What a great day in Western North Carolina

op frFrom the very first few days I lived in the mountains — as an 18-year-old freshman at Appalachian State University — late-summer days have always gotten my blood pumping. The fresh, cool breezes that suggest the coming fall do battle with the lingering summer heat scream at you to get outside and do something, anything but stay inside and inactive. 

Saturday was one of those days. A few clouds punctuating a blue sky, warm in the sun but cool in the shade. By the time noon rolled around the chores were still stacked up like a winter’s worth of cordwood, a neat pile that one could have chosen to keep working on. Or not.


My wife Lori wanted to get a bike ride in, so she took off while I finished up a few more tasks — OK, it was really lunch and a quick peak at some college football games — before driving down the mountain to redezvous.

She had pulled over at Barber’s Orchard, and she wasn’t going anywhere else until we got some fresh apples and something to drink. The place was packed, as usual, and we threw her bike on the back of her bright red VW Beetle and drove away chomping on honeycrisp apples.

We were headed to the Nantahala Gorge to the freestyle kayaking world championships. Hundreds of international athletes and their entourages had come to Swain County for the weeklong event, and we wanted to experience the mayhem. I was driving as we headed over Balsam, and Lori asked where I had put the bag with the clothes she had packed.

Ooops. I could see it clearly (in my head) on the chair by the door, and in my hurry to get going there it still sat. That meant my wife was stuck in her riding clothes, and so we had to make a quick decision — basically kill the day or come up with a new plan.

I talked her into going the Roses department sstore in Sylva. She was reluctant, but it was on the way to the Gorge, so we swung in and she outfitted herself in low-priced Chinese-made clothes for the cost of a cheap lunch. Only took five minutes and we were back on the road. What a woman.

We managed to find parking, strolled around the complex, got a couple of local craft brews and watched some fantastic kayakers doing their thing in the river. The Nantahala Outdoor Center and the other sponsors had pulled out all the stops. The electronic scoreboard and jumbo screen made keeping up with the competition easy and fun. Ran into some friends from Waynesville and listened to some live music. Couldn’t have found a better way to spend the day.

My son had come to the event with friends, and we tried to find him. Turns out, they had caught the kayaking and then headed toward a swimming hole in Cherokee while the sun was still up. He couldn’t stop talking about the rope swing and all the fun they had, and I believe it from the picture he sent us.

As we headed back toward Haywood County, we stopped in and picked up Italian food before heading back up the mountain just as the sun was setting. 

What a day, and what a place to call home.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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