Today’s mileage: 16.0
Total mileage: 510.9
Today was amazing. Not only did we have some spectacular views in the Grayson Highlands, hit the 500 mile marker, and see wild ponies, but we saw wild baby ponies! But more on that later.
Last night ended up being quite cold and I slept horribly. No, there weren’t any snorers; I guess it was just one of those nights. I went to bed quite warm without my liner and I even had my socks off. But the temperature dipped considerably as the night wore on and I was freezing by the next morning. Phys Ed said his thermometer read 22 degrees this morning. And that is exactly the reason why you should not send your winter gear home until after Mt. Rogers. Our plan since the beginning was to send our winter gear home in Pearisburg, which is about 135 miles north of Mt. Rogers, so I’m glad that we still had our warm gear last night. I wasn’t really sure before our hike why people suggested Mt. Rogers specifically, but now I completely understand.
As we were preparing to leave the shelter this morning, what should approach the shelter, but a chocolate brown pony. This was our first pony encounter so we were pretty excited. It walked right up to the shelter, knowing it had a good chance of receiving some food from curious hikers. I’m not sure this pony needed to eat granola and Ramen judging by its figure, but he happily received the goods from our fellow hikers regardless.
We got out a bit late this morning because of the cold, but we knew we could get the 16 miles done by 6ish and still have plenty of time to spend in the highlands. Miles left about a half hour later than me, so I took my time admiring the views and surroundings before I entered the Grayson Highlands State Park. The ice that lined the small tree branches slowly broke away as the sun’s rays became more powerful. I took a short break and as I sat on a nearby rock, a red-colored pony with a blonde mane approached me on the trail. I’m assuming he wanted food, which I didn’t give him, but instead a good scratch on the head. It really was so cool. Two more passed nearby, one letting out a whinny as it approached another hiker. I talked to him for a bit, a day hiker climbing to the top of Mt. Rogers. He said he hiked Clingmans Dome the other day and passed a ton of thru-hikers. Someone else told me today that 150 people started at Springer Mountain on April 1st. As much as dealing with the cold was difficult at times, I am so glad that we started when we did. I can only imagine how crazy it is on the trail in Georgia.
Did I forget to mention that during my lone hike this morning I took a wrong turn and ended up on a horse trail? Well, it happened. I don’t know if that technically counts as getting lost, because in less than five minutes, I realized that I wasn’t on the AT anymore. The horse hoof prints I saw early on should have been an easy indication since horses aren’t allowed on the AT. I retraced my steps and got back on the trail, but I was worried that Miles had gotten ahead of me without him realizing that I would now be behind him. Thankfully, he had taken the morning slow as well, so we ended up meeting at the entrance to the state park.
Once we entered the park, we didn’t see any ponies up close for awhile. We thought we wouldn’t see anymore as we noticed a large group of them grazing on the hillside where we had come from. The ponies were actually introduced to the area in the 1960s to help maintain the pastoral character of the land. Basically, the ponies eat the vegetation that normally would grow into trees and other native species. But after the tree harvesting, settlers built farms on the cleared land and changed the landscape of the area. Once the land became state-owned, the ponies provided the perfect solution towards keeping tree and plant growth to a minimum. At least, this is the information I gathered from a sign at The Scales this afternoon. It was very interesting to learn about during our hike today.
We hit another huge milestone today: 500 miles!!! We stopped at Wise Shelter inside the Grayson Highlands State Park, which is exactly 500 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia. And we were most certainly rewarded for our efforts. All day, I wanted to see a baby pony since I had heard from an overnight hiker this morning that he had seen some young ponies earlier. By the time we got to the shelter, we were almost out of the park, so I was bummed that we hadn’t seen any. Just then, as I was taking a bite out of my expired Chocolate Chip Ugly, what should appear from behind the shelter, but a mother pony and her baby! I was ecstatic. I immediately declared that this was the best day ever. What could be better than seeing a baby pony only inches away from you?! They approached the shelter where we were sitting and we observed their cuteness as the baby boy started to chew on Miles’ hip belt. I just started laughing. How could I get mad at a baby pony? I’m not sure if they’re called mares or colts because they’re ponies, so I’m going to continue to call them babies, because, well, that’s cuter.
It gets better.
Only seconds later, another pony approaches us from the other side of the shelter. It was pony heaven. She had a golden coat with a long blonde mane. I thought she looked like she was in an 80s hair band. Miles described her as being aloof.
We didn’t feed them, but instead observed their behavior as we watched so close by. They didn’t seemed to be bothered by us of course. They’re used to people. It was really something to watch the mother and baby interact with one another. He would stay close to her side as she ate grass and once he meandered off just a little too far, he was quick to find his mother once again. He started to nurse and then soon after, laid down in the grass to take a short nap. It just kept getting better and better. I was in love with this little guy. He had a small gray-colored mane and tail with traces of white. We spotted some deer nearby and the mom and baby left about that same time. They stuck around for a good fifteen minutes though and we got plenty of photos.
The awkward 80s pony was still around, waiting for food as it scratched itself on the picnic table. He approached me as I started eating again. Miles decided to play The Proclaimers song, “500 Miles (I’m Gonna Be)” in celebration of our milestone. Awkward 80s pony was not impressed by the song or Miles’ dance skills, so she proceeded to walk away from the situation realizing there was no food to be received. Or maybe she was annoyed from hearing that song played every single freakin’ day at Wise Shelter. Where’s the Def Leppard? “Pour Some Sugar Cubes on Me.” Although she most certainly did not need any fattening up.
We saw three more horses (including another baby!) on our way up to The Scales. Two babies in one day?! She was napping by the trail as we approached and unfortunately, we disturbed her, so she quickly went back to her mother. We stopped to use the bathroom at The Scales, a livestock corral, where we signed one of the many registers in the area. You sign them so that in case of an emergency, park personnel will have an idea of where you are. One of the questions is your mode of travel. People get creative here so our mode of travel in the registers has been anywhere from on foot to ponies to hovercraft.
We are camped for the night by a creek just off the trail. A bit cold tonight as well, but not as chilly as last night. I hope I sleep well tonight. If I dream about ponies, I won’t be surprised. Their adorability (and utility) is off the charts.