Day 48 – Won’t You Be My Neighbor

Day 48 was one for the ages. The plan was to hike just shy of 20 miles and stay at Wise Shelter; The only campsite inside Grayson Highlands State Park. Grayson Highlands sits just passed the summit to Mt Rogers, the tallest peak in Virginia. But that’s about as far as we made it today. And we weren’t mad about it at all.

We woke up from our creek side camp site around 7:30. I was first up and I sat next to our long extinguished campfire. My oatmeal cold soaked while I was editing photos (you didn’t think they were all #nofilter did you?).  With 20 miles on the docket for the day we were on the trail before 9AM.

We took a quick stop 2 miles in at Lost Mountain Shelter, privy’s are a thing again in Virginia so we made use of this one. This privy also has “The Lorax” in it’s entirety written inside on the privy wall. Dr Seuss himself would have been 1/2 impressed and 1/2 appalled (that will be the last rhyme in this blog post).

It was quite literally and figuratively uphill from there. Close to 2000ft in elevation over 3.5 miles made it one of the steeper sections we’ve encountered. We hung out at Buzzard Rock for a snack and for everyone to catch up. There’s a pretty neat Timelapse on my instagram (@Barkleycharles) of the clouds filtering out the sunlight as it shines over the bald.

Before the final approach to Mt Rogers I encountered some campers who were nice enough to offer me a couple mandarins. They hit the spot and we’re certainly a fitting welcome to Mr Rogers neighborhood (for which Mt Rogers is obviously named after). The ascent up Mt Rogers was a slow burn. Partly because the trail leading up to the peak was so wet. There were so many streams, water crossings, standing pools of water and muddy paths it made one wonder, did it rain recently? (It had not)

The last mile up Mt Rogers things really started to open up. The trail meandered and zig zagged and teased views here and there. At one point it felt like the trail did a figure 8. It finally opened up to an amazing 270 degree view on a little patch of grass that was just for me. I promptly plopped down and basked in the sun in my own little plot of Paradise.

Hatcher passed me by on the way to Thomas Knob Shelter just another 0.1 of a mile up. I could hear the voices of Sip and Rabbit drift from that direction as well. There’s been times during this hike that I’ve passed up on staying at spots like this because of an end destination for the day that did not jive. Today was not going to be one of those days. I was super content right where I was.

It was as if my tramily had read my inner thoughts and they traveled back down to where I was. They sat down and enjoyed the view with me and we decided this was a fine place to set up for the night. A fire was made, laughs were had. Rabbit cowboy camped (no tent, sleeping bag on the ground) while the rest of us decided to forgo the rainfly and sleep under the full moon.

We had just settled into our tents when we heard it. The munching of grass. A clop of hoofs. A neighing of horses. We all sat upright looking towards the sound. I bolted out of my tent and started down the path towards the sound, I knew what was there; Grayson Highland Ponies!!!

I walked no further than 10 steps and I saw them. 2 adult ponies and a baby. The mom had a long flowing blond mane and the dad was a chocolate brown all over. It was dark out but the moon lit up their shapes. I ran back to the guys to get them to come see. I grabbed my headlamp and we all headed back to get a closer look.

They were very comfortable and not spooked by our presence. After grabbing a few photos we headed back to our tents. Following after us we’re the ponies. They loitered around the trail next to our site for close to 10 minutes to our amusement. What a cherry on top of a Mt Rogers ice cream Sunday of a Thursday.

We had some introspective late night musing about the meanings of life between our tents. Levity was brought to the conversation by a couple of Rabbit’s farts which signaled it was time for bed. I pull my beanie over my eyes to block out the light of the full moon and reflect a solid day.

Stow away in my pack for Day 49 on the Appalachian trail.

Natty Daddy

Thanks for being the realest of the real ones. I’m so glad to have been #blessed with an NCO like you and even happier that relationship has extended beyond the military. You’re charisma is unmatched, please never change. Hoping I might run into you while I’m in Virginia over the next 30 days or so. Let’s make it happen!

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Comments 4

  • thetentman : Jun 4th

    Forget the MD thing and be a pro photog when you are done. The pictures are way good. And thx for the post.

    • Derek Witteman : Jun 4th

      Haha I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks for staying engaged with the comments tentman, I always appreciate your input.

  • CB : Jun 4th

    “What a cherry on top of a Mt Rogers ice cream Sunday of a Thursday.” Don’t have any hope of being able to use it, but that’s my quote of the week! What was Natty Daddy’s rank? Thanks for the post pics. And thanks for being so consistent with your posts!

    • Derek Witteman : Jun 4th

      He was a SGT at the time but is a SSG now. I’d be impressed if you could fit it into conversation. Thanks for following!


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