Walnut Mountain Shelter to Hot Springs, NC
Sweaty Climbs Camp to This Old House Camp
AT miles: 13.1
Total miles: 283.1
Elevation change: 2241ft gain, 5072ft loss
I don’t know about y’all, but I was excited to get into town today. Part of the reason I pushed so hard yesterday, was so that I could maximize my stay in Hot Springs, NC, sampling the local delicacies, lounging on the local lawns, charging at the local outlets, showering in the local showers, and laundering in the local laundry machines. So far, I have not been disappointed. My first real town stop of the AT has been salubrious so far, and the miles I hiked to get here were pleasant indeed.
What wasn’t so pleasant were the Oreo hallucinations that visited me in the night. As one does when in posession of many Oreos the night before a visit to town, I ate a few handfuls of them to wash down my dinner. I don’t think my body appreciated the ultra-blast of sugar, though. My sleep was as restless as the wind, which rustled my tent all night long. At one point, I awoke to the sound of maybe a mouse rustling the leaves. I thought I saw a mouse-sized, shadow-blob in the moonlight scamper up my mesh wall, just inches from my face. Instinctively, I gave it a good whack with the back of my hand. I didn’t feel any impact, but it was gone, leaving me to question whether there had even been a mouse in the first place. It would have been the first time one visited me on this hike, and it seemed unlikely, given that my food was haning from a steel cable, 30-yards away. Anyway, it didn’t come back, real or imagined. I again fell into a wobbly walk between waking and snoozing.
My alarm pulled me from my dreams, and I packed up quickly. The reasons were two-fold; I needed to get to the privy asap, and I wanted to make it to town with enough time to enjoy myself. The first golden rays of the sun illuminated the tippy-tops of the oaks while I sat on the commode, and were halfway down the trunks when I pulled on my near-empty pack and got hiking.
The salty couscous and Oreos the night before had really dried me out. I drank all the water I had left and hoped that a stream would soon appear. With the beginnings of a dehydration headache, I scooped, filtered, and chugged a liter at the first flowing water I encountered, about two miles later. From then on, I resolved to drink a mouthful after every mile. It’s an uphill battle to reverse the slide into the pit of misery that is dehydration. I aimed to fight the whole way.
Without drama, I found myself on top of Bluff Mountain, unremarkable other than that it marked the beginning of a huge, 4-mile descent. I let me legs loose, and half-ran, half-stumbled down the long switchbacks. I was a the bottom in no time. I’d even managed to eat a bar and brush my teeth in the process.
From there, the trail wiggled and squirmed over and around a few smaller hills. I kept looking back at Bluff, thinking to myself how much that climb would totally blow for SOBO hikers. Who knows, maybe it barely even registers to those who have hiked so far already.
After a quick break to eat some things and change my socks (the craziness of town completely wipes away my ability to address my basic needs), I stormed down the final hill, which overlooked the small town, nestled in a wide bend of the French Broad River. As I approached, I could hear the rumble of motorcycles, dogs barking, and a few of the town’s exceptionally loud citizens. The warm day smelled of pine and oak. Brown needles littered the trail. Green rhododendron leaves carressed my sleeves.
The AT passes right through Hot Springs, so I followed it as the white blazes painted on trees turned into AT crests smooshed into the concrete sidewalk. As I approached the Dollar General, I knew that I had made it. Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn, where I had reserved two nights, was suddenly on my right. As I approached the ancient, but very classy southern big house, I was beckoned inside by the caretaker, Matt, who introduced me to Elmer himself. Both were excedingly friendly and exactly my type of people. I immediately felt at home, even though the building’s many rooms were haphazardly arranged and connected by either too many, or too few doors. The structure was as old as the Civil War itself, so I didn’t worry too much about its quirks. As long as it stayed standing, I would be happy. The halls and walls were lined with an infinite number of interesting things to look at. The many porches and lounge chairs called to me to put up my feet, grab a glass of sweet tea, and watch the world go by.
First order of business was laundry, then a shower. Even the old plumbing at Sunnybank handled both without issue. I ate the last of my peanut butter and Oreos as my clothes finished their cycle. Once I was decent, I headed out to see the town. And it didn’t take long. Hot Springs is a small place. I grabbed some produce and a sub at the Hillbilly Market, hung out with an old hippie at the welcome center, grabbed a kombucha from the awesome outfitter, and bought some hummus at the fancy-schmancy tourist bodega. I took all of my treats to the lawn outside the Hot Springs Resort and lay there in the sun, delighting in the crispness of fresh cucumber slices, and the tingling buzz of cold fizzy stuff on my tongue.
After a call home to my parents, I headed to the brewery/taqueria to see what kind of burritos they had on offer. I settled for tacos and a kale salad. All super tasty. All awesome, in a my-body-needs-this kind of way. Fresh food is so good. Satisfied, I ambled the few blocks back to Sunnybank. The warm night air felt good on my bare legs. The harsh concrete felt foreign to my trail accostumed feet.
I stayed up past my bed time, perusing the fantastic book selection in the house library. What was supposed to be a Netflix night, turned into an evening that would not have been out of place when the building was constructed, back when Abraham Lincoln was a young man. I suppose that was a good thing. I suppose that that call to sit and read was the magic of Sunnybank at work. It hosted the first ever AT thru-hiker, and thousands more since. That first guy didn’t have Netflix, and I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the other guests to creak these floorboards before me had found something unexpected either.
The bed felt anything but ancient. I lay back, quickly falling asleep, not worried about Oreo hallucinations tonight. Ghosts, though. Maybe a ghost or two.