Most thru-hikers attempting to cover the entire length of the Appalachian Trail become more efficient as the miles build. The nomadic lifestyle we have adopted has more rhythm and structure to it than an outsider would assume. Our visits into town (the few we’ve had thus far) seem to be where we struggle to keep ourselves on schedule. Between satisfying cravings, running errands, and tending to personal hygiene we need a strict schedule to get everything done and back to the trail in a timely fashion.
Knowing this, we planned accordingly before reaching our next town stop: Hot Springs, North Carolina. The official trail runs right through it’s downtown, the concrete sidewalk stamped with the AT symbol the whole way. I say the whole way but the truth is that the entire town runs only 0.7 mile long. On any given day it’s rare that a thru-hiker would just pass through town without stopping, likely unable to resist the ice cream shop and hiker friendly businesses. The weekend we planned on reaching Hot Springs happened to be Trailfest, the towns festival inspired by their close relationship with the AT, something we didn’t want to pass up. We called a week ahead and booked ourselves a room for two nights at the Hostel at Laughing Heart Lodge. Dog friendly, the right price, and a bonus was our welcoming hosts ‘Tigger’ & ‘Chuck Norris’ – former thru-hikers of course.
Thankful for our reservations, we got into town as the rain started to come down. We dropped our stuff and sorted our belongings for the laundromat – everything totaling one medium sized load. In the interest of staying on schedule, we ventured out in the rain to pick up resupply boxes and wash the clothes that were already smelling up our room.
The responsibility of having dogs along seemed to weigh heavier on us when wet. We were faced with signs everyone reading “No Dogs Allowed Inside” – apparently weren’t the first to consider bringing our pups into the unattended building while we waited for clean laundry. With other little options for shelter from the rain we settled for the benches under a less than sufficient awning at the laundromat. The frustration with the rain and our list of things to do was immediately forgotten when we laid eyes on the contents of our resupply boxes. For the first time what was inside was a surprise, and better yet, assembled by our Moms. Never has candy, goodies, hand written notes, and dog treats brought us so much joy! Jack & Lewis perked up at the scent of dehydrated chicken liver despite the persistent drizzle and the two of us devoured Tootsie Rolls like we’ve never had one before.
The remainder of the weekend was spent resting, recovering, and taking in all the Trailfest activities. It seems the entire town is a big bubble of trail magic, Trailfest intensifying the feeling of course. Brent was one of three hikers that ran the 5K race and actually tied with another hiker for 1st place! He spent the rest of the weekend being congratulated wherever we went, and I teased that he was probably Mayor of Hot Springs and he didn’t even know it. We celebrated with ice cream, attended a potluck dinner at our hostel, and exchanged stories from the trail with fellow hikers. The town remained filled with hikers through the weekend and was obviously well stocked with residents who shared the same appreciation for what we’re all out there pursuing.
We were back on the AT by mid-day on Sunday, after cashing in Brent’s winnings (a $15 gift certificate) at the local mini dinner located in a convenience store. It tasted more amazing than most of those reading could possibly imagine. The hike felt good and a true sense of accomplishment set in as we distanced ourselves from the town of Hot Springs we had heard so much about. It is one of those towns that define the trail, a Trail Town in the truest sense, and they are lucky to catch thru-hikers a couple miles in while they’re still optimistic and eager.