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Nantahala Gorge: land of the noonday sun

This is the money shot, the one they sell you afterwards for $20. It's full of excitement and energy and features what looks like me, crying like a baby (the water was cold!). But it fails to capture all the things I will remember most about this excursion.

The setting is the Nantahala River Gorge; the trip is courtesy of the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC), who runs guided rafting trips down the river all summer. I'd wanted to do this since I first saw it last summer. Our guide was a gentleman named Malcolm, who at 60 years old was in the kind of physical shape you can only maintain if you have a job like guiding rafts, and he was knowledgable and had a respectful, loving connection to the natural world I appreciated. All the rest of this trip's magic goes unrecorded:

  1. Tendrils of mist rising off the river in the cool, early morning air
  2. The shifting color of the water, yellows and blues and greens, deep shadows punctuated by shafts of sunlight, brilliant whites in the splashing water cascading over rock ledges unseen beneath us
  3. The forest fragrance, and I've got a lot of experience with the smell of the woodlands back home. Nantahala is home to centuries-old forest that's been protected for generations, and it's thick and wonderful. Every bend of the river brings a new scent, and I suppose so does every passing day as we go around the wheel of seasons
  4. The cold, cold water. 54 degrees Fahrenheit, in fact. We drifted into slower water and Malcolm invited us to roll over the side of the boat for a swim. I did so in the second pool, and found it refreshing and wonderful. Fortunately, the kids voted to pull me back into the boat.
  5. The rush of the river, pulling us down and around rocks, over rapids and one small water fall. Unlike canoeing where you've got to keep paddling, river rafting consists of using your momentum to be in the right part of the river, and as Malcolm reminded us, being able to read the water.
  6. The mystery of it all. Nantahala is a magical gorge, full of Cherokee legends and cloaked in an almost primieval forest. Malcolm called it cold water therapy. It did wonders for the mind indeed. In Cherokee, the word means "land of the noonday sun." It's true the shadows are long inside the gorge. That just darkens the magic. I'll be back for sure.


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