I met Tim at Walnut Mountain Shelter the night before I arrived at Hot Springs, N.C. He was out on a lengthy day hike and paused for a smoke and a drink. Tim thru hiked the AT a few years ago and tries to get back on the trail whenever he can. He invited me to join him for a beer at the tavern in Hot Springs when I arrived the next day.
The next day was a nightmarish 6 hour walk in torrential rain. The trail turned into a river or a lake, depending upon the topography. Dramatically, the rain ended and the sun came out just as I arrived in town.
Hot Springs is the first town I have encountered which is located directly on the AT. All previous reprovisioning stops required a side trip from the trail. The AT runs right down the main street of Hot Springs, with markers set into the sidewalk. The lamp standards have banners announcing that the town is an AT community.
At the tavern, where I had a cider and a burger with Tim, I learned that most of the town's population had moved there from elsewhere, many to be on the AT. Indeed, most of the people I met in the bar had walked the AT or hoped to do so.
After first dinner with Tim I went up the street to have the daily special, a chicken and dumplings spread, at the local diner. I love those places, not just for the cheap and filling home cooking, but also for the sense of community. They really are like the small town diners portrayed in movies, where everyone knows and greets each other.
Perhaps it was the double dinner, but since I left Hot Springs I have felt much stronger. Despite carrying a heavier pack full of food picked up in town, I have walked 17 and 20 miles, my longest days. Because I bought too much food I am eating more during the day. This may be a better strategy.
In recent days the fall colours have been the best of the trip, with hillsides a balanced mix of green, yellow, orange and red. I had never experienced an eastern fall, but it is like pictures I have seen of Ontario in October.
The temperature has dropped significantly in recent days, with hard frosts at night in the hills, and daytime highs that only make it to about 8 degrees C. Fortunately, there have been hostels available the past two nights and I have enjoyed dingy but warm comfort.
I must add one anecdote illustrative of thru hiker hygiene. I am sharing this small hostel with a young SOBO thru hiker couple. The hostel is equipped with a modern shower enclosure. Spying it, I asked "How's the shower?" The young fellow replied "I don't know. We're going to be in Hot Springs in two days and we thought we would shower there." It puts me in mind of a ditty my Dad used to sing: "I've heard it said and believe it's true, too much bathin' 'll weaken you."