Hot Springs, NC to Erwin, TN

March 30 – hiked three miles into Hot Spring NC, Nero day

March 31 – Today was the first time that I felt held back by being in a group. Woke up and went out for breakfast and even though it was delicious, it ended up taking until around 11:30 because nobody was ready at the same time, we didn’t even get on the trail until around 12. It was hot in town and there was a steep climb to get back into the mountains, as there usually is when coming out of a town or gap.
As of recently my body legs are really starting to get used to the trail. My mileage is speeding up and my endurance is far greater than it was three weeks ago. 
Eventually I came to a pond that was a total surprise to me considering my guidebook made no mention of it. I took my socks off to dry out as I usually do at nice spots like this and enjoyed the feeling of being back on the trail, such a freedom that cannot be explained but only experienced. After a long break I headed on, following the trail as it winded around the edge of the water and then ascended into a series of rolling meadows which a sign informed me used to be tobacco fields but were now used as a mating area for turkey and grouse. After returning to the woods there was a big climb up to Rich Mountain Fire Tower. I got up there, enjoyed the views, ate lunch, and just relaxed for an hour. I planned to head on at least 7 more miles, but as I was walking back down from the tower gadget and Dosu finally caught up with me after not seeing them all day. They wanted to stay at the tower and camp for sunset and rise, and while I’m all for that, it was only 4 o clock on a beautiful day. Such a waste of sunlight, but I reluctantly agreed and while the sunset was nice, I wish I had gone further than this, a measly seven miles after a rest day. Tomorrow I plan on really pushing myself to make up for today, at least a good sunrise will get me motivated.
April 1 – My first new month on the trail started out on a less than favorable note. The night before, I had hung my food bag including all of my cookware from the fire tower. This is standard protocol for any hiker, you hang up anything that a bear or more realistically threatening a squirrel or mouse would smell and want for themselves. When I woke up and went for my honey bun my bag was gone. No scattered remnants on the ground or damage to my cord lead me to believe that it wasn’t an animal that got to it, but someone who drove up to the tower in the middle of the night. Either way, the result was the same: I had no food nor any materials to cook it even if I did. My only option was to hike back to Hot Springs to resupply and get new gear.
It was my luck that the stretch was mainly downhill, even thought it will be mainly uphill tomorrow. I passed many familiar faces, all confused on why I was coming from the opposite direction. 
Eventually after a repeat of the terrain I’d seen the day before I made it back to Hot Springs. The first thing I did was went to check out this place I had seen my first time in town that had a sign welcoming hikers in. I’m glad I did because this place was awesome, it’s basically just a lounge for hikers to hang out in complete with a kitchen, sofas, a bathroom, wifi, computers, and most importantly, free cookies. After getting my bearings, I went across the street to the outfitter to replace my cooking gear. Even though it was an unneeded expense, I actually ended up with some nice stuff that might even weigh less than what I had before. After resupplying at Dollar General, I got a 12 inch pizza for six bucks at a place called the Hillbilly Market. Not a bad deal if I may say so myself. 
After spending the rest of the day at the lounge with some of my friends who were behind me, I headed to the outskirts of town where the AT parallels the French Broad River. I’ve set up camp here for the night right on the riverbank, have a hot fire going and the sun is setting right before my eyes. The rest of the group I’ve been hiking with has moved on north while I went south, and while I’m sure I’ll catch up to them in a few days, it’s honestly nice to be alone for a change. Solitude is one of the things I feel is essential to truly experiencing what a long distance hike has the potential to give you and also one of the main reasons I chose to do this. Young Blood flying solo for now.
April 2 – It was so warm this morning when I woke up this morning, it’s crazy how much of a difference elevation makes in the temperature. The warmth helped in making packing up a quick process and by 8:30 I had hit the trail. The first eight miles of my day was a third rerun of the grueling uphill stretch from Hot Springs to the Rich Mountain Fire Tower. I was glad to knock this section out so I could start seeing new terrain and progressing further north. 
A roller coaster of mountains lined the way to the first shelter out of town. Here I met a guy named Ill Bill, who was just heading out after a break. I sat down and started getting my lunch together when another unfamiliar face showed up. I later found out his name was werewolf and that he had packed out beef tips from town. It was my luck that he was willing to share. We hung out for a bit and then each headed further down the trail. It’s awesome that there are so many people both behind me and ahead of me that I’ve still yet to meet, every person on the trail has their own special characteristic that really make the AT what it is. I’m sure a lot of people picture hiking from Georgia to Maine as an extremely solitary experience, but that’s hardly the case. 
After 3 miles of steep ups and downs, I came to a road with a sign informing hikers about a country store a short ways away. Of course I headed there in hopes of a hot meal after a long stretch. When I got there, I was greeted with a sign for “Moms”. This was the sketchiest store I’ve ever seen, it looked like a boarded up shack from outside. There was a cardboard sign on the door informing me that they were open, so I dropped my pack and gave it a shot. This place was amazing! It was literally this lady’s house, the store was set up right in the living room. I got a cold drink and a hot pocket and sat on the couch to hang out with mom for a bit. It was the perfect place to procrastinate before my last ascent of the day. I’m now here at little laurel shelter, 19.5 miles north of Hot Springs. Ill Bill is outside tenting, but otherwise I have the whole shelter to myself. It’s been a great day and it feels really good to be on no ones schedule but my own. There may have been a minor setback, but life on the trail is just as good as ever.
March 3rd – Another warm morning brings me hope that spring is finally starting to inch its way to the Appalachians. I packed up while talking to Ill Bill and another couple of section hikers that were staying at the shelter, but once I left I didn’t see a single person all day. It’s weird because I know that there’s a lot of people in front of me and a lot of people behind me, but I’m caught right in the middle of two bubbles. Right off the bat I was faced with a steep climb up to White Rock Cliffs. It was great to have a view that I hadn’t already seen for the first time in three days, and from here on it only got better. My guidebook describes the NC/TN border as a “boreal forest” but when I look at it all I think of is a jungle. Ferns line the trail and thickets of rhododendron grow in every which way, some even sideways along the face of the mountains. I really feel like monkeys would love to live in this area. As I walked on the trail became increasingly rocky and eventually a full on rock scramble. It reminded me of Albert Mountain, only this time I actually found climbing the gigantic boulders fun instead of grueling. Sections of the trail became nothing but sheer cliffs followed by more climbing until I reached the most exposed ridgeline on the AT so far. For at least a mile I walked above the trees with views in every direction, occasionally dipping down steeply only to climb right back up into the open air. After making my way through the maze of boulders, I arrived at Jerry Spring Shelter, mile number 300. 165 to go to Virginia.
Each shelter has a logbook for hikers to write down their progress, plans, messages, or anything they feel the need to share with the world. Jerry Springs book informed me that most of my friends had slept here the night before, so I put on my shoes and got back to catching up. The mountain after the shelter was named “Big Butt”, and it was a nice surprise to see the top was yet another huge grassy meadow. It’s always nice to break free from the cover of the trees and be out in the open for a while. After a big descent, I made it to Flint Mountain Shelter. Ill Bill was already set up for the night but after seeing Mongoose’s entry in the log book that he was going to be staying at the shelter 8 miles north, I decided to push on a little further in hopes of catching up tomorrow. I’ve set up camp right next to a good ole fashion country home and spent the night playing with 5 dogs that came over from the house. Rain is coming down now, hoping it stops by morning. 
April 4 – Had my first experience with thunder and lightning on the trail last night. It was honestly a bit nerve wracking after an incident several weeks ago where a man just starting his thru hike was killed by a fallen tree. Luckily I woke up unharmed and the rain had even stopped. Dark clouds still threatened a dry day, but after about an hour of hiking the sun broke through and the sky once again became clear. 
After about 7 miles I stopped in for a break at Hogback Ridge Shelter. When I read through the logbook, I quickly cancelled this break due to promises of trail magic 2 miles ahead at Sam’s gap. When I got there, there was no sign of magic, but I finally caught up to goosebumps and lemon, two other hikers who were in my original bubble. After hardly seeing anyone the past few days, it was a good surprise and now I know I’m hot on the trail of everyone else.
After a break, I headed on unsatisfied after missing the trail magic, but after about half a mile some section hikers came down the trail with news of chili and cornbread at the next gap. Not wanting to miss out again, I hiked at my fastest pace for the next mile. There I found Still Bill and Karoake, as well as a pot full of chili and cornbread as promised. There was also plenty of beer that Still Bill had apparently already helped himself to, and we all had a good laugh watching him hike in a not so straight line down the trail. 
Once I was thoroughly stuffed, I headed on towards what would be the high point of the day: Big Bald. Similar to Max Patch, this is one of the larger balds on the trail so far. From the top I could see Erwin, TN in the distance, as well as the vast stretch of mountains I had just crossed since Hot Springs. For at least a mile I walked upon this grassy bald with views in every direction until I eventually returned to the cover of the trees. There was a shelter two miles after the bald but I decided to push on to whistling gap. I’m camped out here for tonight with Karaoke, Still Bill, and three other section hikers. I may have fallen behind a little bit but getting to meet new people has made it every bit worth it. The camaraderie built by something as simple as a campfire is truly what makes the AT what it is. I’ll be in Erwin tomorrow, where I’ll hopefully catch up to even more of my friends and then onwards to the Roan Highlands!
April 5 – Threw up all night and felt sick as a dog this morning. Thinking I’m dehydrated. Hiked two miles to Spivey Gap and hitched into Erwin, TN. Got a room at best southern and am holing up here for the next few days. Will be back on the trail Tuesday!
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