The 10 Best Reasons to Wake Before Dawn in Western Carolina

The invigoration and tranquility you'll experience as the sun rises will last all day long.
The invigoration and tranquility you'll experience as the sun rises will last all day long. Caleb Morris
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Dawn patrol is the practice of heading out before sunrise and beginning the day with a paddle, run, ski, hike, or whatever form of outdoor adventure you most crave. Crawling out of bed into the cold and making your way to the trailhead in darkness requires deep motivation, commitment and prior planning—but the payoff is enormous. So set the alarm, ready your things the night before, and see for yourself how dawn patrol sets the stage for a fulfilling and invigorating lifestyle. Here are ten reasons for Asheville explorers to head for the hills before daybreak.

1. You Don’t Have to Travel Far

One of Asheville’s greatest assets is its proximity to the wilderness. Your morning mission could take you as far away as Cataloochee Ski Area , or as nearby as Richmond Hill Park. Ease yourself into the realm of dawn patrol with a sunrise run on the Greenway, and work your way up to a trail run at  Bent Creek  or an illuminated ride at Pisgah . When the Blue Ridge Parkway is shut down in the winter, it creates a beautiful track of clean snow, 469 miles long, for hiking and cross-country skiing. Whatever gets your heart beating and fills your lungs with fresh air makes a suitable morning conquest.

2. Achieve the Coveted Work/Life Balance

Asheville sparkles in predawn light.
Asheville sparkles in predawn light. Pulaw

Achieving a healthy work/life balance is very possible in a small city such as Asheville. When your life is partly defined by outdoor adventure, however, the limited daylight of winter does present a challenge. Practicing alarm-clock discipline, arming yourself with warm layers and a headlamp, and fearlessly facing the predawn darkness will allow you to infuse each and every day with outdoor endeavors, before you even clock in.

3. Appreciate the Comforts of the Office

There’s nothing like the coming in from the cold to help you appreciate the everyday luxuries we so often take for granted. Those first few lungfuls of frigid mountain air might feel harsh, but dawn patrol will help you revel in the comforts of office life as you never have before: placid temperatures, hot water, your lumbar-supporting office chair. Even that brown-bag lunch you brought from home will be a source of gleeful anticipation to your super-stoked appetite.

4. Catch a Blue Ridge Sunrise

The sun rises over Graveyard Fields, a popular hiking destination along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The sun rises over Graveyard Fields, a popular hiking destination along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Jenn Deane

Greeting the dawn is one of the healthiest rituals you can incorporate into your life, and the ethereal Blue Ridge Mountain range puts on a truly spectacular sunrise. Catch the show from Mt. Mitchell State Park , Sam's Knob , the Blue Ridge Parkway, or any place where you can glimpse those first rays. The tranquility, awe, and invigoration that you experience will fuel you straight through your 9-5.

5. Shoot Stunning Photos

Perfecting the camera settings to catch those elusive moments of daybreak.
Perfecting the camera settings to catch those elusive moments of daybreak. Matt Paish

Western Carolina is photogenic. But Western Carolina at sunrise is really, really photogenic. Dawn patrol can yield some breathtaking captures: silhouettes and sun rays, the delicate colors of dawn seeping through the forest or brightening the streets, and you, in a glorious selfie, looking burly and alive in the first light of day.

6. Stick to Your Exercise Plan

Experts agree that the most effective way to stick to a workout plan is to exercise first thing in the morning. So while you’re outside, being uplifted by nature and extolling in the many virtues of dawn patrol, you’re turning this healthy practice into part of your daily routine, and upping your chances of meeting your fitness goals.

7. Avoid a Congested Commute

Don’t hit that snooze button: the earlier you’re up and at ’em, the emptier the roads are going to be. Asheville’s growing traffic issues are never as apparent as they are during peak commuting hours. By heading into the hills before dawn, not only will you skip the morning commute, you’ll also save yourself from battling post-work traffic as you try to make it to Bent Creek before nightfall.

8. Coffee in the Mountains...

Coffee in the mountains sure beats the drive-through line at Starbucks.
Coffee in the mountains sure beats the drive-through line at Starbucks. Martin Cathrae

Coffee tastes better on the side of a mountain, or sipped from a thermos as you stroll alongside the French Broad river. That pleasant caffeinated buzz hits you harder when mixed with fresh air and exercise endorphins. Simply put, dawn patrol coffee is one of life’s most decadent offerings. Enjoy it as often as possible.

9. ...Espresso in the City

Enjoy your second round of coffee at one of Asheville's many cafes.
Enjoy your second round of coffee at one of Asheville's many cafes. Unsplash

You’re back in town and ready to start the work day....but not until you’ve finished a second cup, this one purveyed at one of Asheville’s many artisan coffee shops. From the strong espresso and even stronger hipster scene at High-Five Coffee Bar , to the comforting neighborhood cheer of the West End Bakery  and the spacious, modern vibes at Vortex Donuts, you can find good coffee and grab-and-go breakfast on every street corner. Treat yourself to an espresso and a glazed twist; after all, it’s 9 a.m. and you’ve already earned it.

10. The Breakfast Beer

Once in a while, your morning conquest might just turn into a ”mental health“ day.
Once in a while, your morning conquest might just turn into a ”mental health“ day. Jay Johnson

If your morning conquest somehow turns into a full blown snow/sick day (who can blame you?) and you find yourself released from the work-day duties, this is the perfect time to try out a “breakfast brew” at one of Asheville’s many breweries. Perk up with a pint of Highland Brewery’s Thunderstruck Coffee Porter, crafted from beans roasted by Dynamite Coffee Roasting, or go all out with a decadent French Toast Stout at  Wicked Weed

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