We woke up on top of Buzzard Rock (487.5) to high winds and clear skies with temperatures in the low 40's. After the Smokies, 40 degrees feels like a sauna. The famous wild ponies were somewhere up the trail and we were all anxious to try and bend some of them into pack animal servitude.
After a couple miles we crossed into The Grayson Highlands state park and horse piles were everywhere, but the beasts remained elusive. The sun crept out from behind the clouds and warmed up enough to stir the smell of their grassy excrement into our flaring nostrils. Where are the ponies?
Just before Thomas Knob shelter the ponies became visible speckling the hillside with their squatty fat bodies and mangy dreaded manes. They looked miserable, and incapable of being ridden by a 50 lb. pack. Their bangs drooped over their faces and their eyes hid behind the tangled veils. They were just big enough to worry about being trampled by, but much too small to ride, and they smelled as bad as we did.
Mr. Dallas arrived at the shelter first. There, a fat mare bulging with horse babies inside her was begging for food like a shameless tramp. She walked up to Mr. Dallas's pack and began to lick it with her gigantic horse tongue. This was not acceptable and Mr. Dallas shewed her away with stern words and a gentle shove. She was indifferent, and quickly turned her attention to the back of another thru-hiker's legs.
"Buddha Jim's" calves were licked clean of their sweat. He was busy tinkering with his pack and unable to stop the tongue lashing. "This is not a healthy relationship," he said to her, and hopped up out of reach into the shelter. She stood there at the shelter and watched us eat lunch, and then started licking a rock.
At Wise shelter we made it past the 500 mile mark. There were several kind souls there who had hiked up some trail magic in the form of OCP* goodness and home made fruit roll ups. We celebrated by eating their food and hearing their stories from previous thru-hikes.
"Shadowcast" was an ultralight hiker and he balked at our gigantic packs and told us we were crazy. We calmly agreed, there are a certainly a few screws loose, and a couple cards missing out of all of our dull tool sheds. That's why we are out here in the first place.
We heard rumors of the most intense trail magic EVER down the mountain just out of reach for us that night. Allegedly, seven miles away at mile 507.6 Fox Creek, was a 15.5 gallon keg of beer and endless supply of food. We had already done a tough 18. The beer would have to be for breakfast, and it was.
Muffins was at the bottom of the hill first. By the time we arrived he already had a pint in hand and was hanging out by a gigantic fire talking to the guys putting on the show. He told us they were hilarious, and masters of jovial trash talking, and that they were. There were tacos, meatball subs, chips, animal crackers, tortillas, candy, Gatorade, snickers, cheese, salsa, you name it, it was there and free to the taking. Can this be topped? (We don't think so.) Thank you so much dudes, you made the rain a little more disorienting and thereby enjoyably so.
Stayed tuned for answers to these important questions, and more coming soon.
*Oatmeal Cream Pies
Authored by Mr. Dallas