Sunrise at Max’s Patch: Realizing the Purpose of My Thru Hike

“It is up to us to put ourselves in the way of beauty.” This quote from Cheryl Strayed has stuck with me while thru hiking. Her late mother reminded her that the sun rises and sets every day, but it’s up to her to be there to see it.

As I was following No Name away from Max’s Patch, I could feel the mountains tugging me backward. I couldn’t leave yet. We had just pushed on from enjoying some trail magic, but I felt as though I had unfinished business on the mountain.

Trail Magic

As I left the trail magic, one of the trail angels, Sixer, turned and said, “You know, Max’s Patch has some of the most beautiful sunrises. You all could always camp here and go watch it in the morning!” And I knew he was right. Max’s Patch was where I had seen one of the most beautiful sunrises of my life. His idea lingered in my head as I continued walking with No Name, away from the grassy bald.

Suddenly every step I took was one less I could take tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day, and that was the worst thing I could think of. Less of the trail left for me to enjoy — this place becoming yet another I wouldn’t watch the sun rise from.

Me, before I started getting existential on the bald (as one does!)

Getting Existential with the Finches

There was a brown finch balanced on a long grass strand — and I started thinking about the difference between the finch and myself. The finch lived here. I envied it. It could watch the sun rise and set every morning. It rose and sang at dawn and slept in the grasses I just was passing through. But finches don’t spend time watching sunrises and sunsets and getting lost in the ancient beauty of the blue ridge.

As humans, we are gifted the capacity to appreciate the world as it is. Unlike a finch, we can look out over a mountain range like the Appalachians, and feel a sense of awe at their beauty, wonder why we haven’t stopped to look more, and feel ourselves become small in time’s long trail. We have the power to appreciate something like the mountains, to realize what a gift it is to be alive and see something as beautiful as them.

Going Back to the Trail Magic

And so, I turned around and camped back with some friends that were still at the trail magic. It was fortunate I did — I wound up eating three pulled pork sandwiches, enjoying some more beers and playing corn hole. The random occurrence of trail magic had turned my shitty day into a great one. All because of the kindness of two strangers, and the suggestion to put myself in the way of something truly amazing — the sunrise and sunset.

I ran up and down the stairs of Max’s Patch five times — once going up the first time, once going back, up and down for the sunset, and up once more for the sunrise. I don’t regret it — especially the sunrise.

The tramily at the bald!

A Familiar Sunrise

Myself and seven other friends sat on the grassy bald that morning. The mountains rolled into the distance like the backs of blue waves, streaks of gold settled into the tops of tree leaves. The sky changed faster than a watercolor in the rain. Buttercups turned towards the sky, cupping the golden hue of the sunset in their petals. And in the midst of it all, our twelve hiker faces, turned towards the rising sun, clapping and cheering. Feet calloused, faces holding the golden light, wearing the trail on our clothes in shades of dirt. Knees tucked under elbows, feet tucked under packs. 200 miles behind us, and the earth holding our tired bodies as the sun warmed us.

It was a sunrise that felt familiar. My first sunrise as a thru hiker. I sat alone for a while after my tramily continued to hike, watching the sun make its daily trek further into the sky. Watching it paint shadows on the mountains.

Ain’t she beautiful!

I stood to walk down the trail. As I walked downwards, I could see the mountains closer, watch the first rays of light feed the trees, watch the sky change from a firey orange to a calmer blue. I touched a white blaze and stopped. Max’s Patch was the first place I had ever been camping. The first time I fell asleep with nothing between me and the earth and sky but the walls of my tent and foam of my ground pad. The first time the lullaby of crickets and frogs lulled me to sleep. The first time I saw a sunrise so striking it made me realize how lucky I was to be alive at that precise moment, to have eyes that fully absorbed all of the colors scattered across the sky, all of the water droplets forming a perfect prism in a serendipitous explosion of color that could make a grown man cry.

Deja Vu


And here I was again. Standing in the same grassy bald. With my same body, with my same soul, with my same eyes, on the same earth. Looking out at the sunrise that was completely different — over the same mountains. The same mountains that held me then when I wasn’t sure who I was. Mountains that held my uncertain footsteps when I jumped at every branch that broke. Mountains that have since strengthened my legs and my confidence in myself. Mountains that allowed me to truly feel alive, and to feel like myself.

I adore this trail!

The applause and my trail family had brought back memories of another sunrise I had watched from McAfee’s Knob just a year ago, where someone had lost their life; when I first realized how none of us ever know how many sunrises or sunsets we have left to watch.

As I walked down from Max’s Patch that day, I stood with my pack on my back and 200 miles behind me I looked out over the Appalachian Mountains in front of me. The mountains that felt like my home. The mountains that still hold me through all the years; the mountains that will hold me after I die. The sunrise still blazed over them, rays of light painting the peaks golden for a brief moment. I started to cry. I was so grateful that I am alive to experience such beauty. That I am alive in that particular moment in time, surrounded by ancient mountains, watching something as fleeting as the sunrise. It is incredible to be caught between something older than time and something that lasts less than an hour. How lucky I am to watch the two collide in such an awesome kaleidoscope of color during something as brief as my life while I stand on mountains older than time.

Photo creds to No Name!

Realizing the Purpose of my Thru Hike

Turning back to watch that sunrise with my friends, I realized the purpose of my thru hike. To put myself in the way of beauty. To appreciate every second as it falls together. To appreciate things like trail families — like sunrises — coming together out of the craziest combinations of happenstance. Just the right combination of clouds and light, just the right combination of decisions and souls. None of us have forever. Just as the sunrises and sets, our time out here will blaze for a few months, and pass. For each one of us, this trail brings a grand opportunity. The trail stretches out before us — a path to put ourselves in the way of beauty. To see it in the kindness of strangers, to see it in familiarity of friends and to see it in the mountains of the trail. And with every step, every breath, every minute I spend out here — godamn it if I don’t do just that.

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Comments 4

  • Jack B : May 21st

    Wow!!! Best trail blog I’ve read…ever. Wax on Fireball.

  • thetentman : May 21st

    Great post. Thank you. It looks like you figured it all out. I hope you finish. It will be even harder now that you have figured it out.

    Good luck.

  • Kathy Karoly : May 21st

    Brought a smile to my face and tears to my eyes. Thank you so much!

  • Furnace : May 23rd

    Great post. Hope you continue to find the beauty in your hike and your life. It is always there but it’s easy to miss.


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