Today is like a big par five. We have one long drive from Richmond (RVA) before we hike. Given that Virginia and North Carolina abut and given that RVA is in the center of Virginia, we still have more than 400 miles of driving to Asheville in far western North Carolina. Knowing what lies ahead, I sleep restlessly and wake Hannah early this mid-October Monday; soon we are on the road heading west on I-64 to I-81 south.
Shortly after 9A, three hundred miles into the drive, we stop in the little border town of Abingdon, VA looking for a breakfast diner. Though Denny’s or Cracker Barrel might provide a fine breakfast, we want an experience that we can’t find just anywhere and at a good price. As we fill up for $2.92 per gallon (it’s $2.63 now), a delightful country woman explains in sweet detail how to get to Chick-N-Little at the other end of town.
Picture this: a diner with pictures from the 1960s (e.g., Dean Martin) on the wall with frames that you get at the Dollar Store. Just men, maybe fifteen of them, are at tables and the counter in work jeans and old man khakis. For $5.99 Hannah gets a veggie omelet, home fries, and biscuits and gravy! Clearly the sky is not falling at Chick-N-Little.
As we drive on to Asheville, I think I am just so clever killing two hiking birds with one trail stone. Let me explain. For a good 150 miles, the Appalachian Trail (AT) straddles the North Carolina/ Tennessee border. Ergo, we have an opportunity to hike a trail that borders both states so we can bag states #12 (NC) and #13 (TN) in our quest to day-hike all 14 AT states. Clearly, I am overly impressed with my delusional brilliance.
Falling immediately in love with small town Hot Springs, NC, we learn that it’s named for a natural spring with 100+ degree mineral waters. The town itself is becoming a popular tourist destination for rafting and kayaking on the French Broad River as well as hiking, mountain biking, and backpacking.
The AT itself goes right through the center of town on Bridge Street marked with AT diamonds in the sidewalk. To find a twofer trail (NC/TN), we enter the small library where Winnie tells us of a trailhead just north of town. But she says, The Welcome Center knows more about hiking in both states. Babs at the Welcome Center lets us know that she doesn’t think the NC/TN border is close, but the folks down the street at the Bluff Mountain Outfitters will know more. Whipping out a map, they tell us we are ten miles from the nearest NC/TN border.
Not having done the necessary research of the AT in NC and TN, I nod and smile and think, que sera sera. It is what it is. Tennessee is still in our sights and we will somehow hang that pelt on our wall in the coming days.
Now close to 130P, we choose to hike north crossing the French Broad River out of town. Our trail begins as a dirt road along the river by cabins for thru-hikers. The weather is amazing, sunny near 70F degrees. (Two weeks later heavy snow falls.)
Once in the mountains of North Carolina, we are using the switchbacks to climb above the French Broad River. With our sweatshirts tied around our waists, we are down to our tee shirts and shorts; we talk very little in such steep assents.
Hiking among the thick North Carolina rhododendrons, we are in leafy heaven.
With Hannah in the lead, the trail seems obvious and well-traveled; though we no longer notice white blazes to guide us. Just days ago on the AT in Pennsylvania, we had white blazes every 100 to 200 yards for guidance and reassurance. But here after 15 minutes, Hannah turns to me with a “this is odd” expression and says, I haven’t seen a white blaze in quite a while.
Backtracking to the last white blaze we saw, we see no evidence that we have missed the correct trail, and now we are just pissed. Really? You can’t mark the trail this close to town? Bummed, our annoyance rising, we think, If you can’t mark the trail well enough, we are just not going to hike you anymore. So there. We know this is childish and petulant; so be it. We are what we are.
Determined to carry a grudge and show the trail how really p.o.-ed we are, we turn to town and disparage the trail so it can hear us; we just don’t look at it as we harrumph our way out of the woods. We want no part of its empty apologies.
Through town and to the south, the AT climbs 51 stone steps into the forest. As with the north side of town trail, this is a relentless climb on this warm day. It is Carolina at its finest. Down to our tee shirts, which are soon soaked with sweat, we are getting the work out we wanted when we awoke twelve hours ago in Richmond.
The trail is rocky as we have come to expect from the AT. Though the forecast has gone back and forth between rain and no rain, today is picture perfect. We do see more white blazes, and are coming down off our high horses.
Back through town before 5P so Hannah can buy post cards at the Bluff Mountain Outfitters, we have notched AT State #12 in North Carolina.
Now Tennessee! Nearly 1000 miles from our home in Maine, we are not going to miss this opportunity to hike in the Volunteer State when we are this close! Come hell or high water or the rain that is predicted we will hike in Tennessee.