June 18th

Today I hiked from Thomas Knob Shelter to Old Orchard Shelter, a distance of 11.9 miles.

Today was one of the most beautiful days I’ve had yet. The weather was clear, with the temperature in the mid 70’s. The Virginia Grayson Highlands offer some absolutely beautiful views, and of course, several herds of wild ponies!

The first ponies I met were actually before I entered the Grayson Highlands, technically still in the Mt Rodgers Wilderness area. I was a bit reserved at first, remembering my experience with the cows a few days before, but the ponies seem far more comfortable with hikers, and actually largely ignored me as they busily grazed on the grass. They are gorgeous creatures, and I quite frankly could have sat watching them for a few hours. I totally understood why so many signs were posted reminding people not to pet or feed the ponies. These are wild animals after all, and they do bite and kick. I knew other hikers were behind me and I needed to get miles in, so I eventually moved on, thankful that I’d seen the ponies and considering it would be a life long remembered moment. Besides, I was also feeling hungry and knew if I took out my food pack, I’d never be able to resist feeding them. Then I turned the corner and came into another heard! I hadn’t realized just how many of them there were in the park, I thought it was only a handful. This time, a foal actually came up to me. I held out my arm and she began to lick me. I honestly could barely keep myself from giggling uncontrollably. The foal did try to nibble me a bit, but no harm done. I will say at this point I broke the rules, I couldn’t resist petting the foal while it was licking my arm. This seemed to startle it and it walked away.

The rest of the hike was wonderful, with a well laid out trail and some more gorgeous views. I did have a frightening moment when the Trail went through a pen with long horned cattle. Again, I considered the experience with the cows several days before, and these had horns about two to three feet long, perfect for goring. What’s more, the area I had to pass through was much tighter and I couldn’t keep my distance very well. However, these cattle seemed far more complacent, maybe they knew they were well armed enough to not have to bother. Or maybe the horns ensured no other hikers were foolish enough to harass them.
I got more miles in today thankfully, though I was definitely feeling beat by the end of the day. I’ve figured out a rationing plan with my food that I should be able to last three days. If I average around 12 miles a day, that will get me to the next resupply point, the Mount Rodgers Visitor Center where I’ll catch a bus to Marion, Virginia, just in time.

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