Work smarter, not harder: my leaf peeping adventure

Becky Campbell • Oct 27, 2019 at 10:30 AM

It’s been a rough year for me all the way around. But one of the highlights was winning three first-place awards in the Tennessee Press Association contest.

I don’t do what I do to enter contests, but when your work is recognized by your peers across the state, it feels pretty good.

It boosted my confidence, too, in my ability to write a humor column as well as take photographs. I was once called a “wanna-be photographer,” but first place in the state is a true accomplishment. Or at least I think so.

Anyway, when my editor gave me an assignment to go photograph the changing colors of the trees, I was pumped. I checked around with some of my outdoor peeps to get ideas about where I could go.

I wanted something different, something I’d have to work for, something that would leave mouths agape, even my own. So I decided to take a short, one-mile trek on the Appalachian Trail near the outdoor trading post and hostel on Jones Branch Road. My buddy said it was a pretty easy hike to a clearing with a beautiful view of the valley.

I’ll have to take his word for it because, well, I didn’t quite make it up there. In fact, according to the woman who came be-bopping down the trail, I hadn’t hit the halfway mark yet and I had already been on the trail 45 minutes.

For some reason, I keep thinking this 52-year-old overweight body with arthritis in both knees and a torn meniscus in one, can just get off the couch and hike a mile to see some different colored leaves. Wrong answer.

With a barely two-foot wide trail and small interwoven tree roots that my feet kept tripping over, I decided I’d had enough. 

The woman I encountered chatted with me for a few minutes. She’s an RN at a hospital in Greeneville and lives in Limestone and hikes every day she’s off. I think my head is still spinning at the prospect of that, but more power to ya, my friend. I made a comment that I’d left my water in my car, and she was kind enough to share her last bottle with me.

“You’re gonna love this,” she said. It wasn’t just cold. It was ice cold. She had frozen a bottle of water and it was still partially frozen. Just as I was about to twist off the lid, she realized she had already opened it and drank from it.

I told her at that point, I didn’t care who she was, I was drinking the water. We laughed about it, she assured me she had no contagious disease and then she was gone. After our conversation about me not being quite to the halfway point, she suggested Beauty Spot. 

I had already thought about that as well, but it seemed too easy. I decided right there on that narrow path riddled with tree roots and giant steps at the switchback points that easy was OK. My dad always said “Work smarter, not harder,” and I decided to take his advice.

By the time I got back to my car, it was too late to head to Beauty Spot, so I put that on the next day’s agenda, and boy, I was not disappointed. The leaves were beautiful — at least they were on Friday — and I hope they still are for those leaf peepers who haven’t had a chance to go for a drive in the mountains. Of course, the weather wasn’t completely cooperative, but I think it worked out pretty well.

As I think back on my (mis)adventure, and then took a look around my own home, I realized that you don’t always have to go looking for the beauty of Northeast Tennessee. That’s one of the best things about living here — just look around your own front or back yard and you’re sure to find that beauty.

Another thing I learned on this assignment? Don’t go doing stuff you did in your 20s or 30s unless you’ve continued those activities through your life. I haven’t kept myself up well, so at my age, the short “hike” on the AT could have been disastrous. Lucky for me, there was the easy way — Beauty Spot, Unaka Mountain and my own front yard.

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