Hot Springs, halle-effing-luljah (273.9m)

Six o’clock and I figured it was a good time to get up. Cap shouted across to see if I was awake. We’d expected rain through the night but it never came; it was pretty windy most of the night, though, and it ripped out one of my stakes in the early hours, turning one corner of my tarp into a loud flapping cuben flag.

Tie Dye headed out onto the trail at 6:30am as she’d not slept, and Cap, Tank, and I were on the trail by 7:30am – the earliest we’d broken camp since starting our thru hikes.

We had 7.6 miles to get to Hot Springs and our pace was quick out of the gate; we got to Deer Park Mountain Shelter — 4.3 miles away — in a little less than an hour and a half. Steep climb to the top of Deer Park Mountain and then a long 2.4 miles downhill to Hot Springs.

Have I mentioned how much I hate downhills?

After being dropped off on the outskirts of town by the trail, we followed the white blaze across the street to a set of steep (and slippery) stone steps leading down to the main road through town. Looking left we could make out the “AT” tiles laid into the sidewalk. It wasn’t long before we rounded a corner and saw the restaurant: Smokey Mountain Diner. Tank, Cap and I took a table and ordered coffees and food; both lads ordered their “hungry hiker” burgers and I opted for their “skillet breakfast” – our plates were cleaned with ease. Camel and his son Alfalfa made it into town shortly after and joined us for breakfast. Tie Dye had been in town a little longer and had already paid a visit to the outfitters to collect her packages. She joined us for breakfast, too.

After breakfast I walked over to Bluff Mountain Outfitters and picked up my packages; one had some awesome goodies all the way from NY: a new Sawyer Squeeze filter (my original one had frozen on night #1 at Hawk Mountain Shelter), a nice sheet of Polycryo, and some post-it notes with cute messages on them!

I picked up some XS sized nylon stuff sacks for my first aid kit and other gear that I’d kept in the small cuben sacks I’d ordered from ZPacks. As it turns out the cuben used for the small stuff sacks isn’t that “thru durable”, and certainly not long distance worthy; there are small tears appearing in all the sacks I’ve been using.

I also picked up a new pack, a ULA Circuit. I’ve been using my Six Moon Designs Swift pack for some time before the AT, and it’s a great weekender. What I found to be a negative on this long distance thru hike is that the hip belt has no real benefit. 99% of packs have wraparound waist/hip padding that provides support and comfort, then the hip belt pockets are attached to the belt. With the Swift, the pockets are the hip belt. No matter how tight I pull them around my waist they’d always end up slipping down. Another negative that had recently started happening is that both shoulder strap buckles don’t hold the webbing as firmly as they used to. I’m constantly retightening and retightening. It’s annoying and frankly it’s just not an appropriate product for my needs. Oh, and the left sternum strap webbing has come loose of the buckle when trying to adjust the height. I’m pretty dissatisfied with it.

After being measured and fitted for the Circuit by one of the outfitter’s specialists, I feel it’s going to provide me with a much sturdier ride, and the popularity of the ULA line with thru hikers is also very encouraging.

Captain Dan’s good friend, Ken Jolley was picking us up from the outfitters and driving us the ~90 miles to Dan’s cabin in NC. We’re taking a zero there and I’m hoping that I can rest up my ankles again.

The skies opened and it bucketed. We threw our packs inside large plastic sacks that Ken had brought with him and tossed our gear in the flat bed. Four guys on the back seat, Cap riding shotgun, and Tie Dye straddling the console. Sardines.

The rain was torrential the entire trip to Cap’s cabin and eased off later in the day.

His cabin is fantastic and had an almost Aquone Hostel feel to it. Completely open concept inside, 60″ flat screen, awesome kitchen with a massive butcher’s block island, and two bedrooms. There were two large leather sofas which were so comfy; I baggsied one right away.

By early evening we were all starving again so we made haste for a local Italian restaurant: Tuscany. Plates piled high with different types of pastas and sauces along with 25 wings, there was little left after our wolfing. Dessert followed, and with full hiker bellies we retired back to the cabin and chilled.

The sofa was hella-comfy.

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