The morning I left Davenport Gap Shelter and crossed the northern boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park it was somewhat foggy and lightly sprinkling. The shelter itself was somewhat intimidating as it was caged in, I assume due to bear activity.
I hiked with Perks, Chance, Rigga and Cory for about 4 miles. We crossed under the I-40 underpass and hiked to Standing Bear Hostel to scope it out.
Although I did not stay overnight, the few hours I spent at Standing Bear were wonderful! A fella named “Lumpy” gave us the grand tour. Standing Bear offers a resupply shop, a creek running through the middle of the property, a nice little lunch room area with a coffee maker, microwave, and sink. I love all of their decor, as well.
All of the staff members I encountered were extremely friendly and helpful. I even earned a shiny nickel from Lumpy. “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford was playing over the speakers, so I sang along. Lumpy said, “Okay, you know the song..but, I bet ya a shiny nickel you don’t know who sings it.” Obviously, he didn’t know just who he was betting against. Thanks for the nickel, Lumpy!
Although the cold PBR in the creek and classic country music were tempting me to stay, I received a text from Mountain Goat (who I hadn’t seen since Clingmans Dome) informing me of “EPIC TRAIL MAGIC” at Brown’s Gap. It was another 11 miles ahead, but I felt certain I could make it by dinner time. Chance, Perks and I fled the hostel heading up the mountain to try and make the trail magic. The terrain that day was rough. The bugs were annoying, the sun hot and my body exhausted. But, we pushed on. With about a mile to go, Perks and I smelled it. The aroma of savory steak. Perks and I literally RAN the last mile as if 30+ lbs on our backs was a helium filled balloon. We were the last two to line up for an amazing dinner!
Rat, Ox, Sourdough, Moose and their crew have been hosting this trail magic at Brown’s Gap for many years (20 or so, I believe). They pool together personal money and donations from hikers who have enjoyed and experienced their hospitality. That night after scarfing down a large dinner, I sat by a warm fire and enjoyed Rat’s pickin’ and singin’. I camped at the gap that night and was served breakfast and lunch the following day.
They even had a makeshift privy set up so we didn’t have to dig cat holes–talk about being fancy! I can’t wait to give back in the future. Thank you to the whole crew–to find out more about them check out www.RATtreks.com
It was difficult to leave, but after lunch I forced myself. I was hoping to catch a decent view from Max Patch, a summit that was at one time cleared for cattle and is maintained as a bald. After saying goodbye to the crowd at Brown Gap, I hiked up the hill. About 3.5 miles into my hike I reached Max Patch. Unfortunately, it was foggy, but a memorable experience nonetheless.
Eerily, visibility was not extensive and I struggled to see the marked white blazes. I was alone and creeped out just enough to give myself chill bumps. But, I loved every minute of it. I hiked a few more miles where I stopped for a break and waited for some of the folks I knew to catch up. Not far behind me was Rigga, Bodyglide, Mountain Goat and Chance. They all stopped to join me for a snack break. We had all planned to stay at Walnut Mountain Shelter (10.2 miles from Brown Gap) that night and head into Hot Springs, NC the following day. However, during our break we whined about being soggy and cold from the rain and half heartedly joked with one another about night hiking into Hot Springs. Finally, I said “Y’all better not joke around because I was kind of tempted to do that.” And that’s when the plan for the 13.1 mile night hike was formed.
We ate dinner at Walnut Mountain Shelter under the judging eyes of those staying there that night. They just kept shaking their heads indicating how crazy they thought we were. I was already soaked from the rain, and sitting still waiting for my dinner to boil made it worse. I finally decided to change into leggings and my long sleeved top to hopefully keep warm. As the sun was setting we said goodbye and the 5 of us began the second half of our 23.3 mile day. Considering that Rigga’s head lamp was broken and mine was way too dim, we had a pretty good system going. We walked in a boy-girl-boy line and the head lamp holders would sound out “root!…rock!…limb!” This continued until we finally reached Hot Springs at about 2am
Freezing, wet and hungry we all piled into Bodyglide’s car parked at the trailhead. Bodyglide had originally planned on being a section hiker from Springer Mountain, GA to Hot Springs, NC but has since converted to a thru-hiker. But thankfully, his car was waiting there for us. We drove to McDonald’s in a blurry stupor and ate a ridiculous amount of food. After having our fill of warm grease, we returned to the parking lot near the trail head. I slept in the front seat of Bodyglide’s car, Chance passed out in the backseat and the others set up their tents.
The next morning we headed to the “Cozy Cabin” Rigga’s mom, Cathy, had reserved for us for two nights. The house was meant to sleep 4-6, but hikers have a way of making a sardine can of any sleeping area.
The first night it slept ten and the following night eleven. It was at this cabin that we formed “The Fam.” This family is comprised of: Me, Rigga, Bodyglide, Mountain Goat, Chance, Rebel Yell, Camel, Perks, Right On, and How’s It.
Hot Springs is a quaint, little mountain town that is extremely hiker friendly. We thoroughly enjoyed spending two zero days there–especially after the 23.3 mile hike! We were able to make time for doing laundry, writing in our journals, talking about life at home vs. life on the AT, splashing in the creek, laying out, drinking coffee, sharing music, playing frisbee, icing joints, loving on our two day adopted dog ‘Shadow’, etc.
My favorite part of our visit was when we went to the hot springs and soaked. The spa was located by the river, so of course we all had to jump in because someone in the group threw out a dare. During our two days at the cabin, Miss Cathy cooked dinner for us, gave us ibuprofen and was an all around house Mom. I can’t thank her enough for all she provided to us. We love you Miss Cathy!
It’s interesting how each member of our ‘family’ is very different from the next, yet we all get along so well because every individual adds something special to the group. Though we don’t have much in common in what we have begun to call the ‘virtual world’, out here in our ‘real world’ on the AT we face the same struggles of weather, terrain, injuries, insects, etc. We help each other and encourage one another daily. It’s a very special bond and these folks have honestly begun to restore my faith in humanity. I’m not sure if we will continue to see each other all the way to Katahdin, but I’m thankful for the time we’ve spent together and the friendships we’ve formed. I feel that people so often float in and out of our lives and there is usually a significant reason for each interaction even if we don’t understand why at first. Make sure to take the time appreciate those around you and cherish the moments you have.
Here are some additional pictures I’ve captured lately during my hike:
Time to hit the trail again. Until next time–
Happy Trails 🙂