Day 44: (500 Miles) The Proclaimers and Ponies

Day 44

Elk Garden to Hurricane Mountain Shelter

Mike’s Hiked: 20.2

AT Milage: 515.0

This morning Emma, Crunchy, and I all got on trail around 7:30. Emma and I saw a black bear on the hill above us about two miles into our hike. We stopped to fill up our waters for the day and eat snacks since the water source at the camp wasn’t great. Then we met up with Crunchy again at the highest point in Virginia. It is a viewless summit Mount Rogers that is a 0.5 mile hike off the AT. After Mount Rogers the three of us al hiked together through the Grayson Highlands where we got to see and pet the wild ponies. Emma was so excited, it was cute. Crunchy on the other hand had no idea there was going to be horses until we told him. The horses were so friendly. They would walk right up to you and let you pet them. Their fur was incredibly soft. The little pony seemed to be everyone’s favorite. They were all grazing on the bright green grass which created a beautiful campsite on the mountainside. We continued to hike until we ate lunch on a grassy spot by some blooming rhododendrons. We ran into more ponies and a group of high schoolers from Cincinnati who come out every year after schools ends to a different section of the AT. I thought that was awesome that their high school gave them that opportunity but wondered how they afforded all the gear since it seemed like there were so many kids.

After lunch we still had 12 miles left. We hiked so slow it seemed like this morning but we just had lots of excitement going on between the ponies and Mount Rogers. I also forgot to mention that I passed the 500 mile marker today! There were so many different trail intersections in this section. It was really easy to take a different trail by mistake and that’s exactly what happened. We walked at least an extra mile down a super rocky path by mistake and it was so frustrating to have to turn around. The rocks were tearing up my feet really bad today. After making the mistake of going down the wrong trail I felt so defeated. The rocks never seemed to end. By the time I got to the shelter 5 miles from the one we were aiming for I was almost limping and in tears. I didn’t think I could make it anymore. I had fallen way behind Emma and Crunchy and had even stopped to take an extra break to aggressively massage my feet. I caught up to them at Old Orchard Shelter were we all took a break and ate food. I was thinking about staying there but Emma and Crunchy would hike on. After Crunchy left I decided I would leave when Emma left or I would never make it to the next shelter. I was so glad I did! Emma was going really fast and I was trying to keep up with her. All of a sudden the sky got super dark because of a thunder storm. It was so dark I ended up having to use my headlamp in the daylight! The storm came at the perfect time because it scared me enough to make me hike so fast I didn’t notice my foot pain. The rain felt great after so many dry and hot, but beautiful days. None of us thought we could even complain about a little rain after how nice the weather has been the past few days. Emma and I eventually made it to Hurricane Mountain Shelter. I was so happy to be done hiking for the day. My feet really need a break but I just had one! This is the first time we have ever done two 20 mile days in a row and yesterday was our longest day ever. At the end of the day yesterday I was feeling great. I think it was a combination of being the day after a zero, non rocky terrain, and good company.

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