Inn Reunion and the AT Burger

March 19, 2018

Destination: Hot Springs Today's Miles: 13.10

Start Location: Walnut Mountain Shelter Trip Miles: 274.50


The AT Burger at the Tavern in Hot Springs
I woke up to my alarm, which is unusual out here. I had set it to vibrate me awake early so that I could get into Hot Springs by lunch time.

Then I could get some food and make sure I had enough time to resupply, do laundry, and those types of errands. It was hard to get up, but I did. I ran down to get my food bag off the bear cables, then sat in my tent and organized my gear and ate some pop tarts. It was still dark. I started to hear the pitter patter of rain, but as I broke down my tent it faded. When I went to get my food bag, I saw a couple I had met briefly that evening heading out of camp around 6:15. The night before the guy had told me there were no rooms in Hot Springs and that I should call ahead if I wanted something. It seemed odd to me as it was Monday, and at the same time hilarious. Call ahead - I have AT&T silly! I hardly ever have service on the trail! He said his wife had Verizon. It didn’t matter. I was sure I could find a bunk somewhere. The trail would provide! If i got the chance I would ring a couple of the hostels from my guidebook a few miles out from town so I could figure out where to stay and cruise right there. I headed out of camp with the aid of my headlamp as the sun was not yet up. 


The hiking early in the morning was very peaceful. The few raindrops I had felt at camp never returned. The blister I had wrapped a few days ago on my left toe was bothering me and occasionally the skin over my hip bones would burn a little from chafing. I used to have some nice puffy love handles in between my hip bones and my pack hip belt, but those cushions are gone now! I finally pulled over to check out the hot spot on my foot. I found a nice log to sit on and peeled off my socks. The blister itself hadn’t reformed. It looked like the new skin underneath the old dead skin was just tender. I re-wrapped it with leuko tape and moleskin. As I stood up to move on, I heard a “hello!” It was a small young man who looked a little like Richard Simmons with a big head of curls. It looked like he had been doing some ultralight trail running. He said he had been in Max Patch the day before. I told him I had just finished doctoring my foot and was continuing north. He was very nice and asked if I needed any tape or chafe cream. I would later find out from others that he carries everything he needs for a few days in his tiny backpack. Including some kind of tarp that he sleeps under. This pack was tiny, like Hello Kitty tiny! It was probably the size of my food bag.... 


The weather warmed up and the sun came out. I was hiking in my shorts and t shirt again and it felt great. When I was a mile out of Hot Springs, I randomly checked my phone and I had a signal! I decided to call the hostel I was most interested in - Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn. A guy named Matt answered the phone and said they did have rooms. In fact, they had a single room for only $25! I reserved it. The facilities were all shared, but I was used to that. Being able to sleep in peace and quiet though would be awesome! I couldn’t wait to get into Hot Springs to eat! To make sure I was only mostly ravenous, and not completely ravenous when I hit town, I quickly downed a tuna pack for a quick mercury injection. Wouldn’t want to have too many marbles after all!


The walk into Hot Springs was my first walk into a town on the AT. There really aren’t that many places where the trail passes through a town. The AT dropped out of the woods and onto a sidewalk that had unique AT markers in the pavement itself. I walked on. Sunnybank was right across the street from the Smokey Mountain Diner, which is an awesome place to get breakfast (my wife and I went to Hot Springs in the fall). 


I got to the diner, but i didn’t see a sign and the houses across the street just seemed like normal houses, so I walked on. I kept walking and knew I must’ve missed it, but then I saw the welcome center and decided to stop in and ask. A nice gentleman there told me I had indeed passed Sunnybank, and that it was “right down there on the corner.” Ok. I can do that. I walked back and it still just looked like a house. I checked my guide and l, sure enough, that was it. I guess I expected some kind of sign. Feeling a little sheepish, I walked up to the driveway side porch and there was a sign telling hikers to leave boots and trekking poles outside. I set down my pack and poles, kicked off my boots and walked in. I was in a kitchen.  There was an older man sitting at the counter reading a paper. I said hello. He kind of just stared at me, so I asked if there was someone who worked there as I was there to check in for the night. He started talking and I realized this was Elmer. He definitely had an odd flair to him. He showed me up to my room and gave me a sheet with some rules on it and a history of the house. I asked about laundry and he said there was a coin laundry down the street, and also told me where the best ATM was (it’s the one inside Bluff Mountain Outfitters as it only charges a $2 transaction fee instead of the $3 the others charge). We also passed by the house dog, whose name was Jimmy Carter (he prefers just Carter), and the house cat Pearl, who loves to play and cuddle. Awesome!! Hungry Cat would have some fur friends tonight!


I needed a shower but it was already 1:30, so instead I packed up my laundry and decided to go to the tavern restaurant in town and then hit the laundry a few doors down after. On the way out A guy who looked to be in his early 30s said hello. It turned out to be Matt, the guy who had taken my phone reservation. I asked him if the laundry had soap or if I needed to get that at the Dollar General across the street. He said they do have soap, BUT they don’t open for a few more weeks. Hmmmmm.... I wondered why Elmer didn’t volunteer this information. Matt said I could do my laundry there for 5 bucks. Even better! I told him I would do that when I came back.


I walked into the tavern and, since the weather was nice and I hadn’t showered, I headed to the outdoor seating area. As soon as I entered, I heard “Hungry Cat!” Skates and Weston (now “Clothesline” because he hangs one every day no matter where they camp), the two guys from Mt. Pleasant, were there eating with Candyman, Fifty, and two other girls. They were all showered and some were wearing  loaner clothes from another hostel while their own got clean. Candyman was particularly enamored with the 80s style high waisted jorts he had borrowed, and had his t-shirt tucked into them. I sat down with them, happy to have company for the meal. I ordered a root beer, and then I found out that Skates had ordered something called the “AT Burger.” It was apparently a thing, but not on the menu. I instantly liked the surprise aspect of it, so I ordered one too with tater tots. I also ordered a side salad. We talked about this and that and how we all made it through the smokies. I ate my side salad as we chatted. When the AT Burger came out, my eyes almost popped out of my head! It was a massive triple cheeseburger with other various toppings, served with. Knife sticking out of it straight down the middle. It all made sense somehow. I have never in my life eaten that ridiculously large of a burger, but I ate the whole thing and the tots too. Skates took part of his home. That’s why they call me Hungry Cat! I found out that Skates and Clothesline were also staying at Sunnybank. I also learned that Candyman and Fifty were actually a couple now. They met on the trail at Springer Mountain. Ah, young love - to stink so much and be so gross and still be able to bloom....

After lunch I went across the street to Bluff Mountain outfitters. They had a really great setup with some convenient resupply items. I picked up a bunch of stuff I needed. There was an ice cream store down the street and I really wanted ice cream, but I just couldn’t do it. I was bursting at the seams from that AT burger.    I walked back to the inn to do laundry instead. 


When I walked back inside the inn I saw Eddie Man. Apparently he had hiked out of Hot Springs yesterday, pulled a quad muscle and had to hike back into town to rest for a few days. I felt bad for him. He really does have a killer pace! I finally took a shower and got all my laundry clean. The shower felt so good!! I even used conditioner in my hair. I smelled so fresh and so clean, but still didn’t have an appetite because of the AT burger. I decided to skip dinner. Later in the evening I petted Pearl outside and saw that Postcard was at the inn as well. I chatted with her for a few minutes. She’s from Pennsylvania. I walked inside and saw Cole and his friend. It’s a small trail after all! 


I went upstairs to organize my resupply. Based on a comment Beaker made in my guest book, I decided to pass through Erwin and resupply in about 6 days at Greasy Gap via the Harbour Mountain B&B. I will go to Erwin another time when I paddle the Nolichucky (I have paddled this river once before and usually the guys at Uncle Johnny’s hostel will run shuttle). Greasy Gap would be a new adventure, and I can’t miss what another thru hiker claims is the best breakfast on the AT at the B&B! I finished organizing my food and went to the hallway bathroom. I turned on the light to find Pearl sitting on the sink playing with the dripping faucet. She then followed me back to my room and sat with me for a while. After she left, I went to bed, listening to rain and gusty wind outside. There was much talk about the weather that day. It seemed it would be rainy tomorrow and then there was a chance of snow up to an inch. That’s what ATweather.org said. I would soon find myself wishing that forecast was actually accurate. 


Hot Springs was a ton of fun and I’m grateful not only that I had a room where I could sleep well, but that the inn brought me in touch with new and old faces. I was grateful to have some fur friends as well! I wonder if Pearl likes to hike....


Postscripts: 

#1 - Beaker, thanks for the recommendations! I’m pretty excited for that breakfast! Also, at Standing Bear I actually checked expiry dates before I bought. I sized up the pantry and prices and figured they probably got a lot of that stuff for free, or close to it. A lot of stuff was expired, but I made sure the stuff that really mattered (eg my ibuprofen) was ok. It’s funny that you commented on that though as I’ll bet tons of hikers have that revelation. 


#2 - I’m late with this one, but Ron, yes I know LRC and have paddled both the chairlift and “upper two” sections. Upper two is my favorite section of LRC. I haven’t tried the suicide section yet because I not ready to die. I have also paddled South Sauty. Eastern Alabama has some great whitewater!


#3 - Sunnybank Inn was really interesting. You can eat meals there too, cooked with organic veggies all grown on site. Elmer is a vegetarian so the meals are vegetarian. It’s also the oldest house in town dating back pre civil war. Elmer has a large and unique book collection. I’d really like to go back for a weekend with Gillian and enjoy the Inn a bit more. And this time get ice cream!


#4 - Sometimes I misspell things for funny reasons. It was pointed out to me that I misspelled coup d’tat. I spelled it Ku de tat, which is actually the name of a bar I went to in Bali north of Kuta. They had great earl grey infused martinis, as I remember. Anyway, it’s weird that spelling stuck in my head. I once lost a spelling bee as a kid by spelling the word “check” as “chek,” thanks to Chek Cola. My brain....

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