6: Appalachian Trail Ponies

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Zero Days

We pause under the sign welcoming us into Damascus, VA. Everybody knows this town, home of the famed "trail days." It is here that 20,000 tourists converge each year in May to celebrate hiking. Four scenic trails cross through Trail Town USA. It is a lovely place walkable, edible, and amiable.

We stroll down the main street and notice the Damascus Diner seems to be the only restaurant around, so we slip in to devour meatloaf and taco salad. The restaurant is packed with hungry, wet hikers. Our room at the Appalachian Trail Town Inn is clean and quiet. A section hiker named Senator and several other hikers are sharing the house with us. Senator loans us his truck, so we can get some first aid from the grocery for my knee.


The next morning Senator comes to the Diner with us to meet Magic Pants, Sheepdog, and Stumbles for breakfast. We pig out and then head over to Woodchuck's Hostel. We have decided to take a few zero days to rest my knee. They have a few beds for us, which are perfectly adequate. Woodchuck is kind and accommodating.

The next few days fly past.  We stay in the main house the first night.  We meet a bunch of hikers we've not met previously.  That's just how it is on the trail.  You will hike in a bubble, but then the moment you slow down or speed up, you get a whole new group of people.  As we spend our zeros, we see new people come and go, and people that we had passed catch up to us.

Let's Go to the Movies

The next day, the whole group of us get a van into Abingdon, courtesy of Sheepdog.  It's movie day, and we're seeing Ready Player One. We are the only people in the theater absent one other person.  We load up on sodas, popcorn, and candy.  After the movie, we walk just up the road to a pizza joint, Bella's.  We wait on our shuttle driver to come to pick us up.  Our shuttle offers to take us to a local ice cream shop, and, of course, we are all in.

44, whom we met during our first few days on the trail, arrives at the Woodchuck's hostel with Eager Beaver.  It was great to see him. He brought his entire trail family ("tramily").  Some of them, we had met before, some of them I had never seen before. Because we had so much fun at the movies yesterday, we decided to see another. This time we see Avengers. Eager Beaver and 44 come along. The whole movie Beaver keeps crying out "oh, shit!" every time something significant happens.

Horsey Highlands

We've had three restful days in Damascus, but it's time to move on. I have a new knee brace. It is a beautiful day to hike, and the sun is shining. Our hike parallels the Virginia Creeper Trail and the river. As we climb up and down hills, we leapfrog with a fun Tramily: 44, Savage Beast, Eager Beaver, Mumbles, Akuna, Dawn, and Sheppard. It's an easy 16 to Lost Mountain Shelter. There we sit around the fire with everybody and shoot the breeze. Picasso is here too with her brother Ted, who is joining her to hike the Grayson Highlands. My knee hasn't bothered me at all today.

Ponies Galore

We begin early the next morning, hiking along with Indy, named for his white, collared shirt much like Indiana Jone's, there are meadows mixed with mountain climbs. Our first big climb seems neverending, leading us up to White Mountain. At the top is a sign for trail magic, a group that hiked in 2014 have breakfast casserole, O.J., and Twix for us.

Next, we climb Mt. Rogers. Near the summit, we begin to see signs of pony activity. There's a great change in the landscape. The forest gives way to open grassland interspersed with piles of rocky outcrops. In the distance, we catch a glimpse of the ponies. As we pass our 500-mile marker, we see our first pony up close. Lying in the grass, a white pony barely lifts his head as we pet and scratch him all over his bulbous belly.

Our group decides to take the shuttle from Massie Gap to the general store for cheeseburgers. It is fabulous.  Upon return, it's a short hike to Wise Shelter where we camp and chill with Northstar, Picasso, Mumbles, Bluegrass, Samsies, Hakuna, Dawn, Indy, Shepherd, 44, and Eager Beaver. The following day is an easy hike. We hike with Northstar for the morning, arriving at Comer Falls. Our group convenes at Trimpi Shelter. It's good times as we visit until dark. I feel fortunate for all the good people on the trail.

AYCE Nastiness

We run the 10 miles to the Mt. Roger's Visitor Center and the amazing Partnership Shelter. The shuttle into Marion arrives, and we scramble for 50 cents. The driver has no change, and hikers sure don't carry coins. The bus is full to the brim. In Marion, Eager Beaver is so excited to eat at the China House buffet that we decide to tag along even though we know it's going to be terrible. It is worth it to see Beaver devour plate after plate of mediocre Asian food. I've never seen anyone so eager to eat crappy food.

A Birthday

The Travel Inn has an affordable room for us. We spend the day doing errands and relaxing in front of the Food Network, which is porn for hikers. The following day is RamboJuice's birthday! We eat a big breakfast and shuttle back to the trail. It's an easy hike, and the weather is excellent. We leapfrog with Timeless from Charleston, SC and a Swiss couple with their dog (Swiss, Miss, & Hot Chocolate). I give Rambo food treats I've stashed in my bag like hummus, pickles, and fudge.

There is an old school house from 1848 with magic on the trail. We stop for sodas. The hiker boxes have everything. We hike onward to Rural Retreat, VA where we eat dinner at The Barn. After, we hike hard doing a 1,000-foot climb, camping just short of the quarter-way sign. That makes 18 miles for the day. At camp, Rambo builds a fire, and we meet Mittens and Fuzzy Wuzzy.

Tramily Reunion

We are having lunch at the Knot Maul shelter when Stumbles comes along. Stumbles! We shout happily. Hiking along together, we come to a river. Rambo catches a crayfish with eggs covering his belly. The heat and humidity intensify as we climb a mountain that never seems to end. My head starts to pound, and I feel like vomiting. At the top, I have to rest and still don't feel well when we arrive at Chesnut Knob shelter. The view is spectacular. It is a happy reunion at camp with Stumbles, Tiny Bytes, Baygull, Magic Pants, G.Wheezy, and Willow. We have 19 miles for today. I have to go straight to bed to assuage my pounding headache and sick stomach.

We head out early, making for Bland, VA. After 15 miles, we come to Laurel Creek. Trail magic ahead a neon poster announces. We rush forward. There is epic magic dedicated to J-Bird, a 2010 thru-hiker who died of cancer. There are chairs and meatball sandwiches. The whole Tramily is here, chilling and laughing. Many hikers come through, and we learn that there's a fire closure ahead. Deciding to camp here for the evening, the river provides a fun place for us to swim. Tiny Bytes, Baygull, and we play in the water. Suddenly, Rambo holds up a fish. Holy crap! He has caught a fish with his bare hands! Ha!

Bland Weather

The fire closure has a reroute, and we walk on the forest road for about 6 miles, which is actually the original A.T. Soon the trail dumps us out at 52, and we get a hitch from the patron saint of hikers- a pickup truck driver. We pile in the bed: Stumbles, Tiny Bytes, Baygull, Swiss, Miss, & Hot Chocolate. It's a few miles into Bland. While there, we resupply and eat at Subway and DQ in turn. The Big Walker Motel offers us shelter from a big storm blowing in. We share a room with Tiny Bytes, Baygull, and Stumbles. The storm arrives, after we watch Ninjago, and blows the cable out. We all sleep well cozy and warm.

We sleep in and get a hitch at the DQ from a couple with a pickup. Mistakenly thinking that the interstate will get us back to the trail, we ride in the bed up I-77. We pass the trail to which no exit exists. We double back and a Sheriff pulls us over. He is kind and lets our driver off with a warning, giving him permission to take us up 52 instead. We get an escort and finally make it back to the A.T. After 12 miles, we shelter at Jenny Knob. The rodents are noisy.

Wood's Hole

It's almost a 22-mile hike to Wood's hole.  We set a game plan to make it there somewhat early.  We leave the shelter at 6 a.m. and are moving fast.  The miles are coming easily today because it is flatter than what we are used to.

We make it to Wood's hole in the early afternoon with Stumbles.  This place could be amazing.  It is an old log cabin from the 1870's that has been restored, updated, and expanded.  There are goats, pigs, ducks, and a huge garden.  There is no television or internet and no drugs or alcohol are allowed on the property.  The owners offer massage therapy and host daily yoga sessions.

We are shown upstairs to our room where we find that we have caught up to several of our tramily members.  We decide to take a zero the following day.  It is everything a zero-day should be.  I spent hours just sitting on the porch swing watching things unfold all day.  The meals are ok.  Most of the food is made on site with farm fresh ingredients and is served as a communal meal.


Hiker Tips:

  • Don't ride in the bed of a truck on the interstate. You may get your hitch in trouble.
  • Make a sign for hitching. We made ours on our Tyvek ground sheet, saying "hikers to town" & "hikers to trail."
  • If you're looking to save money, ask the hostel for work for stay opportunities.

In the Spring of 2018, we set out to thru-hike the A.T.  To hear our full story, click here.

To continue to our next Appalachian Trail post, click the link below:

Rattlers & Dragons & Bears, Oh My!

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