I have found a good daily rhythm on the AT. Making and breaking camp has become second nature, and most of the remaining daylight hours are spent walking. I am enjoying the variety in the scenery as well as the changing seasons. If I didn't miss my beautiful wife so much I would happily walk until winter made it uncomfortable.
So it was a bit jarring when I crossed a busy highway to the hyperkinetic Nantahala Outdoor Centre (NOC) and associated businesses. The AT passes through the NOC, but its services are directed more at whitewater rafters and general tourists than walkers. NOC offers hostel accommodation, and I had contemplated staying there, but one look and I wanted to head back into the woods. I did, however, stop long enough for a pizza and a beer. It ranked among the most enjoyable meals I can recall. A steady diet of powdered soup and pasta will do that for you. After eating I walked another 3 miles and pitched my tent in the forest.
I met a couple of interesting SOBO thru hikers today. Both had started the trail in Maine in June, so they made good time. The first was a mellow older hiker with the trail name "Papa". In each hand he was carrying a heavy wooden staff that he had carved. On one he pointed out two carved faces that were reminiscent of Munch's Scream. He said they were taken from the ultrasounds of his in utero grandchildren. When I commented that they looked a little ghoulish, he replied "They look better now."
The other thru hiker was a young woman (trail name "Shredder") who was walking with a friend who was doing a long section hike. I met them at the top of a remote former fire lookout, where they had camped for the night. It provided a 360 degree panorama and seemed like an exceptional place to sleep. I will be keeping my eyes open for a similar opportunity further up the trail.