LEXINGTON, Va. - From Mount Katahdin in north-central Maine to Springer Mountain in northern Georgia, Virginia Military Institute alumnus David Rochow ’13 is currently on the adventure of a lifetime.
Rochow, who co-captained the 2012 men’s soccer team, is currently thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail and is approaching the thousand-mile mark of a journey that began June 1 and will conclude sometime around Thanksgiving. Rochow will hike the 2,200 miles of the legendary trail through 14 states along the East Coast.
Averaging roughly 20 miles per day, Rochow will expect to cross into New Jersey sometime on Friday, Aug. 16, around 800 miles from Mount Katahdin. And while 20 miles is an average, one day Rochow covered more than double his average, completing the Connecticut Challenge.
The Connecticut Challenge is a one-day push through all 51 miles of the Trail that run throughout Connecticut. Rochow began the challenge at midnight and reached his final shelter around 9:00 p.m. that same day; 21 hours of continuous hiking. Rochow’s call to complete the challenge came from his dyke, Sloan Burns ’10, who also thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail.
Along the entire course of the trail are lean-to shelters for hikers to stay overnight. The structures are big rooms with three walls and one side of the building open. Hikers can set up tents if they choose or just unroll their sleeping bags on the floor.
After waking up in one of these shelters, Rochow’s day typically begins with a breakfast of toaster pastries or granola bars. Around midday, Rochow will crack open a can of tuna fish and make a sandwich on pita bread, while dinner typically consists of noodles or pasta cooked on a small camp stove he carries in his pack.
There are several ways for thru-hikers to get their supplies while on the trail, typically by mailing themselves supplies to various points along the way. But Rochow has devised a way to keep his pack relatively light at around 35 pounds. When he needs supplies, he hitchhikes into a nearby town and picks up what he needs. This also allows him to charge his cell phone in coffee shops, allowing him to periodically check in with friends and family and send photos to his parents and VMI head coach Richie Rose to share with the team. Once Rochow has his next batch of supplies, he hitches back out to the trail to continue his journey.
To get water along the way, Rochow has a device that forces water through a filter by applying pressure to a pump on top of the bottle. Multitasking, Rochow rests his feet and uses his body weight to apply the pressure to the pump and through the filter, giving him access to clean water while also giving him a quick rest.
A stretch in Virginia highlights his journey, which will cover a quarter of the Trail’s entirety at 550 miles through the Commonwealth. During that leg of the hike, Rochow will pass right through Rockbridge County, skirting Buena Vista, 10 miles southeast of Lexington. Rochow will push his pace to try and arrive in Rockbridge on Sept. 6 for the Keydets’ home-opener against NJIT at 5:00 p.m. on Patchin Field.
“I’m really excited to get back into Virginia and see the VMI community, hopefully catch a soccer game as well so I can cheer on the lads!” said Rochow of the milestone.
During his time on the trail, Rochow has met several other hikers, noting that groups tend to come together and break apart as they move at different paces. Hikers develop friendships along the way and even receive “trail names” from each other, Rochow’s being “Dave the Pirate”. While he was still in Maine, Rochow and a fellow hiker came across a knee-deep stream they would have to wade across. Not wanting to get his boots and socks wet, Rochow opted to shimmy across a tree that had fallen across the stream. Midway across the log, Rochow encountered a branch, took out his small machete and lopped the branch off to continue on his way. Unable to return the machete to his pack while still on the log, Rochow carried it the rest of the way between his teeth, earning the sentiment from his fellow hiker, who noted, “Hey, that was pretty pirate-y.”
Not only has Rochow encountered hikers along the Appalachian Trail, be he has seen plenty of wildlife as well, including a moose in Maine, a mother bear and her cub and a nighttime encounter with a mountain lion. Near a stream, Rochow, who was hiking with a headlamp on, spotted a pair of green eyes belonging to a the mountain lion. After freezing momentarily, Rochow slowly continued on his way, neither party interested in meeting one another.
Rochow is using the trek through the mountains as a respite between his time at VMI and the “real world” and a new career. A bearded Rochow, who won’t spare the weight of a razor in his pack during the hike, continues on, battling the elements and mother nature along the way.
When asked about his time on the Trail, Rochow quipped “Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail is the most fun I’ve ever had, punctuated by long segments of walking.”Editor’s Note: A phone interview with David Rochow was conducted on Wednesday Aug. 14. At the time, Rochow was 20 miles into New York with roughly 60 miles until New Jersey. We will try and update this article periodically as word from Rochow reaches the athletic communications department.