Slacking from Sunnybank

Sunday we rolled into Hot Springs, North Carolina, to stay with Elmer at the historic Sunnybank boardinghouse. Elmer, an 81-yr-old restauranteur, thru-hiker, and professor, has run Sunnybank for over forty years. Matt, trail name Zappy Tendrils, helped Elmer over these past couple seasons. Matt gave us a tour of this 1865 Italiante-revival style summer home that has welcomed boarders since 1912.

The aromas of the vegetarian feast permeated upstairs from the kitchen.

At seven o’clock a set of chimes at the foot of one of the staircases sounded to let guests know Elmer and Matt had dinner ready. We collected in a dinning room adjacent to the kitchen for a four-course meal. I ate seconds of soup, salad, main, and side – then excused myself from dessert. The dinner conversation enhanced the culinary experience. Not only a favorite meal during this sabbatical — one of the best meals of my life. If you are ever within 100 miles of Sunnybank, please call Elmer and ask him to cook for you. If you sign up over seven other people by 4pm-ish, then he probably will. Here’s a shot of the salad to tempt you…

After dinner Elmer and Matt served us mint tea to help us all sleep soundly. The peace of the place and the comfortable bed made a good night’s sleep very easy to find.

Monday K2 and I woke up early, skipped breakfast, and Matt shuttled us to the trail at Max Patch Road. Before we left, Matt made us coffee. I brought my cup out to the porch to sip coffee while I put on my gaiters and boots, but promptly sat down nearly on top of it, knocking it over. As I laughed at my own clumsiness, Matt asked the key question:

Did you spill coffee in your boots?

Luckily no, my boots remained dry and ready to go. I snagged myself another cup. Then we headed out in Sunnybank’s trusty Subaru.

K2 and I crested the summit of Max Patch by 8:30am. Sustained winds of at least 40-50 miles an hour greeted us as we crossed that high meadow (elevation 4,629′). According to AWOL’s Appalachian Trail guidebook, “‘Max Patch’ is a homophone that replaced the original name ‘Mack’s Patch’. The summit was cleared for cattle and is maintained as a bald.”

After about two miles we cleared the wind with the forest sheltering us once again. The trail zigzagged up and down over Walnut Mountain (4,252′) and Bluff Mountain (4,686′) through gaps and over creeks.

The last two miles of this 20.5 mile (33km) hike slid fairly steeply into Hot Springs, a true trail town, where the Appalachian Trail runs straight along the sidewalk of the tiny downtown. The view of Hot Springs teased us well before the trail delivered us back to Sunnybank. My strength and fitness certainly improved compared to the early days in this sabbatical back in Top o’ Georgia. Still I relished turning off the trail onto Walnut Street, returning to Sunnybank’s porch, and sitting to take my boots off.