Day 26 – Monday, April 4: Hot Springs, NC (Zero Day), 0.0 miles, 273.7 total AT miles.

Note: There is ZERO cell coverage in Hot Springs. I’m sitting outside the library uploading posts before I head north again.

Hot Springs is one of the few true “trail towns” on the AT. Here, the AT literally runs right through the heart of downtown. We booked a second night at the Alpine Court – itself located in the center of a two block radius of all the stores/restaurants I would frequent today.

8:00am – I woke super early and was surprised everyone wanted breakfast at the the Smoky Mountain Diner. Two biscuits and gravy, side pork tenderloin, half order of French toast – $12.25 plus $4.00 tip.

9:00am – I headed to the laundromat. I wore my rain pants and rain jacket (nothing else) as I washed everything I own. One wash, one dry, dryer sheets (a nice guy gave me some soap) – $4.00

9:30am – With my clothes in the dryer, I headed across the street to Bluff Mountain Outfitters, probably the best outfitter I’ve run across since starting out. 2 Sawyer Mini water filters, gloves (I’m sick of being “ultralight” and using socks as mittens), and a new Mountain Hardware hiking t-shirt. – $78.80

11:00am – With clean clothes in tow, I finally took a long shower.

11:30am – Lunch at the Spring Creek Tavern next to the laundromat. 6 wings, fried chicken sandwich – $14.00 plus $4.00 tip. I can’t seem to stop eating hot wings when I’m in town.

1:00pm – I found out the only barbershop in town had closed over the winter. I really needed a haircut so I walked down to the Dollar General and bought hair clippers and some Little Debbie Nutty Bars – $19.75.

2:00pm – Back to Bluff Mountain Outfitters. I need to buy a new pack. I still like my Gregory, but I’ve maxed out how tight I can clinch the hip belt. I bought a Granite Gear 55 liter Blaze, took it to the hotel and began trying to fit all my gear in this smaller pack. It wouldn’t work.

As I was returning the pack, I realized the post office was about to close. There wasn’t enough time to send my small box of extra gear home to Seattle – it’ll have to wait for tomorrow morning.

I did end up purchasing a Thermarest Z seat and 5 packets of salmon – $22.18.

4:30pm – And this is where things started to get weird/awesome. I recruited Savage in helping me with the back, but I managed to give myself an pretty good haircut. It’s really short on the sides and long and floppy on top.

I gave myself a Mohawk and it looks great (I think).

It looked so good, apparently, that Moon Boots, Medicine Man, Clutch and Owl also wanted one. Somehow, word got out that I bought clippers and was shaving Mohawks into hiker’s skulls for free.


Cool Dad (aka The Barber).
It took about two hours, but I managed to add 14 Mohawks to the AT (including my own). I’m bringing the clippers with me – gotta do touch ups along the way.

5:30pm – Back to the Spring Creek Tavern for dinner. It was hilarious watching all the Mohawks eating and drinking as they moved around the pub. I ate tavern bites (boneless wings) and fish and chips (sub waffle fries) – $16.99 plus $5.01 tip.

7:00pm – Back to the Alpine Court to start cleaning up for tomorrow’s hike. I took a second shower. After chatting briefly with friends and family, I fell fast asleep.

I’m excited about the week ahead. I’ll be stopping in Irwin, TN for a quick resupply in about 5 days – I’m not planning on staying in town.

The weather forecast is calling for snow Thursday and Friday. But by that time, I’ll be 50 or so miles north of Hot Springs, so who knows what will happen.

In this upcoming stretch, I’ll really be testing the limits of my tech gear. I’ve been able to go 5 to 6 days before needing to recharge my external battery – I’ll probably be stuck without the opportunity to recharge for about 10 days. We’ll see how this goes.

Day 25 – Sunday, April 3: Roaring Fork Shelter to Hot Springs, NC, 17.0 miles, 273.7 total AT miles.

I finished writing at around 8:30 last night and quickly fell asleep. At 2:00am, I woke to the sharp snap of wood buckling. The high winds had just felled a tree close to our camp – so close that we all felt the earth shake when it came down. I can’t remember the last time I heard the wind howling like this.

Owl quickly abandoned his hammock and sprinted for the shelter. I tried to wait the wind storm out, but 15 minutes later Shaggy’s tent got hit with a huge branch. And that was enough for the both of us. While Medicine Man and Moon Boots decided to sleep on, Shaggy and I packed up and quickly left camp. As we hiked out of Roaring Fork at 4:00am, I noticed a huge limb had fallen near the bear cables. It was some pretty rough weather.

And to top it off, it was freezing outside. My thermometer read 28 degrees as I left camp. So cold, in fact, I resorted to wearing socks over my gloves. I sipped water as I hiked, not wanting my Sawyer to freeze – I figured if I could keep a steady stream of water flowing through my external water filter, it wouldn’t freeze.

Shaggy and I stopped at Walnut Mountain Shelter for a hot breakfast at sunrise. We sat on the calm side of a breezy bald and shivered as we ate. As I was packing up to go, I tried to take a quick sip of water. The drinking tube, and my Sawyer, were frozen solid. That truly stunk – if you freeze a Sawyer, it essentially becomes obsolete. And considering I kept my back-up Sawyer in an outside pocket, I was fairly sure that one was frozen too. 

Thankfully, Shaggy tucked his Sawyer into his jacket to keep it warm and we hiked on.

We cleared branches from the trail as we walked. While the sun was finally starting to rise, it was still very cold. It wasn’t until our summit of Bluff Mountain that we started to shed layers.

After 6 hours of steady hiking, we emerged from the woods into Hot Springs, NC at 1:30pm.

The only picture I took today.

We decided to take advantage of our early entry into Hot Springs by renting a cheap room at the Alpine Court. After quick showers, we ate a late lunch at Hot Springs BBQ located just across the street.

So what do hikers talk about while on the trail? Shaggy and I had never hiked together before. Up until this morning, the only thing we shared was a mutual desire to not get crushed by a falling tree.

As we left camp, we talked about things that would make our hike in this dark, windy night MORE creepy. It was decided that wandering across a weeping child (by headlamp) would be about the creepiest thing that could happen.

As we descended Bluff Mountain, we talked about our “real” lives – including our fears, desires, etc. Pretty intimate details, for sure, but it was a very natural conversation, assuredly – the bond formed by two people doing something ridiculous and kind of scary.

We took a break at 12:30 at the Deer Park Mountain Shelter and discussed food. Specifically, what we wanted to eat once we got to Hot Springs. I accurately predicted we’d find a pimento cheeseburger on the menu in town. But I really wanted hot wings.

And as we began our steep descent into Hot Springs, we wondered how far behind everyone else was. We tried to predict when and in what order our friends would arrive in town. It had become a running joke that Canuck (who literally runs down the trail) would have somehow found a way to beat us there.

Fast forward to Shaggy and I thoroughly enjoying our lunch. We’d been in Hot Springs for maybe an hour and a half when, out of nowhere, Medicine Man walked up. He apparently left Roaring Fork at sunrise and didn’t look back. He was hungry and exhausted. The three of us ate and waited for the rest of the group to arrive.

After a successful resupply at the Dollar General, the others started trickling into Hot Springs. The eight of us ate dinner at the same restaurant we had lunch in and fell fast asleep. It was a rough day for all, no matter what time they left camp.

Today was the first time the weather truly scared me. It reinforced my understanding that I’m not really in control of much in this life. I’m thankful no one got hurt. We found out later that a tree nearly crushed a hiker, tearing her rainfly as it came down.

I’m calling this an early night. I’m looking forward to taking the day off tomorrow. I need a zero day. There’s a lot to accomplish and I’ve yet to really get started. I’m excited to check out Bluff Mountain Outfitters – I hope they carry Sawyer water filters.

Breakfast: instant mashed potato burritos, sugar cookies
Lunch: fried chicken sandwich, fries
Dinner: 12 hot wing, Philly cheesesteak (sub pimento cheese), no fries, sub beef chili.


Alpine Court: $15.o0

Dollar General: $61.65 (5+ days of food)

Hot Springs BBQ (lunch): $12.00 plus $4.00 tip

Hot Springs BBQ (dinner): $18.00 plus $6.00 tip

Day 24 – Saturday, April 2: Standing Bear Farm (Hostel) to Roaring Fork Shelter, 15.4 miles, 255.7 total AT miles.

I woke twice during the night – not because of bad weather or my sleeping uncomfortably. I was awaken by a cat who just couldn’t seem to get enough of me. He/she kept curling up next to my stomach and purring loudly, wanting pets. It was really cute.

I finally woke to a rooster crowing at about 6:30 and quickly started packing up. Today, I would cross Max Patch – a huge bald that promises 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains. I’ve read about his section for years.

I paid Lumpy for my “room” and all the snacks I ate the night prior and was back on the trail by 8:00. At 8:30, I stopped at a turn in the trail close enough to I-40 to still get decent cell service and began the laborious task of uploading journal entries and pics.
Several hikers passed me, including Medicine Man, Moon Boots and Shaggy. Savage paused and had breakfast as I finished the uploads and the two of us began the 3,000 foot ascent of Snowbird Mountain. Not since leaving the N.O.C. have I tackled such a steep ascent. It was slow going for me and I quickly fell behind.

Having started hiking this morning at such a low elevation, it was nice to be reminded that spring was just right around the corner. I think I found Fiddlehead ferns, but I’m not sure. After an hour’s climb, I had ascended past spring and right back into winter’s embrace. I put my jacket on during the ascent and left it on for the rest of the day.

I summited Snowbird just after noon and found my hiking buddies having lunch next to a gravel road. I followed the road to the very top of Snowbird to get a look at an FAA radar tower, but was blown away with the view of the Smokeys to the south. They loomed large and cloudy over the surrounding mountains. It was cool to know I had just crossed the tallest mountains in the area.

The Great Smoky Mountains from Snowbird Mountain.

I paused and finished my breakfast. After a quick descent of Snowbird, I emerged into Brown Gap to find trail magic – a past thru-hiker had a great setup with hotdogs, drinks, cookies and comfortable chairs. I ate and relaxed. As I was lounging around, we got word of more trail magic at Max Patch. I packed up and hit the trail.

Just under an hour and half later, I popped out of the woods and found a large group stationed around an R.V., grilling and having a good time. The group running this trail magic stop thru-hiked last year. They were a very generous group. I was still full from lunch, but took some brownies for the road.

As I was leaving the trail magic for Max Patch, I was approached by an older man who asked if I’d like some crackers and oranges for the road. Absolutely, sir! He introduced himself as Melvin and had, apparently, been struck by lightning 12 times. He even wore an embroidered hat commemorating his feat. He says he’s famous – I’ll need to check this out when I get some reliable Internet access.

Hiking up Max Patch.

The hike up to the summit of Max Patch was everything I hoped it would be. We were greeted with uncharacteristically clear weather making for awesome views. I think we sat huddled in the wind for nearly an hour before pressing on.
The temperature was noticeably dropping and I began hiking towards Roaring Fork Shelter, our camp for the night. Having skipped out on the second trail magic stop, I ate a warm plop of mashed potatoes for dinner by the fire.

There’s a freeze warning tonight with more high winds moving in. I’m ready for Hot Springs. The plan is to camp outside of town after grabbing a hot dinner as we’re all running low on food. It looks to be a long day with town nearly 20 miles north.

While today was slow-going, my knees are getting noticeably better. I rarely take ibuprofen during the day anymore.

Breakfast – iced coffee, breakfast mix
Snack – the last of the breakfast mix
Lunch – 2 hotdogs with mustard, one brownie, one sugar cookie
Snack – Lance Nip-Chee crackers
Dinner – butter and herb instant potatoes with salmon, one beef jerky tortilla, the last brown sugar Pop-Tart