Some of you may recognize the above subject line as a lyric from the traditional folk number “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad.” It has seemed particularly suitable lately as I gradually move south away from colder weather. While I have seen some more snow and plenty of rain, yesterday I hiked in sunny 70 degrees with a t-shirt and shorts…glorious!
I’m updating today from the quaint public library in Hot Springs, North Carolina. Moving southward from Damascus and leaving Virginia, the Appalachian trail zigs and zags between Tennessee and North Carolina so much so that you don’t know which state you’re in much of the time. Hot Springs is at AT mile marker 1912, so I’ve walked another 400 miles since resuming my hike, with about 272 miles until I reach the southern terminus at Springer Mountain, Georgia. Within a few more days of hiking I will hit 2000 miles, the milestone I’ve most anticipated throughout my hike. I can feel myself starting to get emotional about the rapidly approaching end of my thru-hike. To say I’m going to miss carrying my life on my back and living by my wits in the woods doesn’t plumb the depths of what I’m feeling, but its a start.
Between Damascus (my last update) and now, the trail has gradually changed from the (relatively) smooth-graded, well-switched-back trail in Virginia to a steeper footpath with more climbing again. When I crossed Roan Mountain, TN a few days days back, I reached the highest elevation I’ve seen since New Hampshire. Within a day or two of leaving Hot Springs tomorrow I will enter the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, through which the trail runs for about 70-80 miles. I’ve been looking forward to this part of the trip the whole way, largely due to the great memories of it I have from travelling their with my folks as a kid. Weather-wise, I had a couple more days of snow hiking after Damascus, but most recently the temps are getting warmer. Two days ago I hiked through my worst thunderstorm of the trip and managed to soak both myself and some of the gear in my pack, despite multiple layers of waterproof protection. Sometimes the rain and mist just seem to find their way in.
One of the true highlights of my entire thru-hike was the two days I recently spent with my trail brother Hydro in Boone, NC. We hiked together on and off for months until I went home injured back in November. The photo below with his girlfriend Ellie was taken at Proper where Ann- the dear proprietor- bought us a wonderful dinner. At Hydro’s suggestion I had Appalachian comfort food: fried chicken, collared greens, mac’n cheese and biscuits. The previous night we saw the amazing ‘King of Mosey,’ Daniel Romano at the Boone Saloon on the last evening of his tour. My favorite lyric: “She’d rather be homeless, than stay at home with me.” Hydro’s friend Jesse owns Happy Mountain Foods, maker of the ‘Boone Barr’, a popular nutritional bar for hikers. Jesse set me up with as many as I could carry and I lived on them for days! This July I get to reunite with Hydro, Ellie, Jesse and his wife for the 50th anniversary Dead shows where we’re all sharing a hotel. More fun to come!
On the southern end of the AT, one noticeable contrast with the northern part of the hike is the amount and extent of ‘Trail Magic.’ In New England, for example, you’ll occasionally find a cooler in the woods with cold drinks or a bag of treats hanging in a tree, etc. But here in the south, some of the ‘Trail Angels’ follow the waves of Northbound hikers for weeks or more, setting up elaborate outdoor cooking facilities to welcome hikers in for full-blown meals with camp chairs, roaring fires and the occasional mason jar of moonshine! As the only Southbound hiker right now (and- I am fairly certain- the last remaining 2014 Sobo thru-hiker on the trail) I am given celebrity treatment in such situations as I’ve come 1900 miles compared to less than 300 that Nobos have under their belts. I’m not going to lie- it feels great. In my last update I commented how few people I had seen on the trail. That has now completely reversed- I’ve encountered 150-200 northbound hikers so far and the number grows by double digits daily. Yesterday on my descent into Hot Springs I met 30 or more people on the trail and according to most of them , the biggest Nobo ‘bubble’ of hikers is still south of here.
My ‘trail legs’ have gradually returned and I’m back to doing 20 mile days with (relative) ease. With all of the extra winter gear I’ve been carrying, my pack has been noticeably heavier than the first 1500 miles, so I’m looking forward to sending most of that cold weather stuff home today and getting back to a lighter weight pack!
Yesterday, about 6 miles north of Hot Springs I sat by a roadside for lunch when a truck pulled up and a camera man from a local TV station jumped out with camera, mic and chords and asked if he could interview me for a documentary he’s putting together on the trail. He had a twelve pack, so naturally I obliged. Well, that’s about all for now! Thanks again for tuning in and I will try to squeeze in at least one more update prior to reaching the end of the hike.
Hope you enjoy! Max.