(this post has a lot of images, it may be best if you view it here)
This weekend was full of so much win, I decided to just cram it all into a single post. It all started with leaving the the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Smokies were great (the second half anyways) but I was feeling tired after multiple 18+ mile days. I decided to spend Friday night at Standing Bear Farm hostel, right off the trail after you pass under I-40.
This place is like my dream home. A creek runs through the middle, and it has a shack for everything. A shack for eating, a shack for laundry (old school washboards), and a shack for internet. They even have shack full of food, drink, and small hiking supplies. You grab what you want whenever and tally it up on an envelope, then cash out when you leave. A frozen pizza ($10) was what exactly what I needed. Curtis, the owner(?), even drove us down to the gas station for a beer run.
I got a late start Saturday morning, but the trail was nice and smooth so I still went about 16 miles. I crested a cleared hill and saw a rocketship looking thing, with a great view of the mountain range behind me. It is an Air Traffic Control VOR station. Mom says these are how planes know their position, but GPS is quickly replacing the need for these stations.
Soon after that I got to the the highlight of my hike so far; Max Patch
Summit. This place is incredible. It's a huge grassy bald with a dramatic 360 degree view of the surrounding hills. There were a bunch of people on top. Picnics, kids paying tag, and it seemed that everyone
had their dog but me (Kooper would have loved it!). This picture doesn't capture it, hopefully I can upload my videos soon.
I thought to myself that it would be a great spot to watch the sunset, but I continued on about two miles to the Roaring Fork shelter. After cooking dinner and talking to a group of guys in a discipleship program (similar to YWAM I think) that has them living together for months in an wilderness environment (wish I could remember the name, started with an N), I settled down in my sleeping bag. Then suddenly two of the guys I had been hiking with through the Smokies came running into camp, saying there were cute girls on the hill... giving masssages! Everyone thought they were crazy, but I put on my warmer clothes and joined them since I wanted to see the sun set anyways. I ran to the top just as the sun was setting and it was indeed spectaclar.
Then began probably the best night ever on the AT. Sure enough, there were girls giving massages on the hill. They were students from a massage school in Asheville and had a big tent setup with a chair in it. They thought it would be fun to practice on thru-hikers, and they were right. We got cozy around their fire, when they offered us food! Cucumbers, peppers, homemade bread, hummus, Starbursts, sangria, and.... STEAK. We hung out with them for a couple hours until we left them in the now-freezing night temperature. (I lost my headlamp somehow during the night, so running back to the shelter was a little difficult).
When I woke up, the Starburst wrappers in my pocket were my only proof that the night wasn't just a dream. It was freezing in the morning so I stuffed my pack and quickly got moving. Another pleasant hike all the way into the first true trail town of Hot Springs, NC (the trail goes right down the main street).
I stayed the night in Elmer Hall's Sunnybank Inn. Built in 1875, this victorian house full of antique furniture and decorations is overflowing with character. Elmer, the owner since 1978, cooks vegetarian meals for his guests. After having an amazing delicious (and healthy) dinner, I immediately signed up for breakfast too. I would like to link to more info about Sunnybank, but Elmer apparently likes to keep things simple so it's difficult to find any info about it. Here is a good article though: Room at the Inn.
So that concludes my awesome weekend on the AT. I am currently sitting in the Hot Springs library, using their free wifi. This is my first "zero-day" where I do no hiking at all. My parents will be here in a few hours to return my dog Kooper (dogs are not allowed in the Smokies). Can't wait to see them! I think I hike better without Kooper, but hiking with him is a lot of fun even if it does complicate things.
Next weekend? I hope to be at Trail Days