August 7, 2009

Highlands And The Nantahala

Remember me?

I’m nearing the end of a two-week vacation, the longest I’ve had in memory. Last weekend I drove my parents and their dog from Sarasota to a small town high in the foothills of the Smokies, Highlands, NC.

You might remember Highlands from last year’s post. My parents rent a house for a month every summer to escape the heat of Florida. I’ve managed to join them every year for the past twenty years. (Everyone in the family is invited, and we take turns descending upon the house.) Abe brought Ben and our nephew to join us.

I’ve been busy in a vacation sort of way, doing a whole lot of nothing that somehow manages to take all of my time. I’ve grabbed a few moments online at our local ice cream parlor, never long enough to do more than hop around and visit briefly. I’ve missed our conversations, but a break serves to make one fonder.

Highlands continues to change and grow more expensive. But one change from years ago remains one of my favorite buildings: the local Episcopal church manages with panache to successfully combine modern with traditional.

Every year we drive or hike up to the top of Sunset Rock that overlooks the town. Ben and his cousin joined us.

That’s the town on the right of the horizon view.

This time we also took a short path to the other side of the peak to a smaller outcropping that faces an eastern valley: Sunrise Rock.

Of course, with the boys here, we had to do some whitewater. On Tuesday I took them to the Nantahala River Gorge, where we’ve gone before. When we arrived the air was still too cool for me to voluntarily enter 52° water. We wandered around, waiting for the sun to rise high enough to warm the river valley. Ben skipped rocks while we stood on the gravel beach.

We weren’t sure if this was going to be a good ride; the river was about six inches deep here at the end of the run, and it was barely moving. Ben was wondering aloud if we should even try, thinking there would be places we’d have to portage our inflatable kayaks. Then we noticed that we were having to speak louder. The water was rising. It rose a foot in less than five minutes, and suddenly we were standing in water watching rapids roar in front of us. (I learned from a staff member that a dam upriver was opened every day at 8:00a. The water reached us at 11:00a in full force.) I had never seen the river so high.

Every time I do this, I start by wondering what on earth I was thinking. And I end every ride eager to do it again. Instead of the usual two Class II rapids, we navigated at least five. My nephew, age 16, did pretty much the entire river backward and grinning until I made him turn around for the finale Class III falls. He fell out of his boat over Nantahala Falls, but he still managed to retrieve his paddle and his boat and climb back in just in time to beach. (Later on I was even more impressed that his flipflops never came off his feet in all that whitewater.)

I took this shot of Nantahala Falls while scouting it before we started. This raft holds six; we were each on one-man “duckies.”

The trick to a successful passage here is to stay in the whitewater close to the boulder. If you enter the falls further to the right (from this view), you risk catching the back of your raft in the turbulence. That’s what happened to my nephew, who thinks the picture we bought of his dunking is “awesome.”

On Wednesday, I was thrilled to meet up with BearToast Joe in Brevard while disappointed that Java couldn’t make it. I’ll write a separate post about that shortly.

We have one more day here. I don’t shop here any more; I’m not interested in accruing more stuff. Maybe we can get a hike in before we have to return to the Real World on Saturday.


David said...

Sounds splendid but you'd need to sedate me before you'd get me to do any whitewater rafting.

the hobbit said...

Doesn't THAT look fun?! Yay, relaxation.

Java said...

Have a safe journey home. I look forward to your further reflections on the vacay.

A Lewis said...

Holy smokes! Look at the pics...amazing journey. Here's to your health and safe journey home.

Greg said...

Oh, vacation time!

ounds like you've been having a lovely time...and I love that you are still stitching all of us bloggers together, with yourself as lovely needle and thread.

KenPaul66 said...

Oh wow, that water looks so refreshing ! Want to try white water and doing that zip line thing at the National White Water Center in Mecklenburg county.