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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Hello from Hot Springs, NC! It hasn't been too long since we wrote last, which makes it easier for us to give a full update. Our travels continue to go well, though this week, the weather threw us for a loop. Tomorrow we'll take our first full "zero" day of the trip so far, and we think it's about time!

Here's what's happened to us since we left the town of Gatlinburg:

Day 21
Newfound Gap (Gatlinburg, TN) to Tri-Corner Knob Shelter (15.6 miles)

After a big breakfast of pancakes and a veggie omlette, we headed out of Gatlinburg. Many of our trail friends stayed behind to take another "zero" day there because the weather report looked dismal for the day - big rain and dropping temps coming in the afternoon. We decided we were ready to get back into the woods, and we'd brave the elements. We felt great for the first 10 miles, and we got some amazing views and vistas, and then we - over-confidently - decided to push on for an additional 5 miles to the next shelter. This was a very silly thing to do. The rain came down immediately, and we were soaked to the core the whole way. It barely let up, so we were running, trying to get to shelter as fast as we could. I've never been so glad to see a shelter, with a fire in the fire place to boot! It was packed with day hikers and a few fellow thru-hikers. At 6,000 feet, the temps continued to drop, and the rain continued to pour until...

Day 22
Tri-Corner Knob Shelter to Davenport Gap Shelter (14.8 miles)

...We woke up to SNOW! We couldn't believe it! Snow in May! The beginning of the day's hike was a bit miserable, as we just wanted to get warm. Thankfully, much of the hiking was downhill, out of the high-elevation areas where the temps were so low. We camped at Davenport Gap Shelter, only one mile from the exit of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with lots of our thru-hiking friends and enjoyed a much warmer night than the night before.

Day 23
Davenport Gap Shelter to Groundhog Creek Shelter (10.5 miles)

In the morning we exited the Smokies. It was a great visit, and we saw some incredible scenery. We got a few days of resupply food, enough to get us to Hot Springs, from Standing Bear Hiker Hostel, a small farm located 0.1 miles from the trail. We got to our campsite early, and met some new thru-hiker and section-hiker friends. It was a great day of hiking and just hanging out.

Day 24
Groundhog Creek Shelter to Walnut Mountain Shelter (13.1 miles)

We headed out of camp on time today! (It had been a while since we'd done that.) We were feeling great on the uphills, even in the cold morning rain, which thankfully cleared by the time we reached Max Patch. What a sight! We had a full 360-degree view of the surrounding forests and fields. (Weird story behind Max Patch: The forest service maintains the bald with lawnmowers and controlled burns so that it remains "bald.") The rest of the day was easy hiking to Walnut Mountain Shelter. Our pace has gotten faster, so when we get an on-time departure in the morning, we get into camp really early. It's nice to have that afternoon downtime to read and relax.

Day 25
Walnut Mountain Shelter to Hot Springs, NC (13.1 miles)

We headed out of camp even earlier this morning, hoping to get to the town of Hot Springs before 2:00. What a great day to hike! Some uphills were mixed into the route this morning, but it was mostly smooth downhills into town. We ended up getting into Hot Springs around noon. It's a funny feeling to follow the white blazes (the AT trail markers) and see them run straight through a town, as they do in Hot Springs. There will be more of that sort of thing as we get up north, but this is our first real instance of the trail crossing right through the heart of a town. We're staying at The Sunnybank Inn, an enormous and beautiful Victorian house built in 1840 (the oldest building in town) which has been converted into a hiker hostel. (No dirty boots allowed inside!) There are communal, vegetarian meals - which we have heard great things about from all former thru-hikers - and porches that wrap around the house. We're looking forward to our half-day in town today, and our first full "zero" day tomorrow. So much time without walking - what will we do?! (The answer is - eat.)

So, as we near our first month as trail folk, we are feeling very blessed and happy to have been safe, healthy and enjoying every minute of it all (which is an especially good thing since we've still got over 1,900 miles to go). We're in good spirits and loving our thru-hiking companions and each day's adventures.

That's all for now!

Love,
Lara (and Zack), aka "Veggie Squared"

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