Posts Tagged With: Grayson Highlands State Park

Beaker: From Damascus to the Wild Ponies

Bo, Beaker and 1st Sgt in Damascus

In the last few blog posts, I have been providing a quick journal tour of Grateful 2 and his son, Gooseman, from Tennessee as they have begun the thru-hike attempt of the Appalachian Trail beginning in Spring Mountain, GA. Yesterday’s post found him in Gatlinburg, TN. Meanwhile the chemist from West Virginia, Beaker, has been on the move. On April 8, Beaker and his two hiking buddies, 1st Sgt, and Bo, arrived in Damascus, VA, the ending spot for BO’s section hike. Let’s pick up the adventure as they move through Damascus and make their way to the wild ponies of Grayson Highlands.

April 9 Broken Fiddle Hostel, Damascus, VA to Lost Mountain Shelter, VA.  = 15.9 miles

Beaker and 1st Sgt. headed to the Country Cafe for breakfast in Damascus before leaving the iconic trail town. The dynamic duo hiked on or next to the Virginia Creeper Rail Trail most of the day. It was a beautiful sunny day, with temperatures reaching almost 80 degrees. They arrived at the Lost Mountain Shelter around 6:00 pm.

As they were setting up their tents, fellow-hiker Courtney came bouncing into camp with a slack pack. Her parents had come to visit and were bringing her regular pack to the shelter, which was located only a mile from the road. When her parents arrived, along with her pack, they brought pizza, sodas, chips, bananas, and brownies. Dinner was served!

Beaker and the Ponies

April 10 Lost Mountain Shelter to Thomas Knob Shelter, VA.  = 12.3 miles

The hiking buddies began today’s hike by descending 1.5 miles to Rt 58. Then the climb started – 2000 ft climb to the top of White Top Mountain. They continued to climb with steadily rising temperatures, we reached Buzzard Rocks. They experienced a little reprieve by descending to a road crossing at Elk Garden,. Beaker began to realize that the heat and the climbing were beginning to wear on him. He knew that he and 1st Sgt. had to climb back up to Mount Rogers (the highest peak in VA). As they approached Thomas Knob shelter, 1st Sgt agreed that the climb had beaten them up enough that they were ready to stop. When we reached the shelter, we were met by four wild ponies – a stallion and three mares. The ponies were very tame and very much interested in licking the salt off of us and our packs.

April 11 Thomas Knob Shelter to Stealth site 3.0 miles north Hurricane Creek Shelter = 19.1 miles

Beaker awoke this morning to the clip-clop of little hooves as five ponies arrived at the shelter. A couple of the bolder ones even stuck their heads in the shelter to check on the sleeping hikers. 1st Sgt and Beaker headed out into another beautiful morning and saw many more ponies as they hiked across Grayson Highlands. They arrived at Hurricane Creek Shelter around 5:30 pm; but found that it sat on sloping ground and the tenting area was located quite a distance from the shelter. So they ended up hiking another three miles before finding a suitable spot to set up camp.

“We are on a tight timeline because we have to be at mile marker 544.0, where the AT passes under I-81, by 4:00 pm on Thursday. We are getting picked up by Enterprise Rent-a-Car and we are then driving to my mom’s house in Charleston, WV, where Marguerite will meet us. 1st Sgt will then return the rental car on Friday and continue his hike while I go back to Morgantown with Marguerite to pack our house for the move to Knoxville, TN. After much internal debate and weighing of alternatives, I’ve decided that when I return to the trail …. I am going to jump ahead to wherever 1st Sgt is … and complete the hike with him. I will then return and finish the portion in VA that I missed.”

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Damascus, Grayson Highlands, Thru-Hike, Virginia | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lighterknot – God’s Provision

Book Cover 2I recently received a review on my book, Hike It Forward, that was rather critical of my experiences. The reader noted that I was very quick to see God in the good times – the missed rain storm, the surprise trail blessings, the finding of needed water, etc. – but I was rather silent in sharing God’s presence in the adversities of the hike. I am very disappointed in myself, if this is true. Honestly, I was more aware of God’s faithfulness to me in the midst of difficulties than in the warm, sunny days under the canopy. I thought I would take this post to remember a series of coincidences that revealed God’s sovereignty of provision and protection.

Sons of Encouragement

Archangel, Motown and Rowdy

God’s faithfulness began as I left Damascus, Virginia. I was planning to hike out of town with two great young men that I called my Sons of Encouragement (Motown and Archangel), but Motown got very ill in Damascus and needed to stay to recover before moving on. I hiked out alone. I decided to stop just out of town at Subway for a quick breakfast. I got to the restaurant 5 minutes before opening so I sat outside the place to wait for my anticipated egg delight. Another hiker came along willing to wait, so we began the normal thru-hiker introductions and chit-chat. His trail name was Lighterknot and we enjoyed some kindred-spirit time. We ended up eating breakfast together but hiked out of town at different paces. Soon we were out of sight of one another and I doubted that we would see one another again.

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The Ponies of Grayson Highlands

I hiked 20.2 miles that day without seeing another thru-hiker and pitched my tent at a campsite near Whitetop Mountain Road. The next day I crossed over Mount Rogers and experienced the wild ponies of Grayson Highlands. It was a hard hiking day with lots of hot sun and without lots of tree cover. After making it through the rugged terrain of Grayson, I decided to set up my chair and have a nice snack at Wise Shelter. It began to sprinkle and then came the downpour. I moved my chair into the shelter and was soon joined by eight other hikers seeking shelter from the storm. Among the refugees from the trail was Lighterknot.

As we all sat in the shelter swapping our trail names and our stories of adventure, the rain danced on the metal roof of the shelter. After about an hour, Lighterknot announced that he was meeting his wife the next day at Fox Creek and they were going to zero day in Marion, Virginia. He would have room in the car for two or three others if anyone wanted a ride. I quickly dismissed the announcement as I had just zeroed in Damascus a few days earlier. The rain delay lasted two hours and then God moved the clouds and filled the sky with the sunshine of His grace.

I folded up my tent, flopped my backpack in place, and headed down the trail. A few hours later I found a stealth campsite and nestled in for a good night’s sleep. All was good until dark-thirty am. I woke up to a very distressed stomach. I did not realize what was going on until I knew I had 20 seconds before I was going to throw up all over myself. I barely had time to unzip my tent, bail out of my sleeping bag, and stick my head outside, before my dinner and half my intestines came flying out of my mouth. That first dreadful experience was followed by a second round. I ended up in a dripping sweat and with the taste of warmed over death in my mouth. I had eaten some dried vegetables before going to bed and even the thought of them now makes me ill.

Lighterknot

Lighterknot

As I made my way back to bed and got some control of my thinking, I knew I needed to get off the trail. Lighterknot’s invitation came flying back into my mind and I was hoping that the morning and God’s sovereignty would allow me time to walk the four miles down to Fox Creek before Mrs. Lighterknot (Deb) arrived. The morning brought stomach cramps and dizziness. I was up and packed by 7:30. I arrived at Fox Creek at 9:30 feeling nauseous but elated to see Lighterknot and Gizmo sitting on a log waiting for the limo to arrive. I asked if there was still room. A spot was indeed available. God’s hand was evident and my Father was faithful in the midst of adversity.

I made it to Marion. Mr. and Mrs. Lighterknot dropped Gizmo and me off at a cheap but appropriate hotel. My wife, Cathy, who had come to Damascus to see me, was still in North Carolina visiting our daughter and her family. She drove over to Marion, so I had her counsel and special nursing ability to help me through the 48-hour bug. Cathy drove Gizmo and me back to the trailhead at Fox Creek and I was able to continue on the AT knowing that God was truly in charge of the details of my thru-hike.

Photo of Lighterknot: https://lighterknot.wordpress.com/2014/05/

Categories: Adversity, Appalachian Trail, Archangel, Damascus, Grayson Highlands, Lighterknot, Marion, Motown, Thru-Hike, Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Hiking with the Wild Ponies

HikeItForward-Final-MediumThe Appalachian Trail blends all types of terrain and environments – from dense forest to meadows; from rocky inclines to paved roadways; from streams that must be ford to boulders that must be scaled. Because of the diversity of trail conditions, it is impossible to characterize the path in simple terms or in broad generalizations. However, there is only one place (that I can find in my limited research) that is home to the wild pony. The Appalachian Trail crosses through Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia for a 2.8 mile stretch. The park is huge (close to 5,000 acres) – it lies within the Jefferson National Forest – and it was established back in 60’s. And it is in this section of the A.T. (around the 500 mile point of the NOBO hike) that a thru-hiker might see the wild ponies.

Ponies 1In 1974, the land changed from private property to public ownership. At that time cattle were removed from the area and ponies were introduced to the park to maintain the highland balds. This three mile trek of the A.T. continues to be inhabited by a herd of ponies allowed to run wild within the confines of the park. The ponies are very comfortable around humans and usually don’t stop their snacking when hikers pass close by. Many locals touch and feed the ponies, though this practice is frowned upon and is against park policy. Visitors are warned not approach, feed or pet the ponies. The ponies can and will bite and kick when they feel threatened. Hiker food is bad for them (pop tarts, snicker bars and peanut butter are not highly recommended as pony fodder). Despite these rules (or maybe because of them) most thru-hikers enjoy engaging the ponies, scratching some ears, stroking the main, and taking lots of photos.

Each year, park officials round up the herd and check for health problems. In order to keep the herd a controllable size, the excess colts are sold at auction in the fall.

http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/gra.shtml

Video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5XtH7_QeTU

Photo: http://theblondecoyote.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/pa141357.jpg

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Thru-Hike, Trail, Virginia | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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