Day 38 -April 14 2017- 3.2 miles -Deer Park Shelter to Hot Springs NC
We got on the trail a little earlier than usual. Hot Springs was only about a hour hike away and that meant town food.
Hot Springs was the first town on the AT that the trail went directly through. It was a really cool feeling to walk out of the backcountry and into town. It reminded me of something out of an old Western. Where tired, hungry, dirty travelers stop to rest a day or two before moving on.
The trail went down the main street of Hot Springs. After passing several houses we saw the Smoky Mountain Diner. It was time for our second breakfast. By the look of how many backpacks were on the front porch it looked like we would have company.
After eating breakfast with Zues, Wolfie, and many other hikers we split up to do various errands.
The first thing Stoat and I did was try to find a room in a hostel. We heard good things about Elmers Sunnybank Inn so we went over to check it out. We had trouble finding it because we knew where it was supposed to be, but all that was there was a very nice old house.
It took us a while to realize the nice old house really was the hostel. We tentatively walked up to the door and gave it a knock. An older man came to the door and asked what we needed. We said we were brothers thru hiking the AT and asked him if he had any rooms available. “Do you have reservations” he asked. We said we did not. He eyed us up for a minute and then checked a piece of paper he had off to the side. ” I should have a room , but they wont be available until after noon.” He took our names and we went off to tour the town.
We would soon find out that Hot Springs was the perfect trail town. It had a Dollar General, Convenience store, Diner, Outfitter, Bar, Restaurant, BBQ place, Laundry Mat, Ice cream place, Post office, Two hostels, and a spa (where the hot springs are) that gave discounts to thru hikers. All within a five minute walk of each other.
We went over to the outfitter to kill some time. They seemed to have a decent selection of gear for thru hikers. They also had free wifi. That was probably more important than anything. Hot Springs was in a cell phone dead area so there wasn’t any way for hikers to contact home. Right outside the outfitter were a few benches for people to sit on and use the wifi. There were a bunch of hikers there. Not only for the wifi but to converse with fellow thru hikers. We could learn more from each other than we ever could from looking at a cell phone.
While we were hanging out there a female hiker and her male hiking partner walked past. She was pretty, she was wearing short spandex shorts, and had tattoos on her legs. The scene was something right out of a movie. A pretty girl walks by and all the heads of the onlookers follow her. There were some muffled comments from the group we were in, but the comments were not what most people would expect. “Thats Hawaii. Shes hiked the PCT,” one hiker said. “I heard she runs xterra races,”said another. “I heard she does real big mileage,” said someone else. In other words she was one badass hiker.
We went over to the bar to have some lunch. It was filled with hikers. Some we had seen before and a lot we hadn’t.
After lunch we went back to the hostel to see if our rooms were ready. The older man greeted us again and told us his name was Elmer. He and his helper Matt ran the place. He gave us a tour of the house while giving a brief history of the place. I was stunned. We were staying in some sort of museum. The house was the oldest one in Hot Springs and it looked like Elmer had kept everything period correct. I asked if I could take pictures. Elmer chuckled a little a said, “Sure, we wont even charge you”.
Elmer was a very interesting man. At one time he taught religion at Duke university and was also the Chaplin there. He served in the peace core and had become interested in eastern religions around that time. He has hiked most of the AT and he bought the hostel in 1978. He was a vegetarian and offered legendary meals. Unfortunately due to timing we didn’t have ant of his cooking . I wish we got to talk with him more. He had personal friends over that night so he didn’t have the time.
Earl Shaffer, the first person to hike the AT, had stayed in the room next to ours in 1948. The hostel had a really nice vibe to it. It felt like one could spend a week there just reading, or writing, a book.
After getting settled we went across the street to the dollar general to resupply. Stoat had finished his shopping before me and went outside. When I went out of the store I saw him talking to a slightly disheveled guy in his 50s. He was saying ” I’m a retired cop but I look like I’m out here begging for change.” The guy was a thru hiker named Subway. He was from New York but he wasn’t called called Subway because he was from there. Every time me was in town he would pack out a sandwich from Subway. He was a real nice guy and we talked to him for a while.
When we got back we saw a woman in the next room organizing her food in a very neat and orderly fashion on the floor. We went to our room, placed our resupply food on the floor and went back out to go to the laundry mat. When we passed the doorway of the room next to ours the woman popped her head out. She asked in a German accent if we were going to the laundry mat. When we said we were, she asked us if we could throw some of her laundry that she forgot to wash, in with ours. We said yes and she handed us a plastic bag of clothes.
When we got to the laundry mat we changed into our rain pants and jacket. That proved to be a mistake. It was 80 degrees out and the laundry mat didn’t have air conditioning. Rain clothes are not breathable and we quickly began to swelter in them.
We began to throw our clothes in the washing machine. We started to put the German womans clothing into the wash until we got to a certain item. I held it up and said “Uh, how do you wash a bra?” Stoat didn’t know either so we just cold washed everything.
Soon Zeus joined us at the laundry mat and we sat there waiting for our clothes to be ready. Out the window we saw Tommy Two Time walk by. We talked for a little while. It looked like his schedule and ours didn’t match up so we probably weren’t going to see him again.
Stoat had to use the bathroom badly and made a beeline to the hostel. The rain clothes didn’t make matters any better.
I knocked on the German womans door. There wasn’t an answer so I left her clothes bag on the door knob. We didn’t get her name.
Stoat and I went out to eat at the other restaurant for dinner. When we got back Matt, the helper/handyman, was on the front porch. We got to talking and we wound up playing music together over a few beers. Matt and I switched between playing guitar and banjo while Stoat hung out. It was not a bad way to end the night.