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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Rollin' on the River

Did you have a good Memorial Day weekend? I loved seeing everyone's pictures. Families, flags, pools and parties. We had the opportunity to go stay near the Nantahala Outdoor Center in North Carolina for the weekend and it was- magical.

Truly, magical.

As a family we haven't gone on many vacations together...and now that I really think about it, we've gone on exactly zero. B Daddy has taken a kid or two somewhere for a weekend and we've been to visit family, but as for actually choosing a destination for pleasure and taking all four kids, we'd never done it before.

The (beautiful) home we stayed in was just a few minutes away from the Nantahala Outdoor Center, (NOC) which is a hub for adventure geeks from all over the Southeast. The Appalachian Trail crosses over the Nantahala river there, world-class mountain bike trails are a few minutes away, and the river itself is full from May-October with paddlers of all ages and abilities.

We used to visit the area a lot pre-kid; it's where I learned to kayak and where B Daddy spent many a night camped out with buddies after boating in college. We told Britain she'd kayaked down the river once in my belly, a fact she put on repeat for the rest of the weekend, "I've already been here boys." B Daddy and I decided to start dating after a trip to a similar southern river, so the whole hiking/biking/kayaking scene holds particular sway over our hearts.

We got there early Saturday afternoon and puttered around the house until it was time for our big race. We found a family-friendly, 1 mile "Adventure Dash" that started right at the NOC, so we geared up and headed down to run. Both B Daddy and I figured that a one mile race with obstacles was completely doable for the big kids (ages 6, 4 and 3) and that our pace would be slow enough for Jude (9 months) to easily ride in the Baby Bjorn on B Daddy's chest.

I figured there would be some cargo nets and a balance beam, but was completely caught off guard by the mud pit. After a moment's hesitation over ruining my nearly-new shoes, I dove in and was able to coax the Squirt to join me. It was ridiculously fun to watch the kids participate and to help coach them through the course. There was an outright freak-out by a certain child who shall remain nameless when it came to the river crossing, but one of the course volunteers offered her (whoops) a kayak ride in place of running over the backs of the whitewater boats and so at long last, muddy, wet, and grinning ear to ear, we finished. We were dead last, but we were together and triumphant!

Sunday morning we woke up early (like 6:08am early) and planned our adventures for the day: a morning hike, lunch atop a fire tower and an afternoon of paddling at Lake Fontana. We took the scenic route to get to the start of our hike for the day (the driving alone in this area is worth the trip) and hopped on a little piece of the Appalachian Trail to reach the summit of Wesser Bald. A full hour later we had hiked a pretty steep mile and a half up the mountain ridge to enjoy 360 degrees of mountains all around us. There was a LOT of complaining on this trek. B Daddy carried two children practically the whole way up. I carried #3 for a good bit of trail. There may have been sit-ins at various points along the trail by reluctant children. We pulled out every trick we knew to keep the kids engaged and quickly realized we didn't have many tricks. Because it was hard-fought and won, our lunch at the top of that rickety old fire tower is going to be treasured in my heart for a long time coming. The trip back down the mountain was decidedly quicker, but full of an equal amount of complaining.


That afternoon we were a sight to see, trekking down to the lake. B Daddy carrying our deflatable paddleboard on his back and a pink kayak in each hand, me with a baby on one hip, a backpack on my back and a three year old's hand in mine. The children of course were collectively wailing about having to carry their own paddles and towels. Pure comedy/torture.

We have learned in 6 years of parenting to keep expectations low. If our expectation is that we will spend five minutes in the water with whining children after journeying 40 minutes to get to the water, then anything better than that is a win. Having all three big kids try out the kayaks and paddle without freaking out or tipping over was clearly an unprecedented victory. We even got to share a paddle lesson with a curious little girl who was watching our crew intensely the whole time. Maybe we made a paddler out of her!

We picked up a pizza from the restaurant that has always been our respite after a day on the river and ended our night on the porch watching the mountains disappear and talking about how we might manage to get our own piece of paradise in this neck of the woods some day.

Monday morning we were prepared to pack up and head home, but our big guy requested one more turn in the kayak, so we loaded up again and this time, headed to the river to let him see for himself what it was like to paddle against the current. We timed the trip perfectly, getting about 45 minutes of play in the tame ripples near the NOC before the dam-released river made it all the way down to our spot and the water level picked up significantly.

Even once the water rose, the kids wanted to keep paddling their little section.  I swear I saw B Daddy's heart grow three times bigger as he watched them all enjoy something that is as close to sacred as this earth gets for him. We packed up and headed home around lunchtime, intermittently talking and daydreaming on the drive south about how much we love that area. We're looking into another long weekend away before the summer slips by... and maybe this time B Daddy and I will even find a way to run the river.

Have you ever visited that area? Do you have a place that holds a similar sway over your heart? Have you shared them with your kiddos yet? 

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