Hemlock Hollow Hostel to Duckett House, Hot Springs, NC
I cooked Pizza Grits Supreme for breakfast and headed up to the hostel store to send e-mails and have a cup of coffee. After I purchased snacks and topped off my fuel bottle, Hattie, the proprietor, shuttled me back to the trail in the golf cart. The dog followed behind the cart and took my seat on the way back.
The hiking was easy through Allen Gap, but then the trail turned steeply uphill where I became aware of the growing heat and humidity. My freshly cleaned shirt morphed back into a wet rag. The trail bent accordion style in and out of the coves of Spring Mountain. Once, when I looked up from my daydreaming, I saw an entire cove filled with blooming Mountain Laurel. Each cove has a different orientation to the sun, so plants bloom at different times.
I had intended to stop for lunch at Spring Mountain Shelter, but when I got there I found the place inhabited by aggressive gnats. A young man was sitting on the picnic table serving as the first course. I gave him one of my bug repellent wipes. We talked for awhile about how he desperately wanted to turn his life away from alcohol. He was out on the trail with his brother-in-law, who had lagged behind, looking for answers. Although he said Alcoholics Anonymous didn’t work for him, I encouraged him to keep an open mind and never give up on himself. It seemed odd coming out of my mouth, but I assured him that God loved him.
Up ahead, I ran into his brother-in-law, who was also looking to turn things around. He was 70 pounds overweight and thought some time on the trail would break his addiction to junk food. He had just fallen and tumbled through what he believed was poison ivy. I was concerned for him, but he assured me he was only hiking three to four miles a day.
The last mile approaching Hot Springs was similar to leaving Erwin- a view from up high looking down at a big river, this time the French Broad, and the sound of a train rumbling through town. The trail descended steeply with switchbacks down the rocky face of the mountain. I reached the river early evening and followed the trail upstream into town. The Appalachian Trail passes over the bridge and right through downtown Hot Springs.
The Duckett House, built in 1900, is now operated as a bed & breakfast inn. I stayed in the bunkhouse across the yard, but took my shower and did laundry at the house. Duckett House gets my vote for “Best Shower.” They have a big garden and hens running around between the main house and the bunkhouse. The only disadvantage of the Duckett House is that it is on the far side of town, so I had to walk back into town a couple of times for dinner and breakfast. When I returned from dinner at the Rock Bottom Saloon, I picked up the guitar leaning against the wall in the parlor and played quietly so as not to disturb the guests who were sleeping upstairs.