A Push to the End
Mount Rogers, Virginia
Elevation – 5,729ft
Summit Date: 11/25/12
After driving for several hours Virginia came up fast and soon I was reading directions for the back roads up to the Appalachian Trail. Cell phones have become indispensable. It became my gps, hotel booking service, restaurant finder, and radio station. Life has become so much easier where trips require little to zero planning to be successful these days. The fact that I could take off on a Saturday morning without a map and change plans on the fly is amazing. This is also a dangerous reliance because as soon as the satellites don’t connect or you run out of power you’re in the middle of nowhere with no help. So far Google maps had been on point with directions but now I was several miles up a back road that just abruptly ended. Google maps was telling me to go further yet clearly I couldn’t drive through the woods.
Luckily I had some experience with navigating through adventure racing and other outdoor activities. I backed out and started the other way down the road. I looked at the landscape for direction as the gps slowly pulled up a topographical map. Soon I was back on track and found the national forest signs which now confirmed I was headed in the right direction. This was not the first time the GPS would come in handy.
I was excited to get what I would call a real hike in. Mount Rodgers would be an 8 mile round trip. It was right along the Appalachian Trail and starts by going through farm land. I started the hike at 3:45 and had to hustle before the sun was going to set. Running up the trail I was quickly reminded of what it was like to run with a pack and extra supplies. Most trail runs I’ve got shoes, shorts, and possibly a watch. Now I was loaded with a pack, water, and those extras just in case. I pushed hard towards the summit but my progress slowed slightly as the elevation gain and the longs days had drained me. There is something about trail miles where the elevation, constant attention to varying foot placement, and shorter sightlines in the woods make them seem much longer than road miles. Second guessing if I had somehow passed the summit turn off I pulled out the trusty cell phone and loaded the gps.
Roughly half a mile remained to the summit when I turned around to look. There was a beautiful sunset starting to happen. It was the best view I had seen in 5 states which is saying a lot. I took pictures which reminded me of the Runners World photos you see of the “rave runs”.
After climbing the last several hundred feet I arrived in a wooded area with the trail splitting off in several directions. None of them felt right. I stood confused like you would see a tourist in a foreign country, feet glued to the ground, head swiveling side to side with that classic bewildered look. I couldn’t be lost, not now. It had been hundreds of miles, 4 states and now the last one was threatening to be lost to the darkness creeping in over the landscape. There was a pile of rock in front of me so I walked in that direction because it looked to be the highest in the area. Sure enough it was there I discovered the familiar shine of another survey seal.
The first rule of hiking and most outdoor sports is when you reach the top, your only half way there. It was a relief to have made the last summit but now tired and in the dark it was time to make it home. I started down as the final light faded, turning on a headlamp to see. The cold crept in starting to numb my extremities and further slow progress. The temperature plummeted from 40, down into the low 20’s.
On the hike up the elevation gain keeps your warm, but now even with the extra layers and my exhausted body was slowly testing my will. As usual I zoned out and let the mile pass until I arrived at the field. Now it was less than half a mile back but the wind gusts ripped the last bit of warmth from me. Shivering I stumbled down to the car struggling to get the keys out. Once inside I turned the car on and waited for the heat the help the feeling coming back into my hands so I could drive again. Soon I was off again back onto the highways. After two long days and a majority of the driving early on I was beat. For the next 3 hours struggled to stay awake. It was done, 5 states in 2 days and over 1,000 miles. Now all that was left was to wake up for work the next morning and return back to normal life.