Comfort Zone

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I need to get out more.

There are days when I will refuse to cross the river into the west side of town because it’s just too damn far. There are days when I won’t even leave the neighborhood, content with hitting the singletrack that’s a mile from my house and walking to the corner store for sustenance. I’m like one of those old people who stays in their slippers all day and watches Fox News on a constant loop. Just festering in my own xenophobic anger.

The Southern Appalachians are full of wonderful destinations ripe with adventure and intrigue. There are hidden lakes and rock outcropping a and waterfalls and solitary single track…so many gems out there in the wild, but I won’t go to them because they’re just so damn far away. If I could snap my fingers and be at the trailhead instantaneously, I’d explore the entire region, but I just can’t fathom sitting in a car for two hours just to take a hike or paddle a river. I’d like to think that my lack of willingness to explore is because I have to travel so much for work, but to be honest I’m just lazy and am content with existing well within my comfort zone. So, there are many places in the southern Appalachians that I have yet to explore.

But I sucked it up recently and drove two very long, winding hours into the Great Smoky Mountains to explore a remote corner of the park that I’d somehow managed to avoid for the last 15 years. I had a free day and I’ve always been curious about Shuckstack Tower, a retired lookout tower that overlooks the southeastern corner of Fontana Lake. I didn’t see another soul at the trailhead or along the trail because most people are like me and are reluctant to get outside of their comfort zones. Also, it was a weekday and jobs.

It’s a hump of a hike along the Appalachian Trail—basically 3.5 miles up on beautiful bench cut singletrack that contours around the side of Shuckstack Ridge. It was 90 degrees and I soaked through my clothes within the first mile. But I was rewarded with a fire tower that is in good enough shape to climb and a view of Fontana and Nantahala National Forest that I’d never seen before.

I’d like to say that my mini weekday adventure sparked a newfound wanderlust, but to be honest, I booked it back down the trail and drove straight home to the comforts of my neighborhood. Tomorrow, I’ll probably just ride the neighborhood singletrack. It’s not easy to expand your comfort zone. Baby steps.

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