National Parks Centennial

This summer NPR has been working on several stories on national parks for the 100th anniversary. Here’s a round up of some of the stories:

To Tame A ‘Wave’ Of Invasive Bugs, Park Service Introduces Predator Beetles 

National Parks Have A Long To-Do List But Can’t Cover The Repair Costs

Keeping Bears Wild — Or Trying — At National Parks

Stand At The Edge Of Geologic Time

Photos: Mike Belleme for NPR, Nathan Rott/NPR and Wes Lindamood/NPR

Visit the full series

I have been more than lucky to have explored many of the national parks. I am even more lucky to have almost five national parks within a three hour drive of me! Can’t wait to get out and explore some more! #nps100 #nps2016 #goodoldfreshair (at Great Smoky Mountains National Park)

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“I’m almost never serious, and I’m always too serious. Too deep, too shallow. Too sensitive, too cold hearted. I’m like a collection of paradoxes.”– Ferdinand de Saussure
#goodoldfreshair (at Great Smoky Mountains National Park)

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Whitewater Kayaking • North Carolina

Our first stop in North Carolina was the Biltmore Estate. I was so happy to go here! I’ve had this American Castle on my travel list for a good 10 years. I loved touring the mansion and felt more of a connection with it than some of the European classics.

My favorite parts were the library (very Downton),

The loggia with amazing views,

The winter garden, the billiards room, the massive dining room, and all of the kitchens and storerooms.

North Carolina color themes and packing palette.

Late lunch in the carriage house stables.

Seemed like the perfect opportunity to get some tangy North Carolina BBQ.

Then we headed toward our mountain lodge in Great Smoky Mountains National Park near the famous-for-whitewater and Olympic athletes, Nantahala Outdoor Center, our headquarters for kayaking.

I had these really good pretzels with some veggies and cheese from a pizza place in nearby Bryson City for dinner.

Sunset in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Cinnamon raisin toast and granola for breakfast from the cute dining nook at the lodge.

Appalachian Trail.

Getting ready to start our two-day whitewater kayaking course.

As it turns out, whitewater kayaking is a totally different sport than flatwater kayaking. It’s like the difference between trail running and road running; mountain biking and road biking; hiking and mountaineering.

While we’ve had years and flatwater experience, whitewater experience was all new, with its own set of boats: smaller and more maneuverable, very tight-fitting, with spots for your knees to go up in to the boat along the flanks to use your whole lower half for stabilizing and steering as well as your core, and its own gear: helmet, snug PFD, and wetsuit-like skirt that comes to chest height and then hooks on to the lid of the kayak.

We spent most of the time being wet, from practicing hip snaps, to ear dips to wet exits, to swimming in Fontanta Lake and across and down the Tuckasegee River. We learned so much, but like any new, immersive experience, it was a lot to take in. Your mind wants to freak out when you are underwater, under a boat, waiting for someone to come practice a rescue, so it was great to get experience being calm in all these instances.

We are so glad we did it and want to go back and learn even more. It’s just like all the whitewater kayaking with the boat skirts and the rapids and the maneuvers you see! Running and biking use so much up and down hip movement, I liked taping in to more side to side hip movement for this type of kayaking. I fell asleep both nights twitching, trying to self correct my balance and feeling like I was still in my kayak.

My favorite part was when our instructor took away our paddles and we had to paddle the kayaks back and forth across the rapids with just our hands. I called it SwimBoating and it is my new favorite sport! We then had to paddle about a quarter mile down stream like that as well. But my dad and I were great at that part – finally something endurance rather than skill based!

My one and only photo of all the kayak trauma. Being soaking wet with nothing but a small water bottle in your possession, traveling down a river, falling out and hustling back in to your boat by water or by hauling it to a bank and draining it all day make for an OK excuse.

Polenta pizza Sunday night in Asheville.

We spent Monday hanging out in Asheville.

One last southern meal of specialty biscuits at Biscuit Head.

With celebratory desert and tea at Chocolate + Milk downtown to mark our long weekend getaway full of new skills and experiences.