Day 27: Hot Springs Zero Day

Day 27. Camping by the river was nice, though very rocky and windy. I felt bad for the others in tents as I swayed blissfully off to sleep in my hammock. In the morning, I woke around 8am ready to see what else the town of Hot Springs has to offer. Spoiler alert, it did not disappoint.

The one issue in town, though, is the lack of cell service. Not too surprising, given the entire town id just 4 blocks long on one main road. The restaurants and other typical hiker options didn’t offer WiFi, and the hostels only give it out to guests. I raised this dilemma with Cinco (Ian) who was camped next to me and packing up to hike out of town. He suggested we go hang out at the Hiker’s Ridge Ministries, a small building near the tavern that is setup specifically for hikers to come relax, enjoy snacks/coffee, and use free WiFi. It was exactly what I needed to get yesterday’s blog posted, call family, and attempt to download the rest of my missing music/podcasts.

The Ministry was amazing, and does not appear to have any true religious purpose, except to help hikers on their journey to Maine. I jokingly told them I am also a Minister, ordained by the Universal Life Church of Modesto California … which got a laugh. It’s a real thing, and allowed me to officiate 2 close friends’ weddings, but is a complete joke. Google it.

The people at the Ministry allowed me to use the WiFi while chatting with them to learn about the town. They also were happy to watch my pack the rest of the day, and gave out a plethora of fresh baked cookies. Any future thru-hiked should stop in to say hello, they were the kindest people! Actually, this whole town is full of kind people. Really a great place to visit.

Around 11, I collected everyone’s dirty clothes and headed back uphill to the Laughing Heart Hostel to do laundry. They allow non-guests to do it for $5, which is a great deal … especially since the laundromat in town had no working dryers. When I walked in, guess who was sitting in the kitchen? It was Leap Frog (Julia)! We hadn’t seen her since before Gatlinburg, so it was great to reconnect again. After asking begging the staff to do our laundry for us (admitting, we were supposed to do it ourselves), Leap Frog and I headed back in to town to locate the others.

We found them at the outfitter, Bluff Mountain, which is a GREAT store. Tons of high quality gear and the staff are very knowledgeable. They helped Fun Facts, Nubs, and Culligan get sized for new shoes, and aided me in some small odds and ends. The hip belt on my pack is getting too small as I lose weight (can’t tighten it much more), so they found an old hip belt from another bag and gave it to me to create some extra cushion. Not sure if it will work but it was free and a good idea to try out. I’ll try lashing the foam pieces to my pack’s hip belt and see if it works. I could just keep using the patented “Neiman Wrap” of my fleece sweatshirt, but would like another option if possible. For those unaware, the Neiman Wrap is a way to secure a sweatshirt around your waist without tying a knot – perfect for some hip belt cushion. It’s a Tom Neiman original design. 🙂

Side note, I almost bought a spoon today, but was sent a surprise. Fun Facts’ parents have been following our journey and knew of my spoon woes his far. They sent two sporks for me in her resupply box! One orange and one black, of course. Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Fun Facts! I will try very hard not to break/lose this one.

After we were all squared away, all 5 of us headed to the hot tubs. What can I say … It. Was. Magical. Three hours of soaking in natural mineral spas of hot springs was heavenly beyond explanation. We ate lunch in there, we drank wine in there, we ran down and jumped in the river, then back in to the spa … we slowly boiled ourselves into what Culligan lovingly called “hiker stew” … and loved every minute of it. It may sound gross, but it was divine.

After 3 hours we bid farewell to Leap Frog, who was hiking out that afternoon, and checked in to our cabin. The spa resort cabins are along the river and nothing too special. Fir $60 you get a heater and 3 beds that sleep up to 5 people … and nothing else. Showers and bathrooms are nearby, but it’s pretty much a place to sleep and that’s it. Some other hikers in town upgraded to the cabins that have full kitchens and bathrooms, but that was over $100 more. We opted for the option that lets us spend more money on food and drink.

After a quick dinner as beverages at a pop-up Taco Restaurant (in the place of Dory’s BBQ that the Guidebook mentions but has since already closed), we did a last resupply run at Dollar General. I picked up my resupply box yesterday so only needed a few additional items to supplement. The others were still hungry so grabbed a second dinner, but I opted to return to the cabin and organize my food/gear.

Tomorrow we hike out (up), but unsure how far. The shelters are either 11 or 21 miles away, so we’ll likely look for a usable campsite somewhere in the middle. Assuming the shins stay good, it sounds like a doable plan. The next town of Erwin is 65 miles away, which we think we’ll get to in 4 days. I didn’t get a chance to look into synagogues or Seder-hosting family options today, so not thinking that will work out, but that’s ok. I’ll find a way to have my own mini celebration on the trail. Stranger things have happened.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 274.9
  • Start Time: 00:00
  • End Mile: 274.9
  • End Time: 00:00
  • Miles Hiked: 0.0
  • Miles to Go: 1916.0
  • Lodging: Hot Springs Resort and Spa

Day 26: Hot Springs

Day 26. Well, I lied. I didn’t mean to hike this far but damnit if that KT Tape isn’t miraculous. I did a double round of stretches this morning and then Fun Facts worked her expertise on the tape … and wow. It may be a false sense of security, but I hiked 17+ miles today to Hot Springs and all felt great. It’s 9pm now and I barely feel any pain, simply amazing. Buy stock in whatever company makes this tape (3M?), it’s going to change the world!

It was a cold night, so it was a late morning. When I finally packed up and left at 10:15, Nubs and Culligan we’re still in bed. Because of the fear of rain, I slept in the shelter again, but it ended up being a dry night. Damn you mountain weather! I slept well enough, but I’m eager for the comfort of my hammock again. Fortunately, we are stealth camping tonight by the river in Hot Springs, so I’m in for a great night’s sleep. I just miss my hammock, what can I say.

I took it slow this morning, to keep any unnecessary pressure off the shins, so it wasn’t long before the guys and Fun Facts caught up. Around noon at Walnut Mountain they caught me and we agreed on the plan … get to Hot Springs if possible and stealth camp tonight in town, then Zero tomorrow. That will give us a full day to do laundry, resupply, enjoy the mineral spa hot tubs, and revitalize the body.

I hiked mostly alone today, so I banged out a podcast I’ve been meaning to listen to. For anyone else waiting to check out “Dirty John”, my recommendation is to skip it. The 8 episode series could be done in 2 but they dragged it out with overly telling foreshadowing and too many unnecessary filler episodes. Great if you have 4 hours of hiking to kill, but bad if you have anything else going on in your life. It’s no Serial…

At 14 miles, we arrived at the final shelter before town and were greeted by 3 section hikers working out their day’s plan. It turns out their leader is a young lady named Puddin’ who hiked the AT in 2015 and the PCT this past year. She now is a trail guide taking others on short hikes in the area. She was very knowledgeable and fun to chat with during our brief rest. Interestingly, she did both hikes southbound, going against the norm, because she likes the solitude. We chatted for a bit before moving on, comparing itineraries, gear and adventures, then headed down the final 3 miles to Hot Springs. Interesting tidbit, she said the PCT was significantly easier than the AT. Maybe someday I’ll consider that adventure too … ?

Hot Springs is the first town that the AT actually cuts straight through. The trail literally goes down Main Street, with AT emblems engraved into the sidewalk (see photo). It’s a small town but very hiker-friendly. I picked up the resupply box Dr. D sent last week to the Laughing Heart Hostel, then quickly made my way to the 1 tavern in town for dinner.

Side note, Leap Frog is here! We finally caught up with her, but it sounds like she is headed out tomorrow. Oh well, good to see she made it through there the snowy Smokies unscathed.

At the tavern (1 of only 2 places in town that sells alcohol), we met up with all the other hikers that arrived in town today town (not shocked to see this be our communal hangout spot): Zoltan, Trenchfoot, Caveman, Babyface, Chickapea, and us four enjoyed dinner together. We hiked with these guys for the first couple days in the Smokies so it was a fun mini reunion over drinks. The hiker hunger must be starting, after a full day of food I downed 12 wings, a burger and fries, and my fair share of beer.

After dinner, the group made its collective way to the “stealth” campsite we are all staying at. Not very stealth with a dozen tents/hammocks set up, but apparently it’s a common campsite and completely legal in this town. As we starting setting up, we heard a familiar voice. Culligan’s original hiking partner Ian (now “Cinco”) was here too! I hiked with Ian at the beginning as well for a few days on and off, so it was a nice to catch up. We last saw him coming in to Franklin as we were leaving, but he’s been busy. He hiked straight through the winter storm also so is a day ahead of us and heading out in the morning with some new friends.

We were all exhausted by this time (waaaaay past my hiker bedtime of 8pm), so all retreated to bed. Tomorrow will be a heavenly day off and then the hike goes on.

Side note, Passover starts Friday and I’m thinking it would be nice to find a family to possibly celebrate with. I am going to the town Library tomorrow and may look up if there is any synagogue near Erwin, which should be roughly where I am by Saturday. It’s a long shot, but if there is, they may know families in the area willing to host a wandering nomad for Seder dinner. If anyone reading this knows any welcoming Jewish families in the vicinity, feel free to send them my way!

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 256.6
  • Start Time: 10:15
  • End Mile: 274.9
  • End Time: 18:15
  • Miles Hiked: 18.3
  • Miles to Go: 1916.0
  • Lodging: Stealth Camp on French Broad River in Hot Springs, NC