After 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes, Jennifer Pharr Davis reached the summit of Mount Katahdin to capture the unassisted speed record on the A.T. At 11:20 am on my 47th day, I had lunch at Wise Shelter. The similarities are just too numerous to list.
My fantasy of a rock free decent from Mt Rogers were quickly dashed on the boulders laid out before me. Not only were there numerous rocks, but everything was soaking wet from the rain that had been falling since midnight. No speed records here. My main objective was to not fracture a bone that I might need in order to continue hiking. My secondary objective was to not fall down. The 500 mile mark was just ahead of me, and if I could make it there without falling, my average falls per hundred miles would go from 1.0 to 0.8.
Under different weather circumstances, I’m certain that this section of the trail has some magnificent views and is a blast to hike. For me, though, it was just a section to get through without injury. In the end, it took me over one and a half hours to hike the 2.5 miles from my campsite to the entrance of Grayson Highlands State Park. My diet must be working though, because I made it through the Fatman Squeeze without incident.
I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was to finally get to Grayson Highlands State Park (GHSP). GHSP is home to about 150 wild ponies that are managed by the Wilburn Ridge Pony Association and serve the park by grazing on the underbrush, helping prevent forest fires. I’ve seen hundreds of pictures and videos of thru-hikers interacting with these cute ponies, and now it is my turn. I have been so looking forward to this!
Except it didn’t happen. I walked the entire length of the A.T. through GHSP, and didn’t see a single pony. And believe me, I was looking. Rant on: How could I possibly be the only person to ever walk through GHSP and not see ponies? The park is obviously not run by the Disney Corporation, because they would NEVER let something like this happen. I want a refund! In the words of Pee Wee Herman, “Its not that I expected anything, but I didn’t get anything!” Oh, I guess the weather turns a little wet, and the ponies have something better to do than interact with a smelly thru-hiker. It’s not like they are hiding in a barn. There are 150 ponies for Christ’s sake, just send a couple of them my way! Rant off. In the end, I walked 500 miles to see these ponies, and this is as close as I got to them at GHSP.
I thought it would be prudent to stop at the Wise Shelter for lunch, since it was just a quarter of a mile before exiting GHSP. But, unfortunately, no ponies decided to join me for a PB&J tortilla. There was, however, a really thoughtful Eagle Scout Project in the vicinity of which I did take advantage.
Continuing down the trail, I started a gentle climb up Stone Mountain when my surroundings opened up to reveal pastures. I walked towards the ridge line hoping that the clouds would allow a view through the rain. As I crossed the ridge, what to my wondering eyes did appear, but a tiny pony with five others near! Ponies!! Naturally, I dropped my pack and danced around the meadow to get some pictures. These ponies were a little more skittish than the ponies I had seen in pictures from GHSP, but they would allow me to get within 20 feet before deciding I was close enough. It was so awesome to spend some time with the wild ponies.
In providing full disclosure, I did see four ponies yesterday hanging out near the trail near the Thomas Knob Shelter, but I didn’t spend much time with them in anticipation of being surrounded by 150 of them at GHSP. I’ve now learned to never take anything for granted on the trail.
Once the ponies had enough of me, I continued downhill to a place called the Scales, which is a small livestock corral. I could see some canopies had been setup, and once I arrived the people there called me over for some trail magic! These folks were just getting organized, but they came from NC to give trail magic for the entire weekend (it was an annual tradition for them). I enjoyed a PBR and their company under the canopy while a really heavy rain storm went over us.
It was very tempting to just spend the night with the NC boys, but the miles won’t walk themselves, and I moved on. After a few more miles through the lovely wet forest, I arrived at the Hurricane Mountain Shelter where I found a flat spot near the trail to make camp. There is no doubt that Jennifer Pharr Davis went by this very spot doing about 10 miles per hour. We have so much in common.