Recollection Series-Hot Springs & Trail Days
A New Us
We wake up in the woods on Saturday, May 13th. Becky and I hike 12 miles to Tri-Corner Knob Shelter. The next day we cover 8 more miles to Cosby Knob Shelter. It looks like we have fallen into a new bubble as the shelters are crowded each night. One of the new hikers we meet goes by Barber. A nice guy who is an actual trained barber carrying his equipment with him. I get a beard and mustache trim for the first time since I started hiking.
Monday, May 15th, sees us finish the Great Smoky Mountains. An accomplishment that we all enjoy as a milestone on this hike. More importantly, we can finally begin to stealth camp again instead of having to make it to a shelter or go into a town each night. My hope is that this frees us up to do more miles by removing the constant gathering and socializing that resulted from everybody having to camp at the same spot each night. Socializing slows down Nancy Drew because of all the questions that need to be asked.
After the 8 miles to reach the end of the park we hike an additional 2 miles before finding a cool island campsite that is surrounded by a good flowing stream. A blue blazed side trail to an overlook during the days hike gives us a total of double digits for the day and a double digit average for the last three days. We are starting to act like thru-hikers again.
During the day we meet Winger and a Ridge Runner named Chloe. Chloe has talked Winger into carrying out some trash that she cleaned up from a shelter left by someone obviously not following the Pack It In, Pack It Out rule. I see it as an opportunity to pass along the karma necklace to Winger for his good deed. The story is told and off the necklace goes to another.
The Old Us
We start Tuesday, May 16th, with a quick 2 miles to cross an I40 underpass and approach a hostel. Remember Carl? The federal magistrate, rescue repeller, and shuttle driver? Well this hostel is supposed to be named after him. Nancy Drew can’t let an opportunity to fact check go by the wayside. Turns out the story of how the hostel got named doesn’t match Carl’s version told during our shuttle ride. I’m not surprised.
This hostel is one of the dirtiest I’ve seen on the trail. The resupply inventory is mostly passed the expiration dates. One thing they do right: sell cold beer. Just like before, the more we drink the less we hike. By the time we break away from the clutches of cold beer we can only muster another 2 miles, uphill, to Painters Branch. Not a big day but at least we didn’t stay the night.
A New View
The next day we hike to Max Patch 11 miles away. Max Patch is a bald that gives us a different view than we have experienced before on the trail. Normally, we would be in tree covered forest. Max Patch is a grassy hill with great views of the surrounding mountains. I like the openness as a good change of pace. Most of the remaining daylight is spent watching the sun go down over the distant mountain range.
We wake up refreshed and ready to hike. The elevation change today is minimal and should allow us to do some big miles. We shoot for Hot Springs 20 miles away. We don’t make it but we do make our largest mileage by covering 16 miles.
Hot Springs For Just A Minute
The morning of Friday, May 19th, Becky and I walk 5 miles to get to Hot Springs, NC around 10am. The first person we see is Lucky Star. She is going to eat at the local diner and we join her. I order two chocolate milks and the waitress brings me a large mason jar filled with the most chocolate milk I will ever be served. While eating an amount of food that any other day might seem glutinous if it wasn’t for our hiker appetite we discuss our desire to go to Trail Days in Damascus, VA. Trail Days is an annual hiker party/gear expo. With no ride setup and it being about 3 hours away doesn’t leave us feeling good about our chances.
After eating, Becky and I head back to a hostel just off the trail. A guy named Jason approaches us and says he has a shuttle to Trail Days that leaves in an hour with two seats available. So much for struggling to find a ride. We grab showers and simply wait for our shuttle to pick us up. We have been in Hot Springs for less than a few hours and off we go.
The ride to Damascus seems short because of the breakfast induced coma keeping me barely awake. We get dropped off and setup in what is affectionately known as tent city; the grassy fields outside of the local softball complex. Ash, Potato, and Bison send us a text message saying they can’t find a ride. Moments later they send another saying they are on their way.
I walk around with Becky to check out the vendor booths. Gear repairs, deals on new gear and free giveaways are all over the place. We drop off our boots for a free cleaning and waterproofing and get the latest trail runner designed for a thru-hike as a loaner to use for the day. Becky is in heaven and I have to make sure we don’t leave hear with all new gear.
While walking around we run into Claus. Since leaving us back in GA at Blood Mtn Cabins he has hiked almost 200 miles more than us. He made it to Trail Days on foot. Becky leaves us to go shopping and I ride the free shuttle van to get some beer and then back to tent city. When the rest of the fancy pants club gets in town they track us down and tent beside us.
As night falls tent city starts to get rowdy. A drum emanates from the woods behind tent city. Around 10pm we finally give in to find the hidden party. Becky is too tired from the whirlwind day and decides she would rather sleep. The rest of us set out and pass a large gathering of police officers as we enter the woods.
The woods seem to go on forever. Glow sticks line the path on the ground where necessary. Camps are setup for different groups throughout the forest with each having their own light show setup and music playing. As we come into a clearing there is a large fire pit about 10 feet wide with a throng of people dancing around it. A few drummers are here keeping the fire ring dance going with their beat and the occasional holler which the crowd mimics. Just off to the side is someone twirling a large baton with the ends on fire. Two others are twirling balls attached at the end of rope: one is balls of flashing light while the other is flaming orbs. The whole scene is surreal.
As we watch the fire dance and flaming baton work we strike up a conversation with the twirlers. Not the usual group of people I would associate with baton twirling. This group is mainly guys. They offer their baton to anyone who wants to give it a go and Potato takes them up on it. Once the baton is in her hands it is in the hands of a professional. Potato put on a show and it was fun to watch.
We followed the group back to their camp and sat around their normal size camp fire singing random songs while grabbing beers they had stashed in the creek earlier. The transition between each song was getting everybody to sing as loud as they could at the same time, “wrestle with Jimmy!” I don’t know what it meant but it was past midnight and the beer was cold so it was what it was. At some point we stumbled back to our tents and called it a night.
Trail Days Zero
Saturday, May 20, started with me dropping off my laundry and then walking with Becky to a free pancake breakfast across the street at a local church. The same church had a shower trailer so I got in line for that and finished as my clothes were getting done. Perfect for me. Becky and the rest of our group used the laundry service in the tractor trailer next to mine. They weren’t as quick.
Becky and I walked by all the vendors as they each had a separate time slot when they would hold raffles. With all the giveaways Becky came away with a titanium spork.
Somehow I purchased both rain pants and a rain skirt for myself. Yep. You read that correctly. I’m rocking a rain skirt. Since I only have a pair of shorts to wear the rain skirt works brilliantly. The rain pants are now what I wear while my clothes are being washed or during the night when my shorts are drying. At the end of each day I wrap my shorts, underwear, shirt and socks in a cloth sheet and put it between myself and my sleeping pad. With my quilt on top of me, my body heat dries my sweaty clothes while I sleep.
A parade is held on Saturday with all former thru-hikers walking with banners declaring their year of completion. Normally, the crowd and parade participants would shoot each other with water guns but that tradition was one-uppped by Mother Nature when a huge rainstorm started at the same time of the parade. Becky took the time to get some more shopping done while I went back to the dry safety of our tent.
The rain caused the laundry Becky was using to close up for the day. When she finally tracked down someone who could give her clothes back to her she noticed some items were missing. Amazingly, they mixed her clothes with Bisons so we were able to recover everything. Could have been much worse.
After trying without luck to find a free ride back to Hot Springs we finally call the same shuttle that brought us to Trail Days. Becky and I run into Barber again who is also looking for a ride. He agrees to share the cost with us and we have lunch and a couple beers while waiting to be picked up.
When we get to Hot Springs the hostel is full. There are some workers rooms available in the lodge that we can have for a discounted price so we take them. Barber and I go to the town tavern for dinner. Upon returning to the hostel that night a few people broke out Karaoke. Once again, Barber trimmed my beard and cleaned my neck up.
Hot Springs Day 2 Turns Into A Zero
Becky awakes on Monday, May 22nd, and made breakfast for herself in the lodge kitchen while I slept. We went through a bunch of mail her parents sent us and cleaned up our backpack contents. We walked to the postbox office and mailed a box of food forward and mailed a box of clothes home. I sent my thermals I sleep in home hoping any extreme cold weather chances have passed.
Becky, of course, hits the local outfitter for shopping. She found the right person to finally get accurate style Superfeet foot soles. We once again eat lunch at the Diner with Barber who was at the post office trying to send his barber case home. Trail Days have passed and it is time for us to get serious about hiking. Back at the hostel we weigh our newly geared up packs: me just below 22 lbs, Becky 23. Nice.
Hot Springs Day 3
We start the next day hiking in the rain. With our packs so light we stop in the Hillbilly Market on our way through town to pick up some more food. I grabbed a whole pound of instant milk to give my daily hot chocolate an extra kick. Becky stopped at the library for what seemed like hours. I sat outside under a closed barbq places porch. The one thing that stands out to me is that Hot Springs doesn’t have a stop light. The trail I see marked on the sidewalk and goes right through the middle of town.
Leaving town the trail crosses a bridge over the river and then turns directly into the woods once again. Down by the river Bison and Potato were camping. Ash had already hiked on. We sit and drink some beer for a minute and that was a mistake. Our thirst not quenched we head back to town to buy more beer.
One other person is camping near us. We invite him over for a few beers. It is a little past noon. Around 4pm he states he needs to get ready for work. He is working in the kitchen of the tavern to get more money for his hike southbound. I don’t think drinking with us before work was his best choice. When he left for work we followed him because, of course, we needed more drinks. Just as he reaches town he sat down after bumping into a road sign. He gathers himself, gets up, and walks on. We take bets on if today is the day he gets fired.
The store clerk looks at us a little strange as we once again load up with alcohol. We cross the bridge once again and turn into the woods. A couple more hours later we are still sitting beside the river. I know we aren’t hiking any farther today when Becky’s favorite form of communication is a rowdy, “WOOHOO!”
Hot Springs Day 4 We Leave
Becky wants me to say that she was a little ill from what she thinks might have been noro. It had nothing at all to do with us drinking yesterday. I think we are taking another zero as it seems we have moved into our tent and started living down by the river. Bison mentions that the river level has risen and it freaks Becky out enough that she is ready to move. Started hiking at 5pm; quit at 6pm. I can still see Hot Springs from our new hillside campsite.
I mention the math problem about miles to cover and time available to Becky. The day after “WOOHOO!” is not the day to press the subject.
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