Friday, July 27, 2012

Walking the AT: Hot Springs, NC

Date: October 30, 2011
Direction: SOBO, then NOBO
Distance: 0.7 miles out and back
Start (SOBO): Downtown Hot Springs by the French Broad bridge
End (SOBO): AT Crossing of NC 206

Not every walk I have taken on the AT has been as arduous or as long as the walk up Blood Mountain. In fact, once I had actually figured the distance I walked in Hot Springs, it was shorter than I remembered it. Honestly it wasn't long enough to keep in here, considering I threw out a walk along the AT at Newfound Gap that was almost as long. However, I decided to allow it because a) I can and b) it was my one and only walk through a trail town.

Other than maybe Fontana, the walk through Hot Springs was the flattest of my walks. There was a slight rise from the river to the crosswalk on the edge of town, but nothing too arduous. Of course, not too far past where I started and turned around you would be ascending rather quickly.

The most interesting part of the walk was the fact that the AT symbol was put into the sidewalk at regular intervals. I didn't stop at any of the store or restaurants, as I was in a hurry (I had to return to IL that night). However, it looked like it would be a nice town to visit. Despite walking through a town, I actually did see some wildlife, as a very fat groundhog ran for cover under the porch of one of the houses.

Although the Appalachian Trail spends most of its time in the wilds of the Appalachian Ridge line, it does travel through or near several towns. There are a few "trail towns" to the south, such as Franklin, NC and Hiawassee, GA, but these require either a shuttle or a hitch to reach. Hot Springs is the first town that you reach going NOBO that is actually on the trail. If you were to continue, you'd run into several other towns, such as Damascus, VA, Duncannon, PA, and Hanover, NH. Probably the most well known (to those who aren't Ivy Leaguers, at least) is Harper's Ferry, WV, which is home to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. I'll have more to say about this trail town in #7 of this series.

A town day is one of those tangible goals that send many a thru-hiker barreling down the trail. The thought of good, hot food, clean laundry, and perhaps even a warm bed is a major incentive to them. Walking back I could imagine how it must feel to them to finally have ended that decline into town, and see the beckoning signs of restaurants, stores, and a post office. Perhaps they'd just spend a few hours in town, recharging before making that climb back up, or maybe they'd take the rest of the day off, and tomorrow as well, giving themselves an actually zero day. For some, that zero day might even become a zero week, or even the end of their trip. Perhaps some day I'll be making that decision for a nero, a zero, or just a short stop. My first visit instead ended with me getting in my car and heading off on a long drive back to IL.

Next week: Another flat trip, this time over the highest dam east of the Rockies.

*I've driven through Damascus twice, as well as Erwin, TN once. Erwin technically isn't on the trail, but the extreme southern edge of town does brush up against the trail as it crosses a river.

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