Posted by: pjbarr | April 20, 2010

Gravel Knob & Greene Ridge Knob

Start: Jerry Cabin Shelter
Finish: Flint Mountain Shelter
Distance: 5.9 mi.
Trip Distance: 304.1 mi.
Side Trips: Big Rocks, Gravel Knob, Green Ridge Knob
Side Trip Miles: 1.0 mi.
State: NC/TN
Highlights: Big Rocks, Cold Spring Mountain Balds, Shelton Graves

Today was one of those days where my hike is consumed with thoughts of a decision of how far to press onward. My heart was pleading to make this a short day while my mind was saying that less than 6 miles is a disrespectable total for an entire days work. But what I’ve learned thus far is that when I side with my heart on these decisions, I rarely have regrets, while if I ignore it and press on, the rest of my hike then becomes consumed with thoughts of second guessing and discontent with my decision. I may end up farther along the trail, but my enjoyment suffers for sure.


So I sided with my heart and as suspected, I have not been disappointed. My primary motivation for a short day today is that I am alarmingly behind on my journal writing – enough so that it has been weighing on my mind heavily during my hikes lately. It may appear to others who read these entries that I write them everyday routinely. While that is how it began, I have not been able to sustain this practice. I either hike too hard during the day leaving me utterly exhausted by day’s end or I relax on the weekends with Allison or am consumed with logistics of laundry, preparing three weeks food, or updating my online journal.

Nevertheless, journaling, both for myself and others, is one of my priorities on this hike, so today I decided to prioritize it. Plus, I need only too make it to Erwin by Thursday evening, which is still plenty doable with 18 and 16 mile hikes, easily in my ability. Then there is the bonus that it is raining today and should rain through the night. Stopping while dry and securing a shelter spot is extra incentive. The next several days of weather appear to be nice. I also would like to go over Big Bald with clearer skies, and I should now hit it tomorrow afternoon after the rain moves out tomorrow morning. Convinced yet? I am. Strange how it still remains a difficult decision nonetheless.

I got a classic, lazy 9 am start today. I very much enjoyed some balds and grassy fields straddling the ridge line on Cold Springs Mountain between Jerry Cabin and Big Butt. This section of trail, like Firescald Ridge yesterday, is new for me and I have enjoyed many of its highlights.

At Big Butt, the point where the state line turns due south on the wart-like protrusion of NC’s western border, a side trail led to its summit, Big Rocks. Sure enough, giant boulders make up its peak. There were decent views into Tennessee. This location was used as a fire lookout point during the early days of the national forest. A phone line was strung up here – this was pre-dating even the use of fire towers themselves.


Just beyond the trail intersected an old dirt road bed. Straight led to another bald on the ridge line. This is Ball Ground, a place I’d like to explore in the future. Its trail ascends here from the Tennessee side. The AT turned right and followed this old dirt road for several miles. I heard a few hikers complaining about this section. I on the other hand, really liked it. I am a fan of historical remnants of the original AT route, and I know that this old road has hosted the AT since the beginning. I once again could walk in the exact footsteps of Earl and Gene. I found the walking easy too, as the road followed the fairly level ridge.

I made a short and easy side trip of a 150 yards to the summit of Gravel Knob, the county high point of Greene County, TN. It is also the contender for the highest point in this particular massif, just a few feet high enough to eclipse the broader and more visually impressive Camp Creek Bald. The other contender for the high prominence point of the massif is Green Ridge Knob, my next side trip.


But first I passed the Shelton Graves. Here during the Civil War, David and William Shelton were returning home to a family rendezvous at a cabin on Cold Springs Mountain. Having enlisted with the Union, Confederate bushwhackers ambushed them and a younger boy serving as lookout. Buried in a single grave, three head stones mark the tragic location. When I arrived, a slight fog rolled in and a slight mist began, making the scene particularly eerie.


I next had my side trip to Green Ridge Knob. I found the forest pleasantly open for this bushwhack, but I also found a sign indicating the Green Ridge Trail and yellow blazes that led all the way to the top and continued beyond the summit. The trail, however, had no footbed or actual trail way, rather it was just blazes uphill through the woods. Though no different than a bushwhack, I found these blazes strangely reassuring. If anything, they helped to lead one directly back to my pack, which I stashed 50 yards up slope from the trail. I rarely return to the trail from my side trips directly at my pack, so this was convenient. Both summits of Gravel Knob and Green Ridge Knob were similar: open woods with a few small rocks and no good view. It did feel good to finally reach them, as they had been on my list for a while. I had been worried about the lengthy bushwhack to the later, so I was very lucky to find both open woods, and the components of a trail.

It had been lightly raining off and on, but I took a break at Flint Gap. I surprisingly got cell phone service, so I sent some text messages and called my Mom. We discussed this coming Friday when I will see them in Erwin. I’m so excited about both seeing them again and another day off. Perhaps I’m most excited that they now have become so enthusiastic about my thru-hike.

Flint Mountain Shelter is fairly nice. Here tonight is Kricket, whom I met at the F-4 plane crash in the Smokies, and another friendly guy Tree, whom I just met but like. Grapevine just rolled in, whom I stayed with at Tri-Corner Knob in the Smokies and again the night before last atop the Rich Mountain Lookout Tower. I’m definitely enjoying the relaxed afternoon.


Posted by: pjbarr | April 19, 2010

Bearable Climb

Start: Rich Mountain Lookout Tower
Finish: Jerry Cabin Shelter
Distance: 18.2 mi.
Trip Distance: 298.2 mi.
Side Trips: Spring Mountain, Camp Creek Bald
Side Trip Miles: 0.6 mi.
State: NC/TN
Highlights: Rich Mountain Lookout Tower, Sunrise, Camp Creek Bald Lookout Tower, Firescald Ridge, Seeing a Bear, White Rock Cliffs, Blackstack Cliffs

The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

I awoke just in time to see the sunrise from the Rich Mountain Lookout Tower, though clouds made it incomparable to sunrises at the likes of Albert Mountain and Wesser Bald Lookout Towers. How lucky am I to have seen so many awesome scenes of the sun where I can be judgmental of them.


Despite the early awaking, I didn’t get an early start, leaving after 9:00 am. I side tripped through open woods to the three possible summits of Spring Mountain, passing the old wooden CCC built shelter in-between. I had to acrobatically negotiate hand full’s of blow downs on the decent to Allen Gap.
I took a long lunch roadside at Allen Gap. I was dreading the nearly 2,500 foot climb up Camp Creek Bald. I looked down the road on the North Carolina side and saw the old store, now abandoned, where Earl Shafer resupplied in 1948. His climb up Camp Creek Bald was probably more difficult than mine with a more direct ridgeline trail.


My climb was dry and I ran out of water less than 2 miles up. Luckily, a cold front that blew in last night made the air quite cold, a welcome relief during my ascent. I finally reached a spring at the Little Laurel Shelter and got water. I downed a liter and gathered 2 more for the remainder of the climb. I also ran into Luna and Tix, whom I last saw at Shuckstack in the Smokies. At the tower two weeks ago, Tix graciously offered to help me with the manual labor when the tower restoration comes to fruition and work begins. He has had a long career as a carpenter and clearly is skilled at projects like what Shuckstack would involve. I haven’t forgotten his offer of help and delightfully, neither had he. “Luna and Tix” are a fun couple and it was good to see them again. They’re a gruff pair but always very enthusiastic and easy going.

The last leg of the climb up Camp Creek Bald was intense and caught me off guard. Wow was it steep. Certainly a remnant of the original AT route, so despite its strenuous character, I reveled in “the hard way”.


I made the short side trip to Camp Creek Bald. This may have been North Carolina’s first erected steel fire tower. Its original cement block that once supported its staircase still has the date 1929 engraved on its top. Earl Shafer spent the night in the tower cab in 1948 on his thru-hike. Of course that cab is long gone, removed sometime in the 1960’s or 1970’s in favor of a round cylinder shaped cab. The reason for this still escapes me and my research has left it undiscovered. Now the fire tower is perhaps the ugliest in all of Western North Carolina. Unfortunately its cab remains locked. Its inaccessibility to hikers is a sore point between the Forest Service and me. They have given a local Ham radio club a special use permit for the tower’s cab, yet refuse adamantly to give hikers a single access date to enjoy the view only once a year. The radio club, meanwhile, gets an exclusive clubhouse all for themselves, free of charge.

You can only climb about 15 feet above the ground to the first landing of stairs. This allows for a view only to the east – a fairly disappointing view considering it is a lookout tower. If I weren’t a fire tower nut, it wouldn’t have been worth the side trip. Like Rich Mountain, Shuckstack, Clingsman Dome, and Wesser Bald were once reached directly by the AT, so was Camp Creek Bald at one time. Now the summit has been obliterated by about a half dozen tall communication towers. This peak was once threatened by a ski resort in the 1970’s but the development failed and the USFS purchased the land. Despite being saved from development, this mountain remains a bit of an eye sore. I didn’t linger long. This will be the last fire tower that the trail reaches until perhaps Maryland. I will miss these historic and scenic mountain perches.


I did however, enjoy the views from both White Rock Cliffs and Blackstack Cliffs a few miles beyond. These viewpoints look into North Carolina and Tennessee, respectively. I ran into Brooklyn and Stretcher at these points, and I had been hop-scotching them all day. The remaining section of the trail all the way to Sam’s Gap would be new for me and I was eager to visit many points along the way.
The trail over Firescald Ridge was both impressive for its views and its construction. A lot of large rocks were moved and stacked at length to put the trail over this narrow, craggy ridge. The amount of work that this must have involved is mind boggling. I am thankful for this effort as the trail and its vistas to each side were spectacular. This section was also surprisingly strenuous – with so many stair cases assembled from rocks, there were a seemingly endless amount of high knees and giant step-up and downs. The profile map fooled me into thinking the hard work was over after the Camp Creek Bald climb, but this little section was by far the most challenging and technical of the day – especially at the end of a long hike from Rich Mountain.

I was dragging by the end of the next day so I put on my mp3 player to get me the final 2 miles to Jerry Cabin. I also listen to it on the climb up Camp Creek Bald. Today was only the second day with which I’ve hiked while listening to music; in the right circumstance it is endlessly motivating and encouraging.
I received another treat of my thru-hike late today about a half mile prior to reaching Jerry Cabin. As if a 10 day period followed by an 11 day period without rain wasn’t a treat enough, I was so lucky to see a bear. I’ve always gotten exceptionally excited whenever I see a bear, and this time was no exception.


This time was especially special, as this bear sighting was on my thru-hike, and the bear, a small cub, was down slope in my home state of North Carolina. I was quite disappointed to not see a bear in the Smokies – this was maybe my only real disappointment of the hike so far since I figured my opportunity to see a bear was essentially over until Shenandoah. This disappointment has been replaced with elation. I scared the small cub further down slope but he soon stopped and I had the chance to watch him for several minutes and even snapped a photo. And despite the distance between us you can see the black spot amongst the trees. What a great end to a highlight filled day on the trail.


Posted by: pjbarr | April 18, 2010

Towers of Madison County

Start: Hot Springs, NC
Finish: Rich Mountain Lookout Tower
Distance: 8.2 mi.
Trip Distance: 280.0 mi.
Side Trips: Duckett Top Tower, Lover’s Leap, Rich Mountain Tower
Side Trip Miles: 0.2 mi.
State: NC/TN
Highlights: Hot Springs, Duckett Lookout Tower, Lover Leap Rock, Mill Ridge, Rich Mt. Lookout Tower Sunset

I have yet to visit a fire tower on this hike that I have been deprived of its amazing panoramic vistas. Today I enjoyed the views from not just one lookout tower, but two. This makes the second time I have done this with Wayah and Wesser Balds being the first a few weeks back. Tomorrow I should start at Rich Mountain Lookout and also reach Camp Creek Bald Lookout mid-day.


This morning began with a trip to my favorite lookout tower in all of North Carolina with the exception of Shuckstack. However, this tower is actually more visually appealing in its structure than Shuckstack, and itself is sentimental to me for various reasons.

Tom was kind and patient enough to pick us up and all of our effects from our cabin above the farm and drives us up the two mile, rutted and steep road to the Duckett Top Lookout Tower. Though not on the trail, I was so excited to include this lookout as a destination during my adventure – and on a perfect clear day. For once I was actually opposed to hiking up to the tower; this weekend was focused on rest and especially the recuperation of my somewhat damaged feet that were recovering from a few blisters and rubbed raw areas. The hike up to Duckett Top is rocky, rutted, steep, and would be exceptionally hard on the feet – especially on the decent.

I asked Judy for the favor of a drive to the tower yesterday and I was thrilled that Tom agreed to take us. This was no small favor – the drive despite a short distance, is hard on every 4 WD vehicle and takes nearly an hour roundtrip for only a total of 4 miles. Yet another example of the kindness and welcoming that I’ve always so generously received at Briar Rose Farm. Allison and I thoroughly enjoyed Tom’s conversation and stories during the drive. They are so numerous and so off the wall hilarious that I won’t even repeat them here, but needless to say they made for an entertaining drive.

The Duckett Top Lookout Tower built by the CCC in 1936, is a 10 foot two story former live-in stone lookout "house". Its quaint design is highlighted by its picturesque setting atop a small grassy bald summit of a peak known as Rich Knob. The sky was as it was the day I visited here to take photos of it for the cover of my book: Carolina blue and without a cloud in the sky. I enjoyed taking identical photos on this visit, but now with the towers attractive face lift. The NCFS put a new roof on the tower nearly two years ago and my FFLA Chapter member Wes Greene painted the lookout's exterior last fall. He generously allowed me to help briefly after driving me to the top. The project was his completely but I was grateful he let me be involved since it was a structure so dear to me. The tower now looks sharp and the photos turned out amazing.


The views from it were especially rewarding – I could see the extent of the state divide ridge all the way from the Smokies to Camp Creek Bald and even beyond to Big Bald. Seeing summits so distant that I had recently stood atop – and gotten there by foot alone-was inspiring. MT. Guyot, Mt. Cammerer, Max Patch, and Bluff Mountain, I had all conquered in the previous days. They looked so massive and so imposing. I could see the lookout tower atop Rich Mountain, my evening destination for today. I love Duckett Top and it is a place in which I have difficulty leaving.

Allison and I departed for Hot Springs after parting from Tom and Judy. We are so endlessly grateful for their hospitality this weekend. We vowed to return following my hike to show them pictures and tell more stories of my adventure. I eagerly await a return to Briar Rose Farm.


In Hot Springs, I used the remainder of the morning and the early afternoon to use my laptop to update my on line journal, fix its many problems, and add photos. As with two weeks ago, it led to great frustration and stress. I told Allison I wished I would have hired someone to oversee the journal web site because it isn’t worth my frustration. I hope people enjoy it because it is an excessive amount of work that goes into it. I wish I could find someone skilled at both Word Press and CSS to help me with its problems that I have no time to correct for obvious reasons. At the least, I am very encouraged that my Shuckstack fundraiser has exceeded $900 to this point, so at least the effort of the web site is having a great positive effect on my tower campaign.

We had lunch at the Smoky Mountain Diner across from the Sunnybank Inn. This is my third visit in about as many days – I sure do like their food. We made a quick visit to the adjacent grocery store for last minute resupply items.


Allison and I bid farewell to each other on the steps of the Sunnybank Inn where they intersect the sidewalk that makes up the AT, which itself has AT emblems engraved in its cement. We hugged and kissed and then again after I saddled up my now heavy backpack. It’s always hard to leave her. I climb mountains all week and walk through pouring rain and baking sun, but the most difficult part of my hike is parting from her for another two weeks.

A sad moment was slightly uplifted when a familiar voice began mocking our farewell from down the sidewalk. I turned to see a familiar face, but one I hadn’t seen in sometime. It was Chef, whom I had last seen at Wallace Gap all the way back in the Nantahala’s. It was great to see again and to finally get to introduce him to Allison. Chef is an original 22’er and a member of the now scattered usual suspects. I was excited he had caught me and though I was leaving town now, he intended to leave tomorrow so he should be close behind. I hope to stay with him again soon – it has been too long and I miss his friendship.


My walk with full pack and hiking sticks through the main street of Hot Springs was special. I had been to this town several times prior, each time imagining my future self hiking down this sidewalk on a quest from Georgia to Maine. I get goose bumps that it is finally happening. When I visit this town in the future, I will now always remember me and the past, thru-hiking through town. I adore the quaint town of Hot Springs and I did not want to leave.

I crossed the French Broad River on the highway bridge, another neat walk. I hopped the rail and followed the trail downhill and began paralleling the river on its sandy banks. The trail soon turned up hill, steeply I might add, and I climbed several switchbacks to Lovers Leap Rock. Here a Native American legend tells of an Indian girl flinging herself from its cliffs in heartbreak after her lover was killed by a jealous man. This is a nice story, but as it turns out, there are dozens of “Lovers Leaps” around the country with the same Indian legend. I’m skeptical to say the least. Nevertheless, the view was splendid and overlooked the entire town of Hot Springs, the French Broad River, and the highway bridge. It was a scene worth turning into a painting. It was one I had seen in photos and had been eager to finally witness myself. It was worth the precarious scramble down to the cliff over crumbling rocks to enjoy that view of a setting that I now hold dear.


The rest of the climb up Lover’s Leap Ridge I actually spoke with Allison on the cell phone. I must be becoming a good hiker to walk steeply uphill and maintain active conversation without missing a step. This phone call helped ease my fresh absence from her. I cannot wait to see her again in Damascus.
Near Pump Gap I got a call from AWOL. I was elated to hear he was satisfied with the data that I sent him this weekend. I’m lucky to have the opportunity he has given me and I’m excited to continue to help him more as I continue to hike the trail.

I passed by a peculiar cement dam that formed a pond just before reaching Mill Ridge. At Mill Ridge the trail turned on to a dirt road and I followed it through a large, scenic grassy meadow. A sign indicated it was formerly used as a tobacco field and was now maintained for wildlife. I could see the Rich Mountain Lookout Tower to the west. It was still far off. Shortly thereafter, I lost the trail for the first time of the trip. The blazing north bound was shamefully poor as the trail apparently continued to follow the road before heading back into the woods to reach Tanyard Gap.

After crossing the highway on an overpass, I attacked the climb up Rich Mountain and I reached the summit in only an hour despite the 1000+ foot ascent. I made it with plenty of time for sunset, which itself paled in comparison to those I’ve seen in the past weeks thanks to low clouds on the horizon to the west. I enjoyed it nonetheless, and was excited to spend yet another night out in a fire tower. I also enjoyed the view looking down into Hot Springs. I can see Camp Creek Bald too, tomorrows big climb to another lookout tower. As the light fades, the lights of nearby Greenville, TN., in the valley below are glittering.


Neil Ross, trail name Hawk Feathers, who thru-hiked in 1973, is an older guy here who grew up in Hot Springs. I have enjoyed talking history with him and he is well read on western North Carolina and its past – perhaps as well as me. He has a scope that he let me view a close up of the moon where I could see individual craters and other surface terrain. This was very cool. In the morning he plans to use the scope to zoom in on the Mt. Cammerer Lookout Tower so that I can see it up close. I am particularly excited about this.

Hawk Feathers is camping down the ridge tonight, but I am sharing the tower cab with Brooklyn and Stretcher, two good guys about my age whom I just met, and Grapevine, whose company I particularly enjoy after having stayed with him at Tri-Corner Knob Shelter last week. He had a sprained ankle then and was fearing he might have to get off the trail for a while. I’m excited to see he has improved and is well enough to continue strong.

It’s getting pretty cold tonight and my tower top perch is a bit breezy. Time to bundle up and hit the hay. Good night from the Rich Mountain Lookout.


Posted by: pjbarr | April 17, 2010

Down on the Farm

Start: Briar Rose Farm
Finish: Briar Rose Farm
Distance: 0.0 mi.
Trip Distance: 271.8 mi.
Side Trips: None
Side Trip Miles: 0.0 mi.
State: NC
Highlights: Relaxation with Allison, Secluded Mountain View Cabin

“I did absolutely nothing, and it was everything I thought it could be.” – Peter Gibbons, Office Space

Today was wonderfully relaxing. We slept until nearly 2 pm despite going to bed slightly before midnight. Allison and I lounged around the cabin the remainder of the day and evening. In essence, we did nothing at all, except enjoy being together. And that’s all I wanted to do.


I did spend a good chunk of time compiling and organizing the GPS data I had collected for AWOL. I was quite proud at the comprehensiveness of all the data I had gathered both on GPS and notes. I hope that AWOL is satisfied with it and I pray that he is pleased with it enough to have me continue data collection throughout the whole hike. The idea of being able to self-support the expenses of my nearly 6 month thru-hiking endeavor is enticing and especially helpful if I am able to return home not completely broke as a result of my long adventure. Moreover, I truly believe AWOL’s guide book is the best AT Guide in existence, Yet I have found it alarmingly flawed and incomplete though not at fault of AWOL but rather old, antiquated data passed down through the years. I’m extremely excited to be able to aid in making it even better and modernize its content, even though it isn’t my book and my name isn’t on the cover. I’ll be very proud of the 2011 Edition, which may be the best AT Guide ever produced.

Allison and I walked down to the farmhouse and visited with Tom and Judy while we used their wireless internet to send and check e-mails. I was flattered that Judy had read so much of my web site and was so excited and interested in my thru-hike. She also let me use her scale to weigh myself – while I didn’t get an exact pre-hike weight prior to departing for my hike, I had a general idea from weighing during my pre-hike over eating phase. I got up to at least 175. I weighed in at 160 lbs. today. Wow! No wonder the adjustable belt on my shorts has gotten so long on its end.

I could write volumes about the kindness, hospitality, and sincerity of Tom and Judy at Briar Rose Farm. In my book, I wrote that they were two of the kindest people I have ever met. This is probably an understatement. Judy asked me about trail magic that I have encountered on my trip thus far which has been plentiful. But without question, I have received no greater trail magic than that I have received from Tom and Judy hosting us at Briar Rose Farm. I am so fortunate to have them as friends, and I can’t wait to return to visit these wonderful people and their farm. Thanks so much for the wonderful relaxing weekend Tom and Judy.


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.

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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.


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