Day 13: The NOC
Every hiker I talked to yesterday and today was heading to the NOC. They all had the same plan – eat, shower, and eat more.
For most AT thru-hikers, the NOC, or Nantahala Outdoor Center, is an iconic, thru-hiker-friendly milestone. For me, it’s more than that. Twenty years ago, I rediscovered the AT while staying at the NOC for a week of whitewater canoeing. I would not be thru hiking if NOC didn’t exist.
The NOC sits along the Nantahala River, which cuts deeply through the Appalachian Mountains. So deep, in fact, that the Cherokee called it the “land of the noon day sun” (Nantahala). For river runners, that means shade and cool waters. For AT thru hikers, that means massive climbs in and out of the NOC.
This morning, I descended 3,500 feet over six miles from Tellico Bald to the NOC. Tomorrow morning, I’ll climb 4,000 feet out of the Nantahala Valley and over 5,052-foot Cheoah Bald. I’ll more than earn the cheeseburger, fries, ice cream, and everything I stole from Mrs. I’s plate at lunch.
NOC Priority One: Lunch
Everyone at lunch ate big. Bamhauser topped off his burger and fries with a large pizza. I saw him later heading for a grocery store to get more.
Survivor picked up the check for all of us (Machina, Wheels, The Walrus, Bamhauser, Mrs. I, and me) before we had a chance to object. It almost made me feel bad for short-changing him on today’s clue to my trail name origin. Almost. But I promised him a new one tomorrow. A real one. But probably so obscure it won’t help, though he claims he already figured it out.
Survivor said he bumped into Shooter and Double H during this morning’s hike. Shooter told him we’d told him The Incident story, but had sworn him to secrecy. I’ll have to watch out for Shooter. He doesn’t seem the type to mess with someone like that. Survivor was crushed until he figured out he was being had.
I not only hiked into the NOC this morning, I also hiked into full-blown spring. Up high, most of the trees were still bare and few flowers graced the trail, so I focused on the sounds of the woods as I walked alone with Gus. I heard unseen songbirds, knocking woodpeckers, and an owl, as well as a rhythmic air-whomping sound I guessed was either turkeys or grouse awkwardly trying to fly. Every so often, I’d hear human voice in the distance. Minutes later I’d pass a hiker or camper.
Mostly, the woods were quiet. Until on the steep climb up to the Tellico Bald tower, a huge tree fell over just 40 feet below me. Gus jumped a foot in the air and started barking, because in dog world, barking fixes everything. Mrs. I asked me later if it made a sound, implying I guess, that I was the “nobody” there to hear a tree fall in the woods.
At Tellico Gap, I saw my first Azalea blooms. By the time I dropped into with 500 feet of the NOC, the forest understory was fully leafed out with lush, deep green vegetation, foreshadowing the jungle world coming soon to the trail.
I saw my first Dwarf-Crested Iris, Tulip Trees, and Heartleaf Foamflowers. There were more new species, but Mrs. I texted that she’d just ordered me a cheeseburger, so I was in no mood to stop and smell the flowers.
- Start: Burningtown Gap (Mile 124.0)
- End: NOC (Mile 136.7)
- Weather: Sunny…cloudy, warm, & humid…something’s coming
- Earworm: Your Kiss is on My List. Again. Please, make it stop.
- Meditation: Jn 8:43
- Plant of the Day: Dwaft-Crested Iris
- Best Thing: Giant hamburger at the NOC
- Worst Thing: Food coma after giant hamburger
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