All our gear was soaked so we had planned to leave at 5 am to head to another shelter where we originally planned to dry all our gear out in the sun. We were shivering our butts off, but it was still warmer hiking than sitting still. We stopped at people’s campfires along the way and were a bit bummed out that when we reached the top of Max Patch, a place known for its 360 degree views, that it was too foggy to see anything. It felt like we were on another planet.
When we got to the bottom of Max Patch, we were thrilled to meet a group of previous AT thru hikers (and a herd of dogs) who were giving trail magic which consisted of booze, French-pressed coffee, breakfast casseroles, fruit, various snacks, and more! For once we skipped out on the booze since we had plans to cover some miles, but were more than happy to grub on the casserole by their fire and love on their pups.
We hiked about 15 miles to Deer Park Mountain Shelter where we took a 3-hour long break, contemplating staying put or hauling ass to Hot Springs which was about another 15 miles away (beer and hot food was our motivation)! Our buddy Hollywood caught up with us and we “forced” him to tag along with us on the journey to Hot Springs (by “forced”, I mean we just told him to join us and he said okay).
Long story short, we made it into Hot Springs as it was getting dark and arrived right before the tavern closed so we got our liquid gold reward (for free because strangers can be kind)! There were wildfires in the area so a few of the businesses in Hot Springs allowed hikers to sleep behind their buildings given the fact that all the hostels and inns were filled up.
Like Franklin, Hot Springs is another town to easily get sucked into (especially while stumbling upon a dumpster-full of expired, but still drinkable beer)!
We stayed there 3 nights, and during the second 2, another hiker named Bug Juice gave us his spot at the cabin he booked, but no longer wanted (he decided to hike around the fire rather than wait it out).
During our stay there, we drank a lot of beer, ate sardines, rescued a biker from a heart attack (which he learned at the hospital was just a panic attack), we went to the news conference regarding the wildfire, spent a lot of time indulging at the tavern, and I ordered a new and lightweight bag at the outfitters.
Given the wildfire wasn’t slowing down anytime soon, we decided to go around the fire and make up the mileage later. Miss Janet dropped us off at Allen Gap (after a maniac truck driver hauling a boat almost drove us off the road), and we hiked on towards Whiterock Cliff where we stealth camped for the night.
We hit our 300-mile mark before calling it a night at Flint Mountain Shelter, then the next day we snacked on breakfast sandwiches at the new Hiker Paradise hostel in Flag Pond, Tennessee, and took in some more nice views at Big Bald before crashing out at Bald Mountain Shelter.
The next day, we walked into Erwin, Tennessee where we would spend even more zero days overindulging in beer and food, and partaking in The Great Outdoors Festival!
Total AT Mileage: 342.1 miles – 14.4 miles (wildfire loss) = 327.7 miles
Number of Hiking Days: 27
Number of Zero Days: 8
Average Mileage per Day Total: 12.1 miles
Average Mileage this Chapter: 16.0 miles (5 days)
Longest Hiking Day: 26.2 miles (Groundhog Creek Shelter, NC/TN to Hot Springs, NC)
Shortest Hiking Day: 5.9 miles (Newfound Gap to Icewater Spring Shelter; NC/TN)