So Many Ponies! (4/9, 4/10, 4/11)
Day 43, 4/9: Zero in Damascus
I woke early and sat in bed until breakfast was ready. Rash and Pinata were still asleep when I left to go eat in the main house. I sat at the table and ate lots of blueberry pancakes, hash browns, and cereal. The food was delicious. I talked with Uncle Heather while we both ate, and when we were done we headed into the common area to talk with Mufasa and Toothless. I forgot that I wouldn’t be able to use the library since it was Sunday, and the hiker laptop was broken. With the owner’s permission I attempted to fix it, but short of reinstalling the operating system, I was at a loss and gave up.
Rash and Pinata wandered in for breakfast and I had some more cereal with them. We talked about today’s plans. We wanted to stay another night in town but wanted a private room, so we called around and reserved a room at the Lazy Fox B&B. The reviews said the breakfast is amazing. We packed up and checked out, making our way into the town center to our B&B. We waved at Cheez, Coyote, and a few other hikers that looked familiar walking across the road. We stopped to withdraw cash from an ATM and slowly and painfully walked to the B&B.
We were greeted by a teenager girl and a slow moving older woman. The young girl was getting our room ready so we waited on the couch. The B&B was in an old southern home with a regal wooden staircase. Our room was upstairs so when it was ready, we made our way gingerly up the stairs, trying to ignore the pain in our knees and feet. Our room had a queen and a twin, so Pinata and I stayed on the queen. We crashed on the beds and enjoyed not moving for a few hours.
Beetle and Friendly Ghost needed to go to the outfitters in town so we met them there to say hi. We arranged for dinner plans and then went to the Dollar General a few blocks away to resupply. The full grocery store was about a mile away so we opted for the closer option. We brought everything back to the room. It was cold when we left so the heater was on, but when we got back it was in the 70s outside and boiling hot in the room. The window AC unit was sitting on the floor of the room which wasn’t helpful, so I opened the two windows. Immediately a wasp flew in, closely followed by another. We closed the windows and spent the next hour deciding how to kill the wasps. Rash eventually was the hero and smushed them with a large book on the history of the Panama Canal after I shooed them over to him with a trekking pole. Pinata stayed under the covers during the ordeal.
With a wasp free room, we went in the back yard where the large shallow river flowed and sat on hammocks while we watched ducks paddle upstream then surf down the rapids. Pinata tested out a new fancy kind of ramen she bought and practiced cooking it on her stove to make sure it worked.
We walked to dinner where we met Beetle and Friendly Ghost. I had a reuben which I had been craving. Since it’s Rash’s birthday tomorrow, the waitress brought him out chocolate cake and we all sang happy birthday. We all ate way too much food which was glorious. We said goodbye to Beetle and Friendly Ghost, and Rash, Piñata, and I stopped by the Dollar General so I could buy caffeine pills. Coyote uses them and says they help kick the afternoon fatigue that sets in. We headed back to the room and lounged in bed watching episodes of The Office on Piñata’s phone. I stayed up late on my phone posting pictures and enjoying social media.
Day 44, 4/10: Damascus -> Lost Mountain shelter (14.9 miles)
This morning I woke up early, went to the bathroom, and got back in bed. It was glorious to not have to rummage around my pack for my toilet paper, traipse out in the woods, dig a hole, etc. We woke up a few hours later and could smell breakfast cooking. We were discussing what time we should go downstairs when a bell rang and we knew that was our cue. We came downstairs to 4 place settings on a linen tablecloth with China plates. Surefoot was already at one place setting. He got into Damascus last night.
The spread of food was magnificent. The kind old lady told us we could say a blessing if we wished and then dig in. Rash said blessing and we passed around the seemingly endless dishes. We had homemade biscuits, apple butter, gravy, pancakes, fried apples, bacon, eggs, grits, a pineapple dish, and a huge plate of fresh fruit (mango, kiwi, strawberries, cantaloupe, pears, and bananas). Pinata and I first dug into the fresh fruit which we miss on the trail. Between the 4 of us, we finished every last scrap of food on the table, which seemed to please the old lady. That was easily the best breakfast I’ve had on the trail, and maybe ever in my life. We had a great conversation with Surefoot who used to work as an engineer at Exxon, and then headed upstairs to pack.
We packed but were feeling lazy, so we lay in bed for a while. I called Louis and for the first time since he came to visit, he wasn’t busy and had time to talk. We finally made our way downstairs, paid, and started our way through town to start hiking.
We were sore starting out but loosened up soon after starting. Every town has a climb coming out of it, so we started this climb slowly. I had filled up my water at the B&B before leaving, but I could barely drink it because of the chlorine taste. After drinking spring water for weeks, tap water is almost undrinkable. We stopped for water and I exchanged my tap water for fresh water from the spring. The sun was out in full force so I reapplied suntan lotion. We took the hiking slow as we climbed mountains we hadn’t seen in days.
We took the posted detour that had us hike on part of the Creeper Trail because of a bridge that washed out, and stopped for lunch at the parking area. We met a section hiker named Montana who had thru hiked in 2005 and again in 2015. He gave us some great advice and was nice to talk with as we ate our food. We continued on hiking which crossed several streams and paralleled a larger river.
We were going to stop at the first shelter but it was 0.25 miles off trail, so we just sat on the trail at the blue blaze entrance and took a break. It was hot outside and we were tired. As we were resting, Captain came along from the shelter and sat with us. We all headed out together, Captain up ahead. We stopped for water at shallow water source because Rash and I were out. We struggled to get water from the shallow stream, and once we filled up and hiked on, we crossed 4 more streams that were flowing much better than ours.
During the last climb to the shelter we met Calves So Smooth. We had actually met him in the Smokies with Mufasa, but hadn’t talked to him much. He was heading to our shelter for dinner and planned on night hiking. We did the last grueling climb and got to the shelter just before a large group of boyscouts came into camp. Virginia thankfully has privies, a change from the privyless Tennessee, so no digging holes tonight. We all made dinner and watched the gorgeous moon rise. It’s a full moon tonight and I bet Calves will have a great time night hiking.
Captain, Rash, Pinata and I stayed in the shelter and watched a few episode of The Office together. I’m still paranoid of mice so I got my earplugs ready.
Day 45, 4/11: Lost Mountain shelter -> Wise shelter (17.5 miles)
It was bright outside all night long because of the full moon. I didn’t hear many critters last night so thankfully I slept soundly. We got up and made breakfast, me making the protein oatmeal the SOBO hiker gave me. I’m not a huge oatmeal fan but this stuff is delicious. The boy-scouts trickled out as we packed up. The scout leader is a previous thru hiker so we talked to him about his experiences.
Our crew: me, Rash, Piñata, and Captain
We were due to climb Mount Rogers, but first we had to climb Buzzard Rock which is 2,000 feet of elevation over 3 miles. It was a beast and Captain was powering up the mountain. I would catch up to him and then loose him. Once we finally made it to the top, we stopped for a leisurely lunch break and watched the buzzards circle overhead. We started back on the hike, and hiked down to a parking area. There were bathrooms so we stopped again while we were sitting by the parking area, a man in an SUV pulls up and asks us if we wanted a cold drink. We immediately jump up and go to his car where he has a cooler full of ice and drinks. We each grab a soda, and on his insistence, another soda to pack out. I had an Orange Crush which was amazing. We safely stashed our other beverage and continued our hiking.
We finally started crossing barbed wire fences and cattle guards which meant we were getting closer to ponies! Today was Grayson Highlands day/pony day and I was beyond excited. I was on high alert for ponies when we entered the park but we didn’t see any for a while.
I was starting to wonder if we’d see any at all, and starting to mentally plan to camp at the shelter up ahead until a pony showed its face, when up ahead on the hill Piñata pointed to a brown/red bump on the hill. When we hiked further up the trail and came to an intersection with another trail, 3 ponies came trotting nonchalantly down the hill. They were completely unafraid of us, but their huge size was a little intimidating. They let us pet them and nuzzled and sniffed our packs where we kept our snacks. This wasn’t their first rodeo. They were very forward with their sniffing and nuzzling and we had to keep their snouts away from our precious food. We socialized with them for a while, took a ton of pictures, and continued onto the shelter.
Got any snacks?
We hadn’t been at the shelter long before we heard the clip clop of 4 more ponies trotting up. Being this immersed in these huge, tame animals was really neat. One pony scratched his neck on the picnic table and the other ponies just hung out while we rested and got water. As soon as we pulled out our snacks and the ponies heard the wrapper crinkling, they decided they were done being polite and rushed the shelter. There were a few big rocks near the entrance and they attempted to step up on them to get at our food. We pushed their snouts away, but eating under their watchful eyes was uneasy. We said goodbye to the ponies and made our way to the next shelter.
More pony selfies
The terrain was covered in rocks so hiking was slow, but the views were some of the best we’ve had so far on the trail. We passed Fatman Squeeze and came to the 500.0 mile mark! It was near a stream and some day hikers were getting water, so they took our picture.
We got to the shelter and set up our bedding. While we were cooking a white pony came up and grazed near the shelter! I guess we weren’t done with ponies after all. This pony was more relaxed than the others and wasn’t interested in our food. He moved on after a few minutes of grazing. Another hiker came along named Van Grizzle and we had a good time talking to him. We settled in for the night and watched a few episodes of The Office on Pinata’s phone.
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