Virginia! Damascus! Ponies Attack!
Out of Kinkora hostel I hiked a 16 mile day, except I didn’t hike a 16 mile day, because 2 miles out and 2 miles back from the Dollar General meant a 20 mile day with a full pack. The last four miles I felt the lowest I had in a while. At least I had good company hiking with DG most of the day, and Laurel Falls were nice.
Day 41 I hiked 16.1 and camped with a retired father and mother hiking with their recently graduated daughter, collectively known as The Family. The daughter, Sister Em, was actually the second person (the other is 5) I encountered planning on starting divinity school after the trail. Got me thinking about that as a path for my future, something I’ve looked into before. One of many possibilities.
And then the next day I hiked with 5 herself over the border into Virginia and down into the town of Damascus.
Like Hot Springs the trail runs straight down the sidewalk. A true trail town, Damascus is where a huge hiker festival called Trail Days happens every year. Lots of hikers plan their trips to make it, but I passed through a month too early. I set my stuff at a church hostel called The Place and spent the afternoon blogging at a cafe. DG, Seinfeld, 5, Desert Wrap, and I had a dinner buffet at In The Country restaurant, and then hit up the local brewery. The beer was so-so, but the crowd was great; Cliffhanger and Team Pie were there and a hiker called Mongoose. After most had left Mongoose bought a round and a growler. A few of us followed him out along the Virginia Creeper Trail (a nice bike trail also crossing Town) as he regaled us with a story of his younger hiking days hitching rides and winning money at pool.
The next day I resupplied and pushed out of town in the rain just as PeaceDawg and DanceMove rolled in. I didn’t want to end up vortexed again like Hot Springs (unsurprisingly, those guys were totally vortexed for at least the next day, I haven’t seen them in a while). I made it 8 miles, sopping again; fortunately the rain slowed when I set up my tent.
Partly cloudy day 44 the talk of the trail was undoubtedly ponies. Day 45 took us over Mount Rogers (highest point in VA) and through the Grayson Highlands, a picaresque bald maintained by the wild ponies that eat the saplings.
Well, the ponies delivered.
Dozens of them around the trail, they walked right up, one of them even nibbled my pants and backpack strap. Many photos were taken.
In the second photo is hiker Billy Goat. I camped with him and Po’ Boy that night, great guys with a great sense of humor. On the way out of the park I wrote another poem in the journal, reflecting on how present yet removed I feel in nature.
Of this wild Earth I Witness
in an eggshell white and witless
within this am I native born
or sent on stranger business?
From mammal’s flesh and fabric shorn
is my manly shell adorned
but sworn beneath this wild Itness
this sun is foreign, whole, and warm.
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