Rendezvous in Roanoke
For the past couple of months this weekend has been on my calendar. Why? Well, I was going to meet up with one of my good friends from college and get into some shenanigans like old times.
Drew and I met up at the McAfee Knob parking lot around 8pm on Friday night. We geared up for the night and set off up the trail to the "most photographed point" on the Appalachian Trail. Less than a half mile into the 4.4 mile hike to the point we heard rustling and two bears ran across the trail no more than 20 yards in front of us. They took interest in these not so smelly hikers for a brief second before trampling down the hill in front of them. It was really cool to see them, and remind yourself that we're in their habitat now.
The hike took us about an hour and forty five minutes. We were hiking at a pretty good pace, I'd probably expect people with children or if you want to leisurely enjoy it, a solid 2-2.5 hours. The hike overall is pretty gradual. It is the AT though, so it has a bunch of rocks and roots all over it. Trail running sneakers, or hiking boots would definitely be the preferred footwear of choice. Bring water as well, there aren't any streams along the trail to replenish. I'm going to go against everything I've ever been taught and say you really don't need a map for this hike. There is enough signage and maps at the parking lot to cover you, since it is such a popular hiking destination. Just make sure you take a picture of the map!
A camera and an alarm clock are a must for this hike. You really should see the sunrise from here. Especially, if you can plan it right and time a good sunset. I use Sunsetwx.com to check sunrise/sunset forecasts.
Drew and I ended up hiking to the top and relaxing for a bit before retreating to sleep. I think this was a great option because the temperatures cooled down and the wind picked up just enough to provide a cool and comfortable temperature. There was lightning far off in the other valleys which was really cool to watch as well.
After sleeping, we got up in time for the sunrise and headed back up to watch it come up. There were probably only 8-12 people on top for the sunrise. Which, sure, that's quite a bit for a sunrise, but I was happy it wasn't everyone and their Grandma. We were able to lay there and enjoy the view for a few more hours before the crowds really came. Even with the crowds though, everyone was really friendly and just happy to be out there no matter where they were coming from or going. I think this is something I really appreciate about the trail. It strips us down to who we are. Your money doesn't matter in nature, your job doesn't matter in nature, nothing but your connection to nature and other people matters. Drew and I were able to connect with quite a few people and have great conversations.
In particular there was this one man that came running up to us as he reached the famous view and asked us if we could take his picture. I obliged and he went to stand on the point. As he came back he was explaining how he had seen the sunset from this other mountain, he was now pointing to, last night. He lived at the base of another mountain and proudly exclaimed "This is the most beautiful land in all of the 50 states!" He continued to say, "I've traveled all over, been here and there, seen the Grand Canyon, and have been in the valley of Yosemite. But nothing compares to this right here."
Now, in my mind I was kind of thinking, right, sure, this little piece of Virginia, the best in all of the 50 states? On the hike back to the parking lot I reflected on this a bit, and still do. He's so in love, and in grained in what he has right here. Sure, other mountains are bigger, but his intimate connection with nature is right here. That is a powerful thing to realize. The place where you spend most of your time, whether it be the crag you visit every weekend, the river you paddle with your best friends or the hike you make every Saturday just to make sure your legs start moving, somehow it all grows on you. That landscape becomes a part of your own story and so you will fight tooth and nail for that land. I think in a way, this is what makes America great.
We returned back to the cars around 10am and planned out our day. The first was a stop to the grocery store to grab food for the rest of the day. We were very concerned about our meat and beer intake so we got some of both.
Our day consisting of playing connect four, Jenga and Uno at Twin Creeks Brewing. If you're ever going to play those games against Drew or I, make sure to challenge me in connect 4 and Drew in Jenga. You're almost always guaranteed to win, because those are the games we are the worst at. It was a great afternoon of catching up and telling stories. Eventually, we got hungry and drove up on the Blue Ridge Parkway to cook dinner and relax a bit. The food was delicious as cooked by Drew, and the scenery you couldn't beat. Although, the watermelon could have been better the steak tasted like we were at a five star restaurant.
Eventually, the sun went down, after checking out a little bit of the Roanoke night life we headed back up to the Blue Ridge Parkway to sleep for the night and enjoy the stars. It was thundering and lightning when we drove up the mountains, but luckily for us it was headed away. We were able to see the flashes of light down in the valley and only experience the wind of the passing storm.
In the morning we grabbed breakfast at a diner just off the interstate and headed our separate ways. It was a quick weekend away, however, one that was surely needed. Post college, it's definitely harder to stay in contact with people, especially when they live hundreds of miles away. I'll let you know though, if you make the effort and it's reciprocated, hopefully there's a pretty good bond there, and you've got a friend for life.