27 miles north of Franklin, NC is a place known as the Nantahalla Outdoor Center. I say "place" and not "store" or "outfitter" because the center is essentially a small town devoted to all things outdoor. You arrive at the center and are immediately greeted by general store, a restaurant/bar, an extensive outfitter, and the centerpiece; a rapid river (perhaps the largest body of water we've seen thus far) complete with 3 ornate foot bridges. The river is used for slalom kayaking races, leisure kayaking, whitewater rafting, fly fishing, and swimming (weather permitting). The NOC will do group guided tours of the river in any of their floating vessels and will set you up with everything you need to fish including licenses, tackle, gear and even a canoe or kayak if you so choose. Above the river (the center is located on an extremely steep incline, making for a picturesque wall of rustic cabins and stone buildings) there is a zip-line course which catapults the participant far above the scenery at about 30-35 mph. Looks like fun but I must admit my apprehensiveness. Although I have no doubt they've taken ample safety precautions, I don't believe there is quarter-inch cable here on gods green earth intended to hold this bulky Mainer. Big pass. (ps. why the helmets? It's 100 feet in the air... Is the helmet used for ladling you up off the ground after you fall?) The center also offers a number of classes and seminars ranging from family canoeing 101 to a 3 day survival school (Les Stroud style... with an elastic band, a paper clip and a grocery bag). Along with a wide range of accommodations. The hikers that stay here generally Opt for the hostel style bunk houses that littler the ridge line. They aren't fancy but they are heated, and heated pretty much equals fancy at this point. Overall, the best part about the NOC is location. These guys are literally on the trail. The gravel pathway which winds through the campus, delivering you to your cabin or bunkhouse IS the AT. Pretty. Freakin. Cool. Definitely glad we are taking our first zero here (day of rest, no hiking).
The reason I have come to learn so much about the NOC campus has much to do with the river itself. You see, there is a very good reason that everyone tells you to filter ALL water, regardless of where it comes from. And yes, we are all guilty of dumping ice-cold mountain spring water down our gullets without purifying. Most people get away with it at altitudes above 3500 ft. But I picked the wrong pipe coming out of the wrong ground to test my gastrointestinal toughness. Halfway through day 2 out of Franklin I was wearing my sicky pants. Rob hiked with me a mile or two behind the others, god bless him, it was slow going and frequent stops. I couldn't take another step, and frankly, I don't believe we had enough TP between the 5 of us for me to do so anyway. To our disbelief, a car rolled out of the fog up a little dirt road on top of Wayah Bald (unlikely there'd be too many folks on that mountain in this weather) and a few courteous gentlemen visiting from Minnesota offered a lift about a dozen miles ahead to the NOC. It really only seemed right to employ a proper bathroom in a situation such as this. I write this post as I stare at the trail head across the street waiting for hiking colors to appear through the foliage.
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