rain persisted.  As I picked my pack up, the left shoulder strap broke.  $%#%*&^*&%$)^@!%^!!!!!!  It’s 6 miles to camp, weather is bearing down, so I figured I could just limp into camp holding the strap with one hand.  Had to put one of my trekking poles up.  It was sort of like carrying someone over your shoulder in a fireman’s carry, although its only 30 lbs and not a whole man.  All I could think about was Forest carrying Bubba out of the jungle in Vietnam and telling Bubba, “We are gonna get you home Bubba.  We are gonna have some boiled shrimp, fried shrimp, lemon shrimp, blackened shrimp and a shrimp cocktail.  I was just hoping not to get shot in the buttocks like Forrest did.  You have to think of things to keep you motivated.  Fried shrimp motivates me. 

Then to top it all of, after limping along for 2 miles, you come on the first big exposed ridge where you really need your hands to climb.  It’s not really a trail anymore but rock and boulder scrambling on the very tip top of a mountain and the wind blowing 25 mph.

This is the trail and not the worst of it. I just couldn’t keep stopping to take pictures as it got worse.

But the views were amazing! Howard’s Rock. Not the Clemson one.

Anyway,  drama aside, me and Bubba made it to camp.  First 16 mile day and other than my shoulder being tired from carrying Bubba, I felt pretty good.  Set up camp, wind was still blowing and it was getting cold.  So, ate something hot and got in the hammock and fixing the pack would be tomorrows problem.  I laid there al night thinking about the best way to fix it.  The next morning, John, a section hiker set up near me, has some zip ties.  Thank you John!  Made a pretty good fix with those and I will make sure I have a few with me in my gear bag for future reference.  They were super handy.

MacGyver! You got nothing on Billy Bob!

The next day was awesome!  Hiking with two shoulder straps is always awesome compared to hiking with one.  Weather and trail was nice. Hiked with Shelley for most of the day and she met her husband in Devil’s gap that afternoon.  A lot of good conversation, snowboarding, dogs, cancer, aging parents, cool trips.  They were moving their airstream around that day to Damascus, VA, getting ready for Trail Days next weekend.  Got a little magic there from her husband, Oatmeal Creme Pie and some Hershey’s.  Thank you!  Can’t believe I didn’t get their picture.  Got to get better at doing that.  Did another 16 mile day and that was awesome.  Short day the next morning into Sam’s gap for a planned resupply.  However the pack thing was not planned.  Although the zip tie fix appears to be holding up well, I was really afraid to push my luck.  Erwin, TN is the closest town with an outfitter.  As luck would have it though, its Sunday and they are not open until Monday morning.  

So, I got a ride with the hostel shuttle that Simone and Shera were resupplying at into Erwin and the Super 8.  Ate at the hot bar at Food City, Taco Bell for dinner, because that’s what you can walk to from the Super 8 by the I-26, and everything else isn’t open on Sunday’s in Erwin.  I got my pack swapped out this morning and posting from the library.  Plan for the rest of the day, tonight and tomorrow is in process.

Surely this must have a name? Plumbers Rock?!

Until tomorrow! 

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Comments 1

  • Trey Futch : May 14th

    You do your hike your way Cary! Nothing but amazement here! Glad you got Bubba to the next stop! I’m in Michigan this week – I think I’d rather be hiking! Enjoying the blog posts!


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