Hiking Challenge Update – The Unexpected Journey

Molly's Knob

It has been several months since I’ve written an update on my hiking challenge. My goal is pretty straightforward – hike a major trail in each state (typically the high point) over the next five years. There hasn’t been much progress to report because of the weather and schedule availability. Since January, I’ve been itching to get back at it. Unfortunately, winter has become that uninvited guest who overstayed his welcome two months ago.

Saturday was supposed to be the spring relaunch in pursuit of this lofty and somewhat insane goal. The plan involved driving over from my home in Virgina Beach to the western part of the state to tackle the 5,729 foot Mount Rogers. In fact, my mom grew up in the shadow of Virginia’s high point, and she still owns farmland in the area. It makes for a perfect weekend mountain retreat and launching pad for a hike to Mt. Rogers.

The weather forecast called for sunny skies and temperatures hovering in the low 60’s. Factoring in the elevation change, I figured we were in for a pleasant hike in the 50’s. By mid-morning, my Dad and I headed up twisting and turning Whitetop Road toward Grayson Highlands State Park. As we continued our ascent, I glanced over at the temperature gauge on Dad’s SUV. 45…42…40…38. White fog slowly blanketed the landscape and eventually overtook it completely. What was once an overcast day was gone, as we were unable to see the road ten feet ahead.

“Hopefully this will clear out,” as I allowed my optimism to overtake my rationale. I didn’t want to get this close, only to turn around empty-handed. I thought, “We can handle this.”

Upon arrival at the Grayson Highlands Park Office, the “Closed for the season” sign provided a foreboding signal that we had attempted our hike a bit too early this spring. Never one to give up, we had to give it a shot. At least I still had gloves in my backpack. Hopping out of the car, I knew we were unprepared for the near 30-degree wind chill and the constant whipping wind that sent chills down my spine and sprayed a slight mist into my frozen face, like we were vegetables on display in the produce section. Surely I would warm up as I walked uphill, even if I was only wearing a t-shirt and thin fleece. (Note to self: always pack a heavy coat and something to keep my head warm in upper elevations, no matter the season or weather forecast.)

As we trekked up the Rhododendron Trail, the wind at our backs, I didn’t want to turn back, but I also didn’t want to hike all the way the Virginia’s pinnacle in misery. For me, hiking is about the journey, not just the destination. And this journey had been a sheer 1/2 mile of misery, as we stared at another 3.4 wind-burnt miles to the top (plus 3.9 back). Upon reaching the intersection with the Appalachian Trail, we made the decision to live to fight another day and turn around.

Maybe some people would have pressed on, but that’s not the point of my hiking challenge. It’s more about the story…the journey…than getting frostbite.

Yet, I didn’t want the trip to be in vain, and so we developed plan B. Coming down about 1,500 feet in elevation made all the difference in the world. The fog gave way to a mix of sun and clouds, and the temperature rose into the mid 50’s.

After two visitor center stops, we headed over to Hungry Mother State Park and settled on climbing Molly’s Knob. It wasn’t an overly strenuous hike until the final 0.4 miles. As we reached the summit, it’s like the clouds lifted and the heavens opened. Two benches were perfectly positioned in front of the vast expanse of the surrounding Appalachian Mountains. It was the clearest of clear views, stretching for miles and miles.

I even came across a Geocache box, filled with random objects, such as an empty water bottle, rubber frogs, and a plaid shirt. I took the notebook out and scribbled a quick message: “Tried to hike Mount Rogers today, but the wind was howling and the wind chill was near 30 degrees. This spectacular view made up for it.”

No matter what journey we take or what goals we set, there will always be times when things don’t go as planned. I’ve planned a few hikes this summer, and I know that not all of them will go according to my plan. But the key is to take the unexpected journey. Sometimes, it will lead you to spectacular and unexpected places, just like my trip to Molly’s Knob. Mount Rogers is still waiting for me, and I will return.

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  • http://sparkvoice.wordpress.com/ DS

    Isn’t amazing that thankfully our best plans don’t always work out? We can have thoughts, hopes, and dreams – yet something else works out that’s incredibly better. We have to be flexible, and open-minded. Thanks for sharing your hiking story!

    • http://www.trailreflections.com/ Chris Peek

      So true, DS. In this case, we would have missed out on the incredible view if we had stayed in the fog. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • http://www.elevatedgolf.com/ Daniel Holterhaus

    When one path closes, another opens up! Unfortunate about the weather, but great scenary. The benches look surreal.

    • http://www.trailreflections.com/ Chris Peek

      Well, it just gives us one more reason to go back! The light was perfectly positioned over the benches. When we came up the final stretch and saw the view, it was breathtaking.

  • jodyberkey

    Maybe this weekend’s hike with us will help to make up for this. :) Looking forward to it, Chris! Although poor Steve will be carrying Elijah’s extra 30+ pounds on his back. He’s tough though. I’ll be fun.

    • http://www.trailreflections.com/ Chris Peek

      Absolutely, Jody! I’m excited about it and hoping the weather holds up. Steve will be getting twice the workout, but at least Elijah will get to enjoy the trek too.

      • jodyberkey

        Do you have specific plans in mind about when you’ll arrive; where you’ll arrive; where you want to hike; if you’ll be spending the night with us; (you’re certainly welcome to do so); and if Karen will be coming? I know that she has restrictions for hiking, but she’s welcome to hang out at our house or chill under a tree reading a good book while we hike.

        • http://www.trailreflections.com/ Chris Peek

          I was wanting to discuss and see what all of us wanted to do. I will PM you guys and we can discuss details.

  • http://www.mondayisgood.com/ Tom Dixon

    Chris – great recap of your attempted hike! The photo with the benches is awesome. Would you mind if I use it in a blog post (with attribution to you of course).

    • http://www.trailreflections.com/ Chris Peek

      Thanks Tom! I would be honored for you to use my photo. Please use any that you like!

      • http://www.mondayisgood.com/ Tom Dixon

        Sweet! Thanks.

  • Scott Johnson

    Chris … love the scenery and pics–especially the picture with the benches. Have you ever done the LeConte trail? That is one on my list. I would also like to do a trail that leads to the Len Foote Hike Inn. This is in Georgia. I agree with the hike being the journey. I don’t mind getting the exercise, but want to enjoy the scenery and the hike.

    • http://www.trailreflections.com/ Chris Peek

      Thanks so much, Scott! Yes, I hiked LeConte on my 31st birthday in 2011. It’s both a beautiful and challenging trek, and I plan to go again someday. I’m with you – I want to take in the scenery since I’m going to exert the effort.

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