Friday, April 13, 2012

Hot Springs to Erwin, A.T. Thruhike 2012

     Hot Springs, North Carolina is a wonderful little mountain town. I had a wonderful time. I enjoyed large portioned, delicious meals at the Smokey Mountain Diner, the best chai latte at Artisun, saw the Easter Parade, and soaked in natural hot spring water with fellow thruhikers.
     While staying at the hikers hostel just off the trail, I ran into several other fellow hikers I have met at various points along the trail.
     I was happy to see Coffee2go again, someone I thought would be far ahead of me since I detoured to climb additional mountains in the Smokies. Unfortunately, he was having a difficult time. He was tenting a few miles back, and was busy doing something, when a dog decided to turn his tent into a bed! By the time anyone noticed, the tent was destroyed! The dog's owner was apologetic, but there was little that could be done.
     In Hot Springs, there is an outfitters. Unfortunately, the tent options were not only expensive, but heavy. In this world, every gram matters.
     In an effort to ease his stress, I suggested we order a tent online, tell them the situation and request they rush it to the next town. I offered to share my shelter from here to Erwin. It is easily roomy enough for two.
     He liked the idea, ordered his tent, a Zpacks Hexamid, and we hiked together for the next few days.
     It started with one last good breakfast at the diner. Nothing fuels you up those mountains better than a good hot meal.
     And off we went. The trail follows a fast moving river, than climbs up over Lovers Leap Rock, which offered a great last view of friendly little Hot Springs.
     Later that day we arrived at Rich Mountain Firetower, and we climbed it to enjoy lunch and nice views.
      Shortly into the next day we arrived at a second fire tower.
     It was a nice change of pace to hike with someone, especially someone who has a lot we can talk about. Being from another country, and having many differences yet many things in common, we kept ourselves entertained in conversations.
     We clearly had different hiking styles, and it took a couple days for us to get a system down that catered to us both. We did it though, and had a good few days of hiking.
     There was a section which required some true climbing up onto an exposed ridgeline. The rocky path was long and hard. It reminded me of some of the trail I have seen up North. Challenging, but offering outstanding views the whole way.
     I stopped for pictures at a cliff, and a fellow thruhiker, Plus2, stopped as well and asked me to take his picture. He asked my trail name.
"Walking Home" I replied.
     Realizing I am from Maine, he exclaimed he was as well. We got to talking and it turns out he lives just minutes from me in the next town! A small world.
     We came across a young woman who is thruhiking who I met several times already, Phoenix, only this time she was extremely dehydrated and having a hard time. She twisted her ankle and was slowly crossing the ridgeline, and has been out of water for some time.
     Coffee2go gave her a liter of his water. She was so relieved. In the end, we all have family and loved ones somewhere, but on the trail we only have each other. As hikers, we need to be there for other hikers. It's a wonderful community.
     That eve, I got to see the Shelton Graves. Here lies two southeners who joined the Union. Upon returning for a family event, they were ambushed by Confederates near here and killed. So much history along the trail!
     Our final night sharing a tent was at Whistling Gap. We had a nice campsite near other friendly folk who had a nice fire going. We all shared some laughs as we cooked our dinners, enjoying a nice campfire experience. We crawled in our tents early, as the night was growing colder. This was the first night below freezing on our trip.
     The next morning, Coffee2go was very eager to take off to Erwin and get his tent. Despite the cold winds, he was up and ready earlier than usual. We agreed on splitting up, that he should head into town while I finished packing. He could reserve me a spot at the Hostel there.
     It was a pleasant walk that day. I enjoyed listening to the birds, and walking alongside streams as the trail descended into town.
     Arriving at the Nolichucky Hiker Hostel, I prepped my bunk, enjoyed a shower, and watched Coffee2go set up his newly aquired tent. He seemed very happy. I know I was.
     The next morning, I rose about 6 am, and was ready to head back on the trail by 7. He was not, and chose to remain in town for a while. Ah, the freedoms of having your own shelter.
     So we parted ways, and I began walking North once more. With a chill in the air, and the sun just starting to peek over the mountains, I smiled as I joined the forest as one, once more.

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