Posted by: pjbarr | April 16, 2010

The Wash Tub

Start: Hot Springs, Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn
Finish: Briar Rose Farm
Distance: 0.0 mi.
Trip Distance: 271.8 mi.
Side Trips: Laundromat, Briar Rose Farm
Side Trip Miles: 0.5 mi.
State: NC
Highlights: Laundromat Fun, Seeing Allison, Briar Rose Farm

“You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.” – Colette, French Novelist

My experience at the Sunnybank Inn was greatly salvaged this morning and my judgment of Elmer Hall greatly improved at breakfast. Elmer cooked delicious filling pancakes with walnuts baked in, though the food wasn’t the reasoning behind my slight change of heart. While he seemed rather unimpressed and apathetic to my discussion with him yesterday regarding my book and my inclusion of his inn with in it, he apparently was interested after all. He seems to have a cryptic way of showing emotion and despite operating an esteemed hostel for literally over three decades; his social skills are awkward and have a repulsive effect.


At any rate, he chose to make my book and the topic of Fire Towers and their history and preservation the primary breakfast conversation, a meal attended by 10 plus hikers sitting around a dining table like a large family. Of course, this pleased and excited me greatly, as I’m always eager to talk about my passion, especially my current Shuckstack restoration campaign. But I was more excited to realize that Elmer had been listening and had taken great interest in both me as well as my interests. His mannerisms and grumpy dispositions would have overwhelmingly suggested otherwise yesterday.

As it turns out, Elmer was impressed with me and with my dedication to a project that helps the AT as well as my appreciation for trail history. While I felt awkward becoming the primary leader of the conversation among the many other hikers present, I gained the satisfaction that I desperately sought from my stay at the Sunnybank, having seemingly won Elmer’s approval.

Prior to breakfast, I explored the historic house for at least an hour, walking its rooms and several staircases. If these walls could talk, the hikers they have hosted and endless stories they have heard of their adventures – decade’s worth. I perused Elmer’s impressively extensive library which was composed of filled bookcases in nearly every room. I desperately hope to own a library of this mass and composition one day in my home. This has long been a dream of Allison and I. Elmer’s library is one worthily of our great admiration.


I found a secluded spot in a front dining room and journaled for a few hours. This time was peaceful and relaxing. I was so very excited to see Allison soon, who would be travelling to spend the weekend with me and arrive in the afternoon. I was ecstatic about the time we could spend together at the cabin this weekend. Two weeks had been a long time apart, equivalent to an eternity, and while I had been enjoying an experience of a lifetime through some of my favorite places, I missed her dearly.

Before her arrival, I decided to do laundry and walk down the main street through town to a small place named “The Wash Tub”. I walked in and was delighted to see Southern, whom as usual made it here late last night, having to finish hiking in the dark. I walk in and discover him sitting at a table drinking a beer with a dog at his feet on a leash tied to the table. Behind him is a sign that reads: “Absolutely No Alcohol”. “Absolutely” was underlined three times and “No” was bolded and capitalized. Immediately adjacent to that sign was another sign that read “No Dogs”. Southern doesn’t even own a dog, but there he is, alone and with a dog at his feet. It wasn’t a surprise at that point to see a sign that read “Door Must Remain Closed” next to a wide-open, propped door through which I entered. I hadn’t taken Southern for a trouble-maker in the least, which seemed to make this particular situation into which arrived seem startlingly comical. I mean this was just downright hilarious.

I gave him a look that conveyed the unspoken question of “seriously?” and his look in response let me know that he wasn’t quite sure how he came into the situation either, though he seemed at the least equally amused at his otherwise rebellious acts of utter defiance. As it turns out, Southern, one of the nicest, easiest going guys, that I have ever met on the trail thus far, had been here for an hour prior, innocently doing his laundry. Within a short period, a man walks in and ties his dog to the table at which Southern was sitting, hastily asks Southern to watch the dog for a short time, and leaves without returning. In a separate but similarly timed incident, Yul the Mule, a laid back country fellow thru-hiker I first met at the Albert Mountain Look-out Tower, walked in and offered Southern a free bottle of beer. Southern is too nice to refuse, and few hikers are going to pass up the offer of a free drink, so he accepted. And so began the desecration of the respect for the Laundromat’s rules, of which it only had a few and which were all being broken in dramatic unison.


While doing my own laundry, who else but the character of Yul the Mule walks back in, whose face always garnishes a smirk because you know he is up to some form of mischief, toting a 12 pack of beer. One thing leads to another and suddenly a few hours later and a second trip for another 12 pack, the three of us are nearly drunk in a Laundromat that forbids alcohol, before noon, in the small Appalachian town of Hot Springs, NC. I believe we decided right then that our life on the Appalachian Trail was about as good as it gets, having spent the day thus far living so dangerously and in violation of every hand-written rule on the wall. I would have never guessed in a million years that I would depart Hot Springs with the Laundromat as a highlight, but damned if that isn’t how it turned out. It was as good of a time as I have had with friends while on the trail yet. Oh, and the final sign on the wall read: “Do Not Leave Laundry Unattended”, which upon reading Southern made a brief run to the store himself to “hit for the cycle” in Laundromat rule breaking. Well done friend, all in a day’s work.

During our Laundromat turned saloon experience, Southern offered me a pair of thin Coolmax liner socks, free of charge. He overheard me asking Allison over the phone to pick up a pair at the REI in Asheville in route in meeting me. I’m quite excited about these new socks, as they were exactly the kind I desired. Thanks a ton, Southern – for the socks and the Laundromat memories.

A suspicious character later walked into the Laundromat that I quickly recognized as an obvious meth-addict and the situation declined as my worries grew. The guy was posing as a thru-hiker yet his stories always were a bit different every time he told them and his itinerary and time frames ever changing. Southern and Yul the Mule were too intoxicated to realize that our situation was becoming potentially dangerous, but I went and gathered my gear and kept it close. I knew he was going to attempt to steal something, as evident that he was carrying around gear still in packages that he was trying to sell to hikers for a low price. It seemed only obvious to me and no others that he had just stolen these items from the outfitter across the street and wanted quick drug money. No hikers have brand new gear that they leave in the package that they want to sell at half price.


Allison was nearly due, so I decided to remove myself from the situation. The fun at the Laundromat was over. I stumbled down to the Smoky Mountain Diner where Allison arrived shortly. We ate lunch which was both delicious and sobering. We walked across the street and I gave Allison a tour of the inside of Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn. I introduced her to Elmer and even gifted him a copy of my book which I signed and personalized for him. In typical character, he seemed cold, short, and unappreciative but I am hopeful that after what I learned of his crotchety, cryptic personality he may truly have been grateful. I may never know for sure and he may never pick it up and read it.

Allison and I drove the winding highway to Stoney Creek and the Briar Rose Farm where we would spend our week-end. In an incredible act of kindness, sincerity, and trail magic, our friends Tom and Judy Hare offered us one of their secluded rental cabins to stay for the week-end on their Briar Rose Farm. When we arrived, Judy showed us around the farm of which is bustling with several cows, goats, guinea hens, and chickens. It is truly a sight to see. Judy showed us their goats, many of which recently gave birth to baby goats which were quite cute as well as humorous. They each had enormous Easter Bunny like ears that they would need to grow into. I think they were born with ears at peak maturity yet miniature body, head, and appendages. It was interesting to watch how affectionate some of the goats were, similar to a dog or cat. One goat wished to snuggle Judy and was adamantly seeking petting. This I found very funny.

DSCN2647 DSCN2644

Judy showed us to our cabin, a small but so cozy and quaint house sitting on a knob high above the farm. The cabin has a great mountain view and all of the amenities we need for a relaxing week-end together. It will be wonderful to rest my muscles and feet, but most wonderful to be with my wife again after such a long absence. Thanks Tom and Judy for hosting us. We are so excited to be here on the farm and in beautiful Madison County.



  1. I have enjoyed all of your posts, but this one had an especially great amount of human interest! It seems the experience of thru-hiking the A.T. is roughly 50-50 divided between the human experience and being out in nature.

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