“One reason why birds and horses are happy is because they are not trying to impress other birds and horses.” – Dale Carnegie, How To Win Friends and Influence People
Despite my daily routine of mountain Kegel exercises, my bladder woke me up at 6 a.m. and informed me it was time to take a short walk in the woods. As I exited the shelter full of sleeping hikers with regular sized prostates, I heard a sound over by the picnic table. I looked up and there was a wild pony grazing only 10 yards from the shelter. That was an early indication that this was going to a magnificent day 2 on the magical wild pony mystery tour.
I packed up and headed AT north towards Grayson Highlands State Park. So without further ado, let me go ahead and announce that we have a new champion for best AT section! Yes, the 5-mile section from the Mount Rogers side trail (mile 497) to the northern end of Grayson Highlands State Park (mile 502.4) is, in my humble opinion, the overall best section of trail to date. The Roan Highlands north of Carvers Gap moves to second place and the section of trail in the Smokies from Spence Field Shelter to Thunderhead Mountain moves to third. What makes Grayson Highlands so special? Start with wonderful vistas in every direction. Add in varied terrain, including rock climbs, rolling balds, majestic forests, and even Fat Man’s Squeeze. Finally, top it off with dozens of midget wild ponies roaming freely. I stopped and visited with several of them. It’s the kind of section you might come up with if you were designing a perfect AT section on a computer. I will be bringing my wife and future grandchildren here someday. You can count on that.
Near the end of this incredible section, I crossed the 500 mile mark on my AT journey. Like so many hikers who have gone before me, I paused for a moment, took a picture, and joined The Proclaimers in singing, “I would walk 500 miles, and I would walk 500 more.” Then I added, “And then I’d walk 500 miles, and then I’d walk 689.1 more.” Shortly after reaching this milestone, I came across trail maintainers from Konnarock, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s flagship crew program. The crew, volunteers of different ages and backgrounds, work on the AT from Rockfish Gap, near Waynesboro, Virginia, to the Trail’s southern terminus at Springer Mountain in Georgia. I stopped for a few moments to thank them for their service and discuss their plans for the day and week. I just really appreciate people who volunteer their time to cut fallen trees, move rocks, shovel dirt, and do whatever else is necessary to give us hikers a much better path to traverse.
As I approached The Scales livestock corral at mile 505.5, there was a longhorn bull standing in the middle of the trail, just looking at me. I know almost nothing about farming and cattle, but assumed those horns could be used to defend against a coyote, scratch itself, or gore a long distance hiker. I gave him some space and apologized for all the beef I had eaten, and will continue to eat, in my lifetime. He eventually moved on a few feet and I quickly hiked by without incident. As I passed through The Scales corral, I stopped and read a display about the history of the place. Long ago, ranchers determined their cattle were more profitable if they were weighed heavy at a corral atop a mountain, rather than herding them to the valley where they would weigh less. That makes sense.
Around mile 515 it was good to see Cambria and a few other hikers who had stopped along the trail to eat some supper. Cambria, you may recall, is the young lady who was not only born in the same state as me (Delaware), but at the same hospital at Dover Air Force Base. However, since I am roughly thirty years older than her, I suspect our mothers used different Fobstetricians.
After an incredible, 21.1 mile, wild pony-filled day…my longest mileage day to date…I stealth camped by a stream with Conductor, Tumbleweed, and Princess Grit. I learned that Grit is a section hiker from Nashville, Tennessee who models for Nissan at car shows around the country. I waited for her to ask if I, too, was a model, but the question never came.
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