the magical trail to hot springs

So I’ve been looking forward to getting to Hot Springs for a long time. Like, more than a year. It’s hard to say precisely why it appealed to me so much since I’d only seen sporadic footage of it in documentaries and had never visited myself. I think it had to do with a line in the guidebook mentioning “ultimate local ice cream”. In any case, I’ve been calling it “my favorite place I’ve never been”.

I’m writing this now from Hot Springs, and it is an awesome place. But the three days between leaving the Smokies and getting here were unexpectedly awesome too. We’re glancing around a little nervously because we feel like we don’t deserve all the magic that rained down upon us in the last thirty or so miles.

First, on our last day in the Smokies, Phoenix’s parents surprised us with beers at lunchtime. It was nice to celebrate with them before we parted ways that evening. Phoenix and Johnny Appleseed went into Asheville and we needed to press on to Hot Springs, but we hope to meet up with them again soon.

The next morning, we hiked about a mile down the trail before we came across the most epic trail magic ever. Right by the Pigeon River two former hikers and a wife were scrambling eggs and frying up bacon for breakfast sandwiches. They also had all manner of snacks and drinks and STRAWBERRIES. They implored us to stay for lunch, too, and even offered to take us into town to resupply at Wal Mart (we’d been planning to get food from a hostel up the road which we’d heard had a pretty limited selection). Going to Wal Mart was surreal. I was struck by how sad and unhealthy everyone looked. I mean, I know shopping isn’t the most fun but man, they looked miserable. It’s a great place to resupply, though, and when I got back there was a cheeseburger waiting for me, with chips and salsa and more soda and zebra cakes from my childhood.

The day after that, just before lunch, we were heading downhill when a southbound day hiker told us there was trail magic, “just a little bit”, at the bottom. So we practically started running, while I mentally prepped myself to find a pile of bottled waters. Instead we found Granny and Old Goat, parents of a thru-hiker I haven’t met yet named Little Foot, making ham sandwiches and giving out baggies of snacks to go. They also had beer (PBR, which I normally wouldn’t touch but was mysteriously delicious in that context). So again we gorged ourselves.

And the day after that, as we were heading into Hot Springs, we came up to a forest service road and found another hiker, Shay, who seemed to just be standing there. But in fact, he was drinking a soda. There were three huge piles of water, sodas, and bananas someone had left.

So, three magics in three days. I don’t think that’ll ever happen to us again. But it was a really good time. We were light on food and feeling a little worn down after our long stretch through the Smokies, but that stuff really lifts your spirits.

Big, big thanks to Granny and Old Goat, to Alicia and her husband and friend whose names I can’t remember, and to whoever left those sodas by the road.

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