18.0 miles, 273.9 overall (Mountain Magnolia Inn, Hot Springs)
I am the third person awake in camp in the morning. Two section hikers are awake before I am. However I pack and eat breakfast much faster than they do. One of them even takes the time to toast his bread, a luxury I haven’t seen any thru-hikers partake in. He also has a dog, which makes me feel better after having heard a growl when walking by his tent after going to the privy last night. The dog is quite friendly though now that I am not just a foreign pair of footsteps to her.
I leave camp at 7:45 but I need water so I stop just north of the shelter to fill up for the day. I am only taking 1 liter in my Camelbak now instead of 2.5 since I’ve realized I don’t tend to need it all and I get many chances to fill up during the day if I do. I am on the trail by 8:00. A couple miles down I run into the Georgia boys who are camped with Bob from Maine. They never saw Trophy Wife yesterday and assume she is on her way into town. I promise to tell her to slow down if I see her.
The day’s hike is rather quiet. I have 18 miles to go to get to Hot Springs but much of it is downhill. I pass some new hikers I haven’t met yet, but they all seem to be going slower than I am so I don’t spend too long talking to them, knowing I probably won’t see them after Hot Springs. By 3:30 I am walking into town.
Hot Springs is the first real trail town on the AT. The trail actually runs straight down their “Main St”. On the sidewalks the trail is marked by full AT symbols instead of the typical white blazes. As I enter town a man invites me to stay at a new hostel that has opened up right next to the trail as it enters town. I politely decline, hoping I can still get a space at the infamous hostel Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn. I proceed into town and find the desired hostel pretty quickly, but just as quickly I find a sign letting me know it is full for the night. Not ready to try out a hostel I haven’t heard anything about, I go to town to try choice #2.
My second choice is a hotel called the Iron Horse Station. It offers a hiker rate, but with it being late on a Friday they no longer have that rate available and regular rooms are expensive. Strike two.
I resort to calling places in the AWOL guide. One happens to be a bed and breakfast called the Mountain Magnolia Inn. When I call the lady says she has rooms available and suggests I come by. It is a short walk so I hike over the 2 blocks. I set my pack down but, having not showered in 2 days and having not done real laundry (I don’t count Standing Bear’s washboard as real laundry) in a week I feel dirty walking in. I meet the owner and she tells me about the rooms that are available. They cost more than I’d like to spend, but at this point I am starting to worry about having a place to get clean and sleep in a bed tonight. I also like the idea of not having to stay in a hostel, especially since in the last one a drunk hiker almost peed inside the bunkhouse. I go ahead and take the room.
I don’t hear from UV and Ninja until they arrive around 6:30, having walked an extra 2 miles and probably starting later than I did. They took the new hostel and I ask them to report on it to me tomorrow. We head to dinner, all showered but still in dirty clothes since the laundromat is about to close. On the way we see Trophy Wife and Bob reunited at last. We sit outside at the tavern and order some burgers. I immediately like the waitress when she tells us corny jokes: What do you call a nosey pepper? Jalapeño business!
Ninja wants dessert but this restaurant doesn’t have any. The waitress tells him about the convenience store down the street and that it is about to close. He runs down there while we stay behind, but is back soon with no ice cream because the convenience store doesn’t carry it. The waitress offers to buy us some that night and bring it the next day. At first we think she is joking, but she really is that cool. Ninja tells her the flavor he wants and she says to come back for lunch shift tomorrow when she is working.
After dinner I part ways with UV and Ninja and head back to the B&B. It is quiet and my room smells nice, a pleasant change from the hostel. I take advantage of the personal room and shower to take a second shower before bed. Tonight I should sleep very well on my night off of the Appalachian Trail!