Saturday, July 24, 2010

Backpack trip to Nanatahala

I just returned from a four day trip to the Nantahala River Gorge, specifically the Nantahala Outdoor Center, better known as the NOC. It is located in Wesser, North Carolina, and is a popular destination for white water kayakers, mountain bikers, and hikers.
For those who have read my book, “Lost Then Found”, this is the location where much of the story takes place. Since the recent publishing of my book, I felt a need to return to the NOC and share my book with them. I especially felt a need to officially meet ‘Caroline’ (her real name is Emily), who was one of the main characters of the book.
I arrived at the NOC about 3pm on Tuesday and to be honest, I was rather nervous and apprehensive to meet ‘Caroline’ and explain how her character evolved within my imagination. In the book, ‘Caroline’ and I develop a rather emotional but platonic relationship over a period of three days and end up sharing some of the most heart felt emotions about our respective families. In reality, I had only talked with ‘Caroline’ briefly, never even catching her real name, but was touched by her beauty and her seemingly carefree personality, thus when the story began to develop in my mind, I could not help using her as one of the main characters, creating a fictitious relationship that worked within the story’s theme. Now it was time to actually meet this character for real. I was apprehensive because part of me was afraid that she would be nothing like the character I created in my mind or that she might even be offended in someway. Regardless of my fears, I felt a need to introduce myself and thank her. A simple gesture to most but becoming increasingly terrifying for me.
Upon entering the restaurant, I was disappointed that the waitress, which I had named ‘Caroline’ was no where to be seen. I was afraid that she may not even be there any longer, having moved or simply changed jobs, and suddenly my mood changed from apprehension to a sense of despondency, realizing that I may never actually meet ‘Caroline’. My waiter was a guy in his late twenties and was rather friendly, so I took the opportunity to describe ‘Caroline’ to him, explaining the reason for my asking, and asked him if she still worked there. He knew right away who I was talking about and he as well as the other staff of the restaurant became very interested in my book (which I had taken in several copies). He explained to me that her real name was Emily and that she would be in the following morning to work. I finished my meal and left to get a good nights rest, for the next day, not only would I finally meet Emily (Caroline) but I would also hook up with another good friend and hit the trail, hiking from Stecoah Gap back to the NOC, over the next couple of days.
I got to the restaurant the next morning not long after they had opened and still Emily was nowhere around. Tom, my good friend who was planning to hike with me showed up not long after I, and we ordered our breakfast and talked about our backpack trip that we were about to start. I was about to give up on seeing Emily, when finally I saw her standing at the hostess stand, looking just as I remembered her from two years back. Not knowing exactly what to say, I simply called her name, stood and told her I had something to give her. She looked at me cautiously, not remembering me, not knowing what I was talking about. I quickly introduced myself, shaking her hand, explaining I had been there two years previous having come off the Appalachian Trail in a snow storm and ended up staying at the NOC for three days while the weather abated. I explained to her that she would probably not remember me, because if we did talk (I could not remember if I ever actually talked with her) it was only taking my order, but that she was the inspiration of the main character of my book “Lost Then Found”. I explained to her how this character evolved from her (which I knew nothing about) and how as strange as it may seem, I felt a need to actually meet her. She listened to my story with interest. She was friendly and somewhat flattered. I told her I wanted to give her one of the first copies of my book, and handed the copy I had brought in for her. She appeared to be appreciative, still a look of surprise how this all had come about. She thanked me and asked if I would sign it, which I did. We talked briefly about the time I was in two years previous and she said she remembered me, although I think she was just being nice.
Talking with her this past Wednesday, I realized why she had inspired me in the first place. She is a beautiful girl, exotic in a way, yet down to earth. Her eyes as blue as topaz jewels and her trademark do-rag capping her head, giving her an even more distinctive appearance. It was truly a pleasure to finally meet Emily, forever my ‘Caroline’.
My buddy Tom and I took our packs and drove to Stecoah Gap where the Appalachian Trail crosses Hwy 143. It took us about thirty minutes to make the drive and once there, we shouldered our packs and started up the five mile-2,000 ft ascent to Cheoah Bald. The first ½ mile was rather steep, the trail making use of a series of switch backs then leveling out somewhat, even descending a little to Simp Gap. At about 0.9 mile there was a cave, on the right of the trail, cut into the jagged rock face and it appeared to have been used, either by humans, seeking refuge from inclement weather or wild animals using it as a den, for the ground leading into the darkened abyss was well worn.
At Locust Cove Gap, which is about 3.5 miles from Stecoah Gap, there is a side trail that goes down the west side of the trail (about 0.1 mile) to a spring. I took both our water bottles and went to filter our water. The spring was only a small trickle, but I managed to fill our bottles. We ate a little lunch a Locust Cove Gap and began the longest and steepest climb of Cheoah Bald.
We finally reached the top of Cheoah about 1pm and were afforded some grand views of the Nantahala Valley to the east and to the Smokies to the west. It was miserably hot atop the bald and there was a haze due to the high humidity which prevented us from seeing much more than twenty miles in either direction but still it was rather amazing. The east side of the bald is tall grass, variety of shrubs and wild flowers, while the west side was rocky with a few rock outcroppings which afforded some great views. We only spent about fifteen minutes at the top due to the heat and the numerous flying insects which constantly buzzed around us causing us to constantly swat at what appeared to be only air, but then started a rather rapid descent of about 500 ft to Sassafras Gap, where there is a shelter. Neither of us like sleeping in the shelter so we opted to pitch our tents and chose a relatively flat area directly behind the shelter. The small flat area was encased within a mass of Maple-leaf Viburnum which are 4 ft low shrubs, weed like, and even though the area where we placed our tents was flat and relatively clear, the thick mass of weeds (shrubs) on all sides of the area created a very snaky environment but there was not many other choices.
We cooked dinner and gathered fire wood for the night. Before it got dark, we managed to get a fire started and we both sat around the fire talking and enjoying the solitude of the woods around us. We both retired relatively early to our respective tents for the night.
I unzipped the door of my tent, my headlamp on, situating my gear within my small tent when I saw something hop or jump or scamper across the floor of my tent. In the shadows caused by my headlamp, I was unsure at first what it was. I thought it was a frog and I wondered how it could have gotten in my tent. I was gathering my gear, my sleeping bag, trying to find the varmint that had managed its way into my tent. Then I saw it! It was a mouse, small but still very much unwanted in my sleeping quarters. I yelled at Tom, who was in his tent only a few feet away, that there was a mouse in my tent and he could only chuckle. For the next five minutes I chased the tiny mouse around the small 4ft x 8ft tent trying to grab it by the tail to minimize the possibility of being bit and toss it outside. Eventually I managed to flip it through the front door, which I then immediately zipped the door closed and searched the tent well for the possibility of another. Having found none I began to wonder how the mouse had gained entry. I found a small hole, not much bigger than a nickel that the mouse undoubtedly had chewed. Even though having a mouse in my sleeping quarters was a little un-nerving I was more upset that the little bastard chewed a hole in my tent. I took a piece of Duct tape and temporarily repaired the hole and fell into a deep sleep, not waking till 7am the next morning.
A quick breakfast the next morning, we packed our gear and started the 7 mile descent to the Nantahala River. We followed a sharp ridgeline through masses of rhododendron and mountain laurel for about 2 miles before reaching a steep descent and several rock outcroppings affording some grand views. This area is called the Jump-up and we were able to see the Nantahala gorge and the Nantahala River a good mile below us.
We saw several different wildflowers on this trip and I was especially amazed to have seen so many ‘turkish cap Lilys’. These are 1 to 2 inch blossoms, orange and yellow in color, dangling in single blossoms on what appeared to be long single stems.
The rest of the trail, 4 to 5 miles, was steep, and in places followed a narrow ridge line that offered no shade. The sun was unforgiving, baking our heads and necks, as we scrambled over boulder fields, and rock littered trails, testing our balance as well as our endurance as we slowly maneuvered our way ever slowly down to the lower altitude and unfortunately higher humidity and zero breezes.
After about 4 hours of hiking we finally heard and saw the river. We could hear the screams of the kayakers and rafters as they floated down the roaring river and occasionally we could spot a blue or red raft as it bobbed between the boulders and glided over the roaring rapids below. I thought how cold the rafters probably were, being doused by the freezing waters of the Nantahala, while I was sweltering in the jungle like humidity and heat of the adjacent forest and could not help but think of how ironic those two entirely different conditions could exist side by side.
We continued to follow the river for about a mile and eventually the trail emptied onto a gravel path, leading us across railroad tracks and across the gravel parking lot of the NOC.
We were hot, so hot that we both considered removing our packs and jumping in the frigid waters of the Nantahala River, but the area was packed with tourists. Kayakers and people of all ages either loading to begin a rafting trip or exiting a huge raft as their trip had ended. We wondered what would we do, once we were wet and no decent dry clothes to change into, so we opted to go to the River’s End Restaurant, drink a couple of cold beers and relax in the relatively coolness of the establishment.
I again was disappointed to find that Emily (Caroline) was not working but I felt good about my trip. I had finally gotten the opportunity to meet her and thank her and got to share a very memorable backpack trip with my good buddy Tom.
Thanks Tom for sharing this trip with me and thanks to Emily for being so gracious and accepting.
For those who have never been to the Nantahala Outdoor Center, I highly recommend it. Even if you don’t kayak, hike or mountain bike, it is truly exciting to see and watch. It is magical!

Monday, July 19, 2010

I just completed a three day, two night backpack trip with some friends to Panthertown Valley, located in the North Carolina mountains just outside of Cashiers.

It is a 6300-acre valley complex between Sassafras Mountain to the north, Toxaway and Hogback Mountains to the south, Cold Mountain to the east, and Laurel Knob to the west.

Panthertown has been called the Yosemite of the East, not because its cliffs are as tall or dramatic as those seen in the California valley, but because the main valley and its surrounding cliffs suggest a Yosemite-like landscape.

Panthertown is home to hundreds of species of Southern Appalachian trees, shrubs, vines, wildflowers, mosses, ferns and lichens, including many rare species, such as northern beech fern, the climbing fern, and Cuthbert’s turtlehead. Most of the trees consist of white pine, eastern hemlocks(now dying from infestation by the hemlock wooly adelgid) and yellow birches.

We hiked through the valley, with its stands of large white pines, creating a thick blanket of pine needles and mosses on the forest floor, and a feeling of eerie solitude and quiet. Only an occasional song from a robin, finch or sparrow would interrupt the serene quiet.

We passed many creeks, sometimes plunging noisily over rock littered stream beds and then a little further down the trail the creek would flow almost imperceptibly through high mountain bogs, it’s distinctive dark, tea brown color contrasting with white sandbars, and lush green rhododendron that strangled the banks of the stream.

Its cliffs rising majestically on either side of the trail, beckoning us to its summits to gain the view from above, rose in silence all around. We eventually climbed the steep terrain of Little Green Mountain and witnessed an unbelievable sunset from Tranquility Point. The sunset’s ever changing colors, beginning with pale yellows, pinks and blues, with an occasional white, puffy, cumulus cloud drifting across the horizon, separating the rising peaks to the west and the darkening skies above. The clouds changing shapes, lazily, slowly changing colors, hues, as the sun inched its way lower in the sky, eventually to disappear behind Laurel Knob to the west. The colors of the sky were changing to deep reds and purples, with the clouds turning to dark blues and grays, backlit from the setting sun, creating a glowing edge to the ever changing shapes of the clouds. It created a vision of God’s creation and we could only sit in silence and in awe. Each person watching, contemplating within themselves, touched in their own individual way, and witnessing one of nature’s most wondrous gifts to man.

Each trip into nature, alone or with friends, is truly an experience that one can never forget.

New book release "Lost Then Found"

My new book, "Lost Then Found", published June 25, 2010, is now available to order through, Barnes and and Amazon. com.

Kirk Langner, better known as 'Piece Maker' on the Appalachian Trail, planned a nine-day hike on some of the most rugged parts of the trail in North Carolina and Tennessee, but he had not planned for what would eventually change his life forever.
Kirk spends a lot of time walking the woods, much of this done alone, giving him the opportunity to ponder his ineffectual relationships with his wife and daughter and his increasing lack of faith in God.
He eventurally meets an assortment of personalitities on the trail, resulting in sometimes humorous, somethimes tearful events, and he eventually begins to understand the reason for his seemingly lost relationships with the people he loves the most and why he has begun to lose faith in God.
High in the North Carolina mountains, he befriends an old man who begins to share with him his wisdom about life, relationships, prayer, and faith, enlightening him like never before. The old man explains some of the most difficult concepts of life in some of the simplest ways, and 'Piece Maker', who spiritually and emotionally had been lost, is found.
When fact and fiction are combined, it's not always clear to the reader which is which. All of the characters in this novel are real, but they may have been embellished to make them more interesting to the reader-not that they were not interresting to begin with. It is sife to say that all of the characters are more of a blend of real people whom I have known or met in my life.
Many things that happen in this novel are true, but I will leave it to the reader to try to determine what is real and what is not.