Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Day 15: The Nantahala Outdoor Center

Dscn4967March 22: I was the first to leave the shelter this morning. NOC or bust! More likely, I was just with others who preferred sleeping in later than I did since I didn’t start hiking at a particularly early time—just my usual time between 8:30 and 9:00.

The trail descended steeply down to the Nantahala Outdoor Center, or NOC for short. Some of the other hikers weren’t sure what the NOC was. Was it a city? No, not really. I think of it more like a super-outfitter. You can buy gear and such, there’s a small general store, restaurants, lodging and a focus on water sports like kayaking down the Nantahala River which happens to run through the area. I remembered it being so crowded with people that it was difficult to breath! But all-in-all, I liked it. It was a scenic area, and anytime I could eat food that didn’t come out of my pack was a bonus.

The first thing I did was hit the restrooms. Running water! The second thing I did was hit the general store and get a few food items to resupply my dwindling supplies. I just needed a little bit—enough to get me to Fontana Dam.

Then I wandered over to the outfitters where they had set up a computer for thru-hikers to print permits for the Smokey Mountains. I logged in and printed the permit I had filled out on my smartphone a couple of nights earlier. I was set! Well, I also asked about some sort of strap or elastic cord that I might be able to use to keep bags hanging off my pack from swinging around. I made my pack a bit too small and have trouble getting everything I need in it—especially when I have more than a couple of days of food—so I took to hanging a couple small bags off my pack. But they had a bad habit of swinging around annoyingly. The outfitter was out of the thin elastic that I thought would work best, so I got a couple of small straps that I could cinch tight as needed. Hopefully that would do the trick.

And finally, I wandered over to the riverside restaurant where I ordered a Wesser Burger for lunch in their outdoor seating area next to the river. While waiting for the meal, I repacked my pack and added my new straps to hold the bags hanging outside of it in place. I also pulled out my smartphone to give Amanda and my mom a call to update them on my progress. It was a nice place just to sit down an relax next to the river and watch the occasional kayaker floating by.

But as all good things must come to an end, so did my meal and my time at the NOC. I didn’t intend to spend the night here, although I knew a lot of hikers would because the place can suck you in like a vortex. Unlike my first visit, this one wasn’t crowded with claustrophobic hoards of people. It was quite pleasant and probably a slow day by their standards, but I was happy with it!

The next part of the hike, however, I wasn’t looking forward to because I remembered it well from my last thru-hike: a steep, exhausting climb with many false summits. My guidebook showed it as a 3,000-foot climb—the biggest so far of the trail.
Filling up with water, again with the help of a leaf cleverly positioned by another hiker.

I started up and kept on going with barely a break. It was steep and tiring, but once again, not as bad as I remembered it. I passed quite a few people on the way up who seemed to be struggling a lot worse than I was, and about seven miles and a couple of hours later, I finally arrived at the Sassafras Gap Shelter. There was still plenty of room in the shelter and I joyfully piled into the top deck. It was supposed to rain overnight so I definitely preferred to stay in the shelter if there was room.

About 15 minutes after I arrived, it did start to rain and I was surprised at how well I timed it! Usually it seems like the rain starts about 15 minutes before I reach the shelter! The weather was quite considerate to wait until after my arrival this time around! The wet stragglers who soon showed up after me probably wouldn’t agree, though. =)

A couple of those stragglers who arrived had a clearly non-American accents and seemed to already know everyone else in the shelter. (I knew absolutely nobody upon my arrival, but that seemed to be the case most days since I was hiking faster than most people.) They all chatted for awhile, and when there was a lull in the conversation, I asked the girl where she was from. Switzerland. Really?! So I told her, “Gwita morka!” (not the correct spelling—it’s how I wrote it phonetically when I learned it).
The NOC—a small piece of civilization on the trail.

Which took her by surprise. “That’s Swiss-German! Not just German, but Swiss-German!”

Uh… yeah. She did say she was from Switzerland, after all.

“It means good morning,” she told me. 

“Yeah, I know that, but that’s the only thing I know how to say in Swiss-German.” Which dissolved into a conversation about my learning how to say “Good morning” in a couple of dozen languages, but “Gwita morka” was the first and only a handful that I can remember off the top of my head.

“You pronounce it very well!” she also told me, seemingly surprised at that as well.

“I guess I had a good teacher,” I told her. =)

When her significant other came back from wherever he had gone, I told him “Gwita morka” as well, but he seemed less impressed with my skills.
My Wesser burger, with the Nantahala River flowing in the background. That bridge in the background crossing the river—that’s the Appalachian Trail. It crosses the river on that pedestrian-only bridge. =)

“You just learned that, didn’t you?” while looking at the girl.

She answered for me, though. “No! I didn’t teach him that! He already knew it!”
The shelter eventually grew to be quite full by dark, and eventually everyone headed off to sleep. It was the end of another day!

Step count today: 30,699 steps
Distance today: 12.6 miles
Total distance: 152.8 miles

Kayakers would sometimes float down the river. I took this from the bridge crossing the river. (I ate at the restaurant in the background, although the outdoor seating area where I actually ate has been cut off. It’s just to the left of the photo.)

Coming out of the NOC, the Appalachian Trail crosses its first railroad track. Watch out for trains!

‘Twas a long, steep climb out of the NOC!

A memorial on the trail to a fellow who lost his life battling a wildfire exactly 783 feet from this plaque in the 1960s. I’m a little curious about the exactness of that 783 feet, though. Whose job was it to measure the exact distance from where this man died to the monument? Why did it need to be so precise?

The clouds are starting to look threatening!

The view from my second-floor spot in the shelter.

This was a special shelter—it came with an electrical outlet! =) That Swiss couple tried all night to use them, but didn’t realize that their devices used a different kind of outlet. (I’m totally kidding about that. In case it’s not obvious, this isn’t a real outlet and it was drawn in by hand. Nobody will ever connect anything to it!)


Unknown said...

Oh man... guess i should put my phone charger away then.

On another note-- that lunch sure looks appealing, and it is almost lunch time..

-only dreaming

Karolina said...

Now I am waiting till you come accross some Polish people and get to practise your Polish! :D

Scout Mom said...

I do love that area of the AT but Fontana Dam is just gorgeous. This GA girl would love to retire there one day.

Unknown said...

I'm hungry for 2nd lunch after seeing your burger! Loving the posts Ryan - keep it up!

StarSAELS said...

Youcanhascheezburger! Good trail food. Protein and carbs!