Before too long, we reached a small parking lot, it was warming up, the sun was finally coming out, and we saw dayhikers and a Boy Scout Troop gathering. This was always a good sign for us, if campers were out for the weekend, because that meant the weather report was good. We inquired about the wild ponies that we knew would be in the area, and were told we would most likely see them at the Thomas Knob Shelter, which we were hiking by in about 4 miles. We also chatted with a nice lady named Jen, who was dayhiking by herself. She ended up hiking with us for quite a while, and we enjoyed her company. She had some friends who were supposed to come, but they did not make it. She enjoys hiking on the weekend, and today her target was Mt. Rogers, which was the highest peak in Virginia. She lives up the trail about 200 miles, so we got some good information from her about some things to expect in a few weeks, and hope to connect with her then, and possibly go out to eat together.
Before Jen split off from our trail, we all spied a pony on the trail, and soon saw more. They were obviously used to hikers, and were expecting a handout. We were not prepared to give them anything, and so they would try to lick the sweat off of our legs and backpacks (ewwww!). The baby ponies were so tiny! We hiked on to Thomas Knob Shelter to find more ponies, and would see them all along the trail that day. One of the momma ponies at the shelter had firmly planted herself alongside the picnic table and was not budging. I think she knew exactly where to get food each day, and had claimed her spot. Her foal was the tiniest we had seen. Too cute!
The views in this area were really beautiful, but the trail was extremely rocky, and in parts, water was draining right down the trail, and so many times during the day we were hiking through creeks. It made it very slow going, and at the the end of the day, our feet and ankles were really tired of picking out way through the maze.
We reach a rock tunnel called Fatman Squeeze, and luckily, we all fit through. We soon (not soon enough) arrived at Wise Shelter, and hit 500.5 miles on the Appalachian Trail! Another milestone. There were a lot of campers there. We were too exhausted to celebrate, but that night some Scout Leaders came over looking for "those AT hikers," and brought us all of their left-overs - 2 big bags full of Ramen, granolas bars, Crystal Light mix, Peanut Butter crackers, and oranges! We were thrilled - especially about the oranges. Most folks do not have produce. We let them know they were the first Trail Magic that had actually hiked to us!
We had to pass through a lot of livestock gates and up and over stiles that crossed barbed wire fences in this area of the trail - all constructed to keep the ponies corralled. At one point, I saw the chance to go through a cattle gate, instead of up and over another steep stile, and chose the gate. After a while, climbing up and down the stiles with a pack really gets to my shin and knee (oh yeah, forgot to mention - when my left shin hurts, I tend to favor my right leg, which is making my right knee hurt - it never ends!)
I forgot to mention - there were many campers in this park (Grayson Higihlands State Park), the most we've seen since we started our trip. It was weird to see so many hikers and campers everywhere. And they are so clean! And the women have makeup and jewelry! The thru-hikers joke about the dayhikers - about how they smell so good! lol.
(Camped at Wise Shelter near a large creek at mile 500.5)