AT Thru-Hike #43 – There’s No Place Like Homeplace

“We never repent of having eaten too little.”     – Thomas Jefferson, 1825

Day 70

I hit the trail, crossed several footbridges, and began the climb up Brush Mountain. At the summit was a wooden bench, which is uncommon and highly appreciated on the AT. Along the Brush Mountain ridge line, at mile 690.1, I took a short side trail to the Audie Murphy monument. Murphy was the most decorated American soldier of World War II. After the war, he acted in movies for over twenty years and eventually got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. On May 28, 1971, Murphy died when the private plane he was in crashed near the monument in his honor on Brush Mountain. He was 45 years old. I stopped to pay my respects to this hero, a great soldier from what has been called the greatest generation.

Audie Murphy Memorial
Audie Murphy Memorial
Close-Up
Close-Up

As morning turned to afternoon, I set my sights on the famous Dragons Tooth. Like Albert Mountain, Jacobs Ladder, and other notable trail challenges, it has a reputation for being a very tough climb with rewarding views. The climb to it wasn’t steep, but was long and extremely rocky. I eventually arrived and was impressed with it and the views from it. I also thought it was a bit over-rated in terms of level of difficulty. It was tough, but not super tough. And then came the descent, and I realized what other hikers were talking about and where Dragons Tooth’s reputation comes from. It was very tricky, especially as light rain began to fall. I had to scramble down and around rocks using both hands, at one point passing the 700 mile marker on my journey.  In a few spots I had to slide down rocks on my rear. In other places, metal rungs were inserted in rocks to provide a foothold. It reminded me, on a smaller scale, of some of the rock scrambles I’ve heard about in New Hampshire and Maine.

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At the bottom of the mountain, at Newport Road, after a 16.8-mile day, I decided to hike .3 miles east and stay at the Four Pines Hostel. The lodging is a 3-bay garage with shower (no towels), along with a separate barn with sleeping platforms. There’s no fee but they accept donations. The place was packed when I arrived, with people on cots, couches, and the floor…playing cards, drinking beer, eating, checking each other for ticks, sharing stories, napping, picking at their feet, and airing out tents and clothes. It reminded me of the kind of place where Charles Manson would have recruited. I managed to find a recliner that wasn’t yet taken, next to a couch occupied by a sweet lady hiker in her mid-60s with the trail named Gamel. That’s a combination of “Georgia (GA) to Maine (ME)” and her nickname, Mel, which is short for Melanie. She is from East Tennessee and filled me in on the towns and things to do there, as it is a region where Lil Jan and I have discussed putting down roots someday. I also met the owner, Joe Mitchell, and his wife handed me some sort of brownie/cookie dessert that was delicious.

Dragons Tooth
Dragons Tooth
Dragons Tooth
Dragons Tooth

The highlight of the evening, though, was set in motion moments later when the shuttle driver asked if anyone wanted to go to the all-you-can-eat, family style Homeplace Restaurant. Uhhh…yeah!!! Certain words and phrases excite hikers, and can even cause frenzies when we’re in groups. The list includes…
– All You Can Eat
– Trail Magic
– REI Sale
– Hot Shower
– Reliable Spring
– Free WiFi
– Free {fill in the blank}
– Easy Hitch
– Flat Terrain
– Milkshake
– Ramen Bomb
– Summit
– Campfire
– Hot Tub or Hot Bath
– Trail Legs
– Outfitter
– Buffet
– Zero Day
– Katahdin

My personal list would also include…
– Lil Jan
– Yellow, springy dress
– Outback
– Mountain Dew
– Darn Good Chili
– Gold Bond

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A gaggle of hikers piled in the large van and a truck and headed to the Homeplace. One hiker was on the floorboard and two were in the trunk. It felt like a prison work crew, only smellier. Upon arrival, eleven of us were seated at one table, including three other Air Force veterans (sponsored by a program called Warrior Hike) and four Marines. It was probably the most heavily defended restaurant table in Catawba that evening. We were a scraggly, hairy bunch, and most of us had not yet showered or eaten.

Hiker Artwork on Wall, Four Pines Hostel
Hiker Artwork on Wall, Four Pines Hostel

What happened next will go down as one of the most prolific displays of eating in American history. The sweet country waitress brought out the initial round of roast beef, chicken, ham, mac n cheese, pinto beans, green beans, mashed potatoes, biscuits, and cole slaw. She told us to let her know when we wanted seconds on anything.  I pulled her aside and said, “Ma’am, we haven’t eaten in like three hours.  You’ll want to go ahead and get started on seconds and thirds now.” We were like vultures at a fresh highway roadkill. The large bowl of pinto beans was passed around, and was empty by the third person. As the ranking military guy at the table, I didn’t pass the mac n cheese at all. Instead, I selfishly made the family-style bowl my personal bowl. What good is it to make rank if you can’t leverage it for a private bowl of mac n cheese on the AT?

View from Dragons Tooth
View from Dragons Tooth

The Marines were sucking on chicken bones and then piling them up in a mass grave at the center of the table, as grease ran down their chins and hands. The former Air Force TACP (Tactical Air Control Party specialist, aka a special ops guy) sitting next to me had nine helpings of roast beef, six pieces of chicken, and four large pieces of ham. I started to ask him if this was his first time eating. I also looked under the table by his feet to see if it was coming out the other end. Each time the waitress came by, we were out of something and ready for more. Each time, I would point at TAC-P and tell her, “And he’ll need some more roast beef.” He would then grunt and nod his head, too busy eating to speak. It was the least I could do for a special ops guy with the most epic trail beard to date.

There was very little table conversation as we were too busy stuffing our faces and asking for more, as if our very survival depended on it. The whole spectacle was fun to watch and more than a little embarrassing. Later, the waitress, in perhaps the most unnecessary question of the evening, asked if we’d like some peach cobbler with ice cream. I said, “We would, please, with coffee, and my friend TAC-P here would like his cobbler with just a couple more slices of roast beef.”  TAC-P looked up, nodded, and grunted…and for just a moment, all was right in our hiker universe.

Sir Fob

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4 thoughts on “AT Thru-Hike #43 – There’s No Place Like Homeplace”

  1. The meal at the Homeplace restaurant reminded me of the evening at Bilbo Baggins home,
    when the eleven dwarfs and Gandalf showed up and
    consumed every morsel.

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