Day 51: It’s Pony Day! Oh, and We Did 500 Miles

“It’s Pony Day”

I had another really good night’s sleep. I woke up as refreshed as one can be while hiking everyday and sleeping in the woods. Today was a big day. We were hitting 500 miles, Fatman Squeeze, and the Grayson Highlands. We were planning on a sixteen mile day, but we were in no rush to make that mileage. 

I got out of my tent and was greeted by Sweeper who said, “It’s pony day.” I went to go to the bathroom and, on the way back, was greeted by Kea who also said, “It’s pony day.” Obviously, the guys have noticed how excited I’ve been for the past week. They give me shit over it, but I couldn’t care less. They’ll be as excited as me once they see a pony. It was big for me because for the first three weeks of my hike, I told myself that I couldn’t quit until after the Grayson Highlands. Those first three weeks were hard. I have no desire to quit now, but the Grayson Highlands were the end all be all for me for a time.

The trail angel from yesterday made coffee and was handing it out. He had stayed the night in his van. The guys were so happy. I could only roll my eyes. By 7:30, we were gone.

Mt. Rogers 

The trail went immediately uphill. The slope wasn’t bad at all. We were hiking to the top of Mt Rogers. I had fuel in the tank and I kicked it into hyperdrive. I sped past the others and not once did I feel like I needed to stop. I was feeling great. The trail didn’t go all the way to the top of the mountain, but it was close enough. The views were amazing. I felt like I was no longer on the east coast. I gawked, but continued on to the Thomas Knob Shelter. 

If I had known what the views were like up there, I would have tried to push on. I was jealous of the people who were there. At the shelter table, I put my pack down and began drinking some water. A couple and their dog were there packing up. They asked where I was from and then asked if I was thru-hiking. I said yes and the guy asked me if I wanted some beer. He brought some out to hand to thru-hikers. On principle, I don’t ever buy beer. It’s gross. But I will drink it if it’s free. I took a can and put it in my pack. The others showed up and everyone grabbed one for the road.

500 Miles

We all snacked before continuing on. I led the group as I was in charge of pinpointing the 500 mile marker. About a half a mile from the shelter, I found it. We took pictures and as everyone prepared to leave, I played “I’m Gonna Be” from The Proclaimers. I have finally earned the right to listen to that song. Finally. It’s been playing in my head on repeat for nearly a week.

The Grayson Highlands 

We immediately crossed into the Grayson Highlands State Park. Piles of poop were scattered about. I couldn’t care. I was excited. I hiked ahead, on the lookout. We emerged from the forested area and I couldn’t help but think of the Black Hills located in South Dakota and Wyoming. The landscape was very similar. 

The trail took us up and down large rock piles. Fatman Squeeze was conquered. I didn’t need to take off my pack. And it was around there that I saw my first pony. Or, more accurately, Fine Young Buck pointed out the first pony. I was so excited. We walked a little closer, but kept at least 200 feet away. There was a whole herd grazing on grass. Fine Young Buck and I were there for ten minutes before we continued on.


We caught up to Sweeper and Kea in an open grassy field. They said a pony ran across the meadow and that we missed out. We sat down and ate lunch there. It was a long lunch too. The pony that had run came back running into the field. I got it on video. As we were finishing up, a whole herd came walking down the trail near us. The other people visiting came up and started petting the ponies and one went to take a selfie with a momma pony and her foal. Momma did not like that and snipped at the lady. The lady shrieked and backed off. It made me think of how people in Yellowstone National Park will go up to bison and try to pet them. People have been severely injured doing so.

Continuing On

It was a cool experience, but we needed to keep going. It was becoming pretty warm out. I was putting on sunscreen, but that wasn’t as effective as I needed. I could feel myself burn. 

The moment we moved away from the main area of the park, we saw significantly less people. I was needing water and every marked water source I was coming across was no longer running. I ran into Fine Young Buck who also needed water. We found it nearly a mile later. We filled up and remarked on how much it felt like we were in the west. It was hot, dry, no humidity, and sparse trees. It was throwing my mind for a loop.

We passed an awesome swimming hole (I wish I had gotten a picture) and made our way to the next shelter. I had to stop there because my high ankle sprain was killing me. I was limping badly down trail and had to heavily rely on my trekking poles. I took some Ibuprofen and massaged my legs. I did this while listening to Fine Young Buck answer my question on why he became a pastor. There were so many details that I didn’t know and it painted a fuller picture of why he was called to ministry. 

After a short while, we continued on. My ankle/leg was doing better. We hiked mostly on a grassy hill and saw more herds of ponies scattered about. In the distance, I could see cars and tents surrounded by a coral. I noticed the blue of Kea’s tent and the red of Sweeper’s. They had stopped early.

The Scales

In short order, Fine Young Buck and I were there. I was conflicted about continuing on or not. I had wanted to go another mile or two, but then told myself that we were going to the Parntership Shelter on Monday and that there was no need to push miles today. I sat down and conversed with the guys.

Sweeper, after a while, said he was going to get some water and I decided to follow. So did Fine Young Buck. We went to the water source and saw that it absolutely sucked. There was no way to scoop water and the pipe wasn’t flowing. I figured out a way to possibly fix this, so I went over the barbed wire (to keep out the ponies). I got it to run, but it was still super slow. Fine Young Buck had enough and decided he was going to get water 0.3 miles away. As I was filling up with water, I saw he grabbed everything. 

I walked back down after collecting water and was told that Fine Young Buck wasn’t camping with us. He pushed on. It seemed like he really wanted a site with good flowing water. I set up and began working on the free PBR. It took me nearly an hour to drink 16 oz. It was gross, but I did get a little tispy. In that time, I made dinner and snacked as I made dinner.

I joked with Kea and Sweeper about random topics as the evening started to wind down. Duck showed up and we convinced her to stay for the night. I did my nightly routine and crawled into my tent by 6:15. I got into my bag and it was obvious that my sunburnt thighs were quickly heating the bag up. Thank god I bring aloe with me. All I could think was that I was going to get skin cancer.

I did some reading as I could hear car campers talk, dogs bark, and ponies neighing. It was a good day. Just here’s to hoping no one here is a partier.

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Comments 2

  • Tricia : May 22nd

    Take care of that ankle! And I’m with you on the beer. Blech.

    • Morgan Schmidt : May 23rd

      It doesn’t seem to stop me from drinking it though! I regret it almost everytime I take a sip.


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