NOC and People Magic
After skipping Franklin the weather improved. We continued through southern North Carolina towards Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) where we’d get our next resupply.
On a nice hot day with a lot of downhill we ran into a thru-hiker named Flip, who we hadn’t seen since the parking lot on our very first day. We also met a thru-hiker named No-Toes who gave us a hot dog , haven’t asked why that’s his name yet. Continuing downhill a sobo hiker stopped us with some unexpected trail magic. His name was Jellybean and he’d hiked the AT last year in an astounding 91 days in order to finish on his birthday. He also gave us an idea: to sleep on top of the observation tower up the next mountain. So we continued down and then back up and found the tower. Flip and No-Toes carried on while we climbed up. Stunning, 360° view. Could even make out Clingman’s Dome in the Smokies ahead. We waited around the tower and cooked some dinner. Some others waited around too.
We met Leo and Jake. They had just finished a month long EMT course at NOC. Jake was about to hike Sobo to his home in Georgia and Leo was planning to hike down the next day before driving to Ashville to start a new phase of her life.
Then along came Casey, Conor, and Heather, friends on college break. Jake put together a fire and we kept it going for hours, right underneath the tower, talking, playing music, and sharing stories. Casey and Conor were high school friends and would get going telling a single story for ages; there was always some part the other missed. We heard about the time they went urban exploring and accidentally walked into a residence hidden in an abandoned warehouse. The crazy guy there held them down at gun point and had them charged with burglary.
Sleeping on the tower was phenomenal. Open bagged, no rain, lying down I could watch the stars of a distant town and the moon prevailing through the clouds.
The next morning Leo offered to give us a ride into town so we could resupply at the grocery store. After a 3000 foot drop in elevation we made it to NOC, a huge kayaking and hiking center, and met back up with Leo and another thru-hiker named Cliffhanger (we met him at the previous resupply).
Leo then led us to a refrigerator full of food left behind by people in her EMT class. We had a feast of frozen chili and leftover beer, all for the glorious price of free. Then we stuffed our packs in the back of Leo’s truck with the rest of her posessions and she took us into town. It felt awesome riding in that truck, listening to music, and we talked about things we wanted to do in our lives. Leo walked around as we raided the grocery store, probably amused at how excited we got to find Balance Bars.
We stocked up on beer, drove back, and sprawled out our food under a canopy behind NOC. Leo ended up hanging around with us and Cliffhanger till around 7. The rain started and we used our camp stove to heat up a frozen cherry pie we pulled from the fridge earlier. We laid out our sleeping bags and slept right there.
Leo gave us the best trail magic so far, for all she did and for her company. These past couple days were my favorite yet, thanks to all the awesome people.
The next day we made a huge 3000 foot ascent up to Cheoh Bald with Cliffhanger. After the climb we fell behind him and set up camp.
I left a poem in the Brown Fork Shelter guest book early Day 17:
Settled things in the weigh down of the morning
but the air is free
birdsong sparks and crackles
and the tiniest things are moving
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