Trail Update: An Ode To Hot Springs

Day 21
Lemon Gap
Miles: 18.7/mm: 260
Mood: 2.5 smileys

Day 22
Hot Springs,NC
Miles: 14.4/mm: 274.4
Mood: 2 smileys during hike, 5 once we got to town!

Day 23
Zero day

Day 24
Zero day

Leaving Standing Bear, the draw of Hot Springs, and our first days off in two weeks, was strong. We knew we could get there in two days if we put in longer days. We were up for the challenge! If we thought we were “out of the woods” when it came to hard climbs after the Smokies, we were wrong. The climb out of Standing Bear was a consistent, tough uphill. It was a nice reminder that the Smokies might be behind us, but there was still a lot of trail ahead of us. We made it 18 miles before calling it a day. The next two days, hiking nearly 20 miles each, wreaked havoc on our knees and ankles; we were spent. We camped by ourselves in a gap about two miles from where the rest of the crew stayed. It was actually nice to have a camp spot for just the two of us. In the Smokies, we had had to stay in shelters, forced to be grouped together. The seclusion was a nice break. We also appreciated the temporary relief afforded in not having to go a certain distance to reach a shelter. Our determination was now laser-focused on making it to Hot Springs.

The next day should have been a quick and fairly moderate 14 miles into Hot Springs, but we were really feeling the effects of our close-to-marathon distance days and we were crawling. From the top of the mountain, we could see Hot Springs in the distance, and once in sight, we quickened our pace to a slow jog.

I cannot say enough great things about Hot Springs as a town. First, part of what makes it so awesome is that it’s a true trail town; the AT goes straight through it. Location-wise, with all the other towns we’ve encountered so far, we’ve had to rely on shuttles to get from the trail to the place we’re staying or from where we’re staying into town. In Hot Springs, everything is on the trail, so it’s completely walkable.

Hot Springs is quite simply the “Hikers’ Mecca.” I know we are only 350 miles in, but in my mind, it is going to be tough for another town to surpass the perfection of Hot Springs. Perhaps it’s the length of time we went in between towns that made Hot Springs so enjoyable, but I think it’s more so the easy access, variety of options, and kindness of the people that put it at the top in my book. We stayed for two zero days, so we had ample time to try almost everything out. Here are just a few highlights:

–The Hikers Ridge Ministry: this place is incredible. It’s a mobile home that is right on the main street and is there solely for the purpose of being a hiker’s resource. Free wifi, a clean bathroom, computers, couches, and coffee were all at our disposal. We spent a fair amount of time there, using the Internet and just not moving. It was glorious.

–Smoky Mountain Diner: the go-to for breakfast (we also had lunch there). The food was great, cheap, and plentiful. A special shout-out is owed for the cinnamon rolls that they serve on the weekends. They are the size of a dinner plate–warm, gooey, delicious.

–Art Gallerie: this place has a special place in my heart…and not just because they sell wine! It’s an adorable place that sells art, trinkets, and you name it, in addition to smoothies, coffee, wine, and milkshakes. We had been searching for milkshakes since Franklin, mostly for Paddington’s sake. He’d been searching high and low for one, to no avail, until we got to the Art Gallerie. The place also boasts an extremely friendly staff and laid-back atmosphere. Unashamedly, we spent a good amount of time there imbibing tea and ice cream.

–Spring Creek Tavern: great food, wings, burgers, sandwiches, waffle fries, and over 50 varieties of beer! They also had live music on the patio at night. It’s the kind of spot you spend way too much time and money at, but leave without a single regret.

We also went to the hot springs, which were actually just hot tubs filled with natural spring water–totally relaxing and worth the time and money.

We stayed at Laughing Heart Hostel, the first place you come across when you descend into Hot Springs. Rico and I got a private room and it worked out great. Showers were hot, a kitchen was there to use, and the staff was phenomenal. Hat tip to Tom Kennedy, Tie, and Baltimore Jack for their hospitality, stories, and advice. Really looking forward to seeing them at Trail Days in Damascus, VA!

Safe to say, our time in Hot Springs was incredible. We were with the group we’d been hiking with for some time (Paddington, Lightning, Bonobo, Tarp Man, and China Rocks). We’ve spread out a bit since then, but hopefully we’ll all catch up at some point up the trail. After two days of total relaxation and the consumption of more food and beer than our stomachs could handle, we had to pull ourselves away, as hard as it was. The day we left, we got a late start, often times looking back, debating whether or not we should spend just one more day there—for fond memories sake, if nothing else!

One last exciting note about Hot Springs: I finally got a trail name!! This was something that I had been waiting for since the beginning of the trail, and as more time passed and I still hadn’t gotten one, the more I wondered if it was going to happen. The pressure had been mounting ever since Rico got his. Well, Hot Springs held more than recuperative magic. Credit jointly goes to Rico and Lightning. They have henceforth dubbed me “Lookout,” and I’ve gladly accepted. The name comes from my tendency to lookout for the people we’ve been hiking with, making sure they rest, stretch, eat, and generally take care of themselves. For my name’s sake, I intend to do myself proud!

So there you have it. Rico and Lookout, onward!


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Thru hikers digesting.


Look how far we’ve come… oh, and how far we still have to go.

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Max Patch. A 360 degree view from the top, last big climb before Hot Springs.

Max Patch. A 360 degree view from the top, last big climb before Hot Springs.

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