When is the last time you saw the sunrise?

For me, it was a week ago on top of Humpback Rocks outside of Charlottesville, Va. It was a Thursday morning, and I thought for sure that I would have the place to myself. During the school year, the parking lot at the trailhead is normally packed with college kids, particularly on the weekend. There’s good reason for it, too. It’s a short, albeit straight uphill, march to a near-360-degree view of the surrounding Blue Ridge. For those who can’t afford the time to spend a day in the mountains, it’s a great hike to get you a little bit of trail time.

Unless, of course, you specifically get up before the crack of dawn to see the sunrise. Which takes a few hours. Which is precisely what I wanted.

I should probably clarify a little. When I want to see a sunrise, I literally want to see the sun rise. That means I want to see the rosy fingers of dawn and all that jazz emerge from the darkness and creep their way across the horizon until the sun, a golden-red globe of glory, peaks over the furthest mountain range and finally turns night to day. I want to see the stars and a blue sky. I want to see the moon (if it’s out) and the sun.

That means, I’m up at 4a.m. and on the trail less than an hour after I drag myself from bed.

It sounds a little ridiculous, getting up during the work week three (or so) hours before normal just to see the sun. Even I was questioning my motives as I lugged my camera gear up the mountainside in total darkness. But as soon as those rosy fingers of dawn started to show their color, I knew I’d be in for a treat.

That’s why I found it absolutely astounding, and borderline irritating, when two giggly girls showed up to quickly snap a #selfie in front of the vista before turning around to head back, all before the sun had legitimately risen.

I heard their high-pitched chatter in the gusting wind long before I saw them, and initially, I was impressed. A Thursday morning in the summertime? These girls looked to be no older than 16, maybe 17. Just old enough to have a license I would presume. They didn’t look like seasoned hikers either, choosing skimpy tank tops, cotton shorts, and flip flops for their hiking attire (I, on the other hand, was wearing my Eddie Bauer pants, a long-sleeved shirt underneath a fleece jacket, and a beanie…in July…and barely warm). The hike is no walk in the park either. As I mentioned earlier, it’s all uphill for about a mile, gaining close to 800′ in elevation. Even for an avid hiker, you have to take a break or two just to give your straining calves a rest.

So in my mind, if I wake up that early to hike a trail that is not all that enjoyable to see a sunrise over one of the most picturesque overlooks of the Shenandoah Valley, you can be damn well certain I’ll be hanging out for the entire show.

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Perhaps it was their poor choice in clothing. Perhaps it was because they were more concerned with the documentation of such an adventure, the proof that “we did it” that they were out for. But perhaps, as sad as it sounds, they didn’t know what a sunrise looked like.

I’m not one to judge how other people choose to spend their time, especially in the mountains. The outdoors do different things for different people, and everyone’s dose of mountain time varies. Some need only to park their car at an overlook and watch the sun rise from behind their windshield. Others prefer to hike in a few miles the day before, camp out, and let the sun wake them. I fall somewhere in between, but regardless of my approach, I make sure I’m there to catch those brief moments where blazing sun breaks horizon line in an almost fantastical, other-worldly way.

It’s a comfort, to me at any rate, to know that the sun rises and sets every day. It never changes. It’s always there. No matter what craziness occurs in our day-to-day lives, we can always rely on night turning to day. Seeing the sun crest those mountaintops resets my internal clock. It makes me get up earlier, rejuvenates my creative energy (which can oftentimes fizzle out and all but die), and makes me feel accomplished before most people have even checked their emails.

That’s why when I saw the girls walk away from the overlook (as beautiful as it was already), I couldn’t help but think, you’re missing the point.

For me, the point of catching a sunrise extends far beyond those three things I mentioned above. More importantly, it makes me sit still. For more than 30 minutes. And not behind a computer. That’s the beauty of it too, because there is nothing else in this world that I need to or should be doing at that early of an hour. Except, of course, that which I am doing: watching the sun rise (and taking pictures, no doubt — see selfie below).

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I’m restless by nature, so sitting still is a definite challenge but, once overcome, does wonders for my mood. It’s one of the few times in my life where I simply allow myself to be and observe and reflect and think. About anything and everything. And I need that in my life, that time to quite literally do nothing.

Should I let go of my disappointment and appreciate the fact that those two girls got up during their summer vacation before 8a.m. to hike two miles in near-darkness? Or should I be concerned that they didn’t stay longer, that perhaps they thought they had accomplished their goal of seeing a sunrise (assuming that was their goal at all)?

Perhaps I ought to get up at 4a.m. tomorrow to hike to another overlook and sit and ponder these thoughts for a few hours. Maybe then I will know how to feel.

Until then, what do you think? Is there merit in watching the sun rise?