This post was written in my sleeping bag at the end of a long day. Please excuse any errors.
I’m the only hiker in Hot Springs. There’s no one to hang out with, eat with or joke with. This makes me a novelty- one man asks if I’m SoBo and can barely believe I’m NoBo. Everyone is fresh faced and enthusiastic about hiking season. I can only imagine how burned out everyone will soon be.
I do my town chores: buy food, new shoes, drink water. Then there’s nothing to do but eat and read. I sit at the bar with a patio over the creek and read the books that normally make my heart hurt- A Walk in the Woods, Wild, Thru Hiking will Break Your Heart. I read one book on a zero on the PCT, but normally I don’t have time. The long nights on the AT have given me plenty time. Then Zack and Achilles show up. They’re about to take two days off and I know I won’t see them again for a while, but it’s nice to hang out with them. Zack’s dad shows up to pick them up and brings Tank the dog with him. I get breakfast before I head out in the morning. I’ve successfully stuffed myself over the past 24 hours and as the trail climbs, I drag myself up the hill, sweating in the heat and struggling with my motivation. I’ve being doing about half a mile an hour, so it doesn’t take long for Scoutmaster to catch me. I tuck myself in behind him, and chatter away as we climb. My mum watches his YouTube videos, so I’ve heard of him a little. We make it to the shelter at 3. It’s too far to make it to the next shelter and the weather is supposed to turn, so we sit at the picnic table and tell stories. Some guy, Ken, has left some stuff at the shelter and a SoBo has told Scoutmaster weird things about him, so we make up outlandish tales about Ken, scaring ourselves a little. Ken doesn’t show up during the night to murder us, but a mouse spends the entire night scampering. I can’t really sleep, and I’ve come back on trail after two bad nights sleep, tossing and turning in a bed that’s too soft. I’m still up at the crack of dawn though, packed and ready to go while Scoutmaster is still in bed. I drop down then climb up. After lunch, the trail splits. There’s an “exposed ridge” trail and a bad weather trail. I look at the clouds. Ok, let’s do this. The trail is fun, on a tight little ridge with plenty of rocks to hop over. Someone on Guthooks described the trail as a dangerous rock scramble, but my palms don’t even get sweaty once. I come down off the ridge and nap a little in the sun. I won’t make it to the far shelter, so what’s the rush? I rouse myself when dark clouds blot out the sun. More bad weather. I hustle to the shelter. I’ve been sitting waiting on Scoutmaster for an hour or so when Valium and Tarheel roll in. They are occasional section hikers who live near by and are out for the weekend. Tarheel hands me a beer and Valium shares some wine with Scoutmaster. The guys stay up late with a fire, but I’m worn out from bad sleep and the beer, so I tune out their chatter and sleep hard. It’s raining in the morning, so we all hang out til 9. Valium gives me a breakfast mountain house and offers to take my trash, including the ridiculous Valentine’s day balloon I found on the side of the trail. There’s hardly any organized trail magic this early, but this unexpected kindness is far more genuine. Scoutmaster and I head out together, climbing Big Butt mountain and dropping down to climb back up, the way the AT does. In real life, Scoutmaster is a prosecutor, and he tells me stories from his cases which are far more interesting than any podcast. I fall a little behind to eat, then further behind when I get service for the first time in a while, high on a ridge. By the time I’m hiking again, I’m chilled. The temperature is dropping fast. It rains in the morning, but I head out anyway. I drop down under the highway, then climb up and up to Big Bald. The clouds have come down, despite this supposed to be one of the better weather days. I think it might break as I crest Big Bald, but it’s too cold to stop and wait for better weather. I drop down into the trees and out of the wind. I’ve just finished eating when Squatch, a SoBo, comes up. We exchange the normal niceties, then, “Do you really think you’re going to make it?” His tone is derisive. Normally, I’d give a flippant answer about going to try (I know too many people who’ve quit within a 100 miles of finishing to think of anything as certain) but this guy has got my hackles up. “Well, this is only my third long distance trail.” I start putting on my pack as he starts to mansplain shelters to me. I don’t have time for this, so I tell him I’m getting cold and channel my anger into climbing the hills as fast as I can. My first AT jerk. Well, I’d been warned they’d be out here. It sleets a little as I drop and climb, drop and climb. Then the weather breaks and I dry out just as I reach the shelter. It’s crowded, with SoBo section hiker Guru, Scoutmaster, and Old Soul, a hiker who got on trail in Hot Springs. The temperature drops overnight and it’s hard to get out of my bag. But it’s only 7 miles to Erwin, where there’s an all you can eat pizza buffet.