After two days of zeros to recuperate and experience Damascus we were eager to get back on the trail. As we headed out of town, everyone was telling us to take the Virginia Creeper Trail instead of the A.T. because it is more scenic and flat the entire way. The Appalachian Trail follows the Creeper Trail out of Damascus, splits off, and then rejoins it about 8 miles later. When we reached the split we were hesistant, but we took the Appalachian Trail. The terrain for the most part was pretty, and besides the sewing job on my shoes blowing out, it was a pretty nice morning. Further along the trail we hit a sign stating that the A.T. had to be detoured down to the Creeper Trail temporarily due to a washed away bridge. Cyclops, Trail Mom, and I took this as a sign that we really should just extend the detour all the way to where the guidebook says it reconnects to the A.T. like everyone had been telling us to. Hobo and some others continued along the Appalachian Trail. The Creeper Trail was an amazing change of pace. The trail was converted from an old railroad line to a nice and wide gravel path that is primarily used for biking. We spent the day dodging byciclists, putting our feet into the water, and even getting some ice cream at a cafe that the trail passed. When the trail met back up with the A.T. we regrouped with Hobo and Puffy and continued on another 3 miles to our campsite just outside of the Grayson Highlands, which is known for its wild ponies.
Campsite to Thomas Knob Shelter
We woke up to more sunshine and beautiful weather. The sun gods have been truly shining upon us these past two days. The hike up into the Grayson Highlands was absolutely gorgeous. My pack was hurting my back, but the scenery made it all worthwhile. The best way I can describe the Highlands is to say that it looks like Rohan from Lord of the Rings. The landscape is completely unique from anything we have experienced thus far and it is absolutely incredible. We reached Buzzard Rock around 10:30 and decided to take a break. We layed down in the lush grass for at least an hour taking in the views before moving on. The trail then went back into the woods for a while before coming back out to the balds. All day we were expecting to see ponies, but they were hiding out in the trees because it was hot out. We got to the shelter and read stories in the journals about how ponies had run off with trekking poles and even of people getting bit. The anticipation of seeing a pony was building. Since you can't camp in the Grayson Highlands State Park we decided to cut our day short and stay at the Thomas Knob Shelter.
Thomas Knob Shelter to Hurricane Shelter
Welcome to Pony Land! Today was absolutely amazing. We saw about 50 ponies as we made our way through the rocky open landscape of the Grayson Highlands. Probably one of the most unique landscapes that I have ever been in. The area was cleared years ago for agriculture and then the ponies were introduced to keep them clear. They are supposed to be wold, but are very approachable and have no qualms about licking the salt off your skin or running off with a salty piece of gear. It took us forever to get through the Grayson Highlands because we kept stopping for the ponies and the mind blowing views. We were still somehow able to do over 15 miles before dark. In all, it was one of the best days on trail. Complete with the 500 mile marker, incredible views, and even more incredible people.
Relatively uneventful day, but still another great day out on the trail. Hiked with Trail Mom all day and we killed it, almost going 3mph with 30lb packs. The weather has been treating us rather well. The April rain has gone and the May flowers are blooming. However, the last half our of our hike we did get a pop up thunderstorm which was a relief for the heat but miserable for the chaffing. We blasted through 19 miles before 4:30 to reach Partnership Shelter which is one of the few shelters that has a shower and is also close enough to the road so that you can order pizza. I ate an entire large pepperoni stuffed crust pizza by myself. Hiker hunger is real.
Partnership Shelter to Partnership Shelter
The chores in town took longer than expected. I had my new shoes shipped into Marion, Va and the place that I shipped them to took a while to open. We then did laundry and resupplied at Walmart. After the chores were done we unwound a little bit at the Mexican restaurant with some margaritas and sangria. When we got back to the shelter some of our thru hiker friends were throwing a little party at the shelter. It was a fun night with some good people.
Partnership Shelter to Chatfield Shelter
Everyone was feeling a little rough in the morning so we hitched back into town for a McDonald's breakfast. We sat in the PlayPlace as we ate and recharged our phones and batteries. Around 10:00 a children's daycare rolled in and started tearing up the place. 30 screaming children and a hangover do not mix, it was time to get back on trail. It was a very hot day and we took it pretty easy, hiking only 7 miles to the shelter. We were planning on going further, but no camping was marked in the guidebook. I took my pack off and ran down the trail 2 miles to look for a spot, but it was just a giant rhododendron tunnel. The shelter ended up being a nice place to stay complete with a rushing creek.
Yet another glorious day in the world! We got up early to try to beat the heat and made it to the Lindamood Schook which is an old school house that was built in 1894. Inside we found some amazing trail magic. We hung around for a bit until the trail magicians themselves came by to resupply their boxes. Turns out that their last name was Lindamood and their great great grandfather taught at the school. We hung around a little bit longer to talk to them before we moved on. The heat of the day had definitely come out. Around lunch we walked through Atkins, VA and we were able to stop in at The Barn for lunch. From Atkins we hiked through farmlands, it was very very hot. Around 3:00 we stopped at a creek for a little soak and some naps. We ate dinner at the water before continuing on. We hiked up Walker Mountain and hit the 1/4 mark for the entire trail. The sun began to go down as we hiked along the open farmland. The golden hour was upon us. It's amazing how quickly the landscape changes out here. A little further along we stumbled upon some friends who had gotten ahead of us. They were grilling hot dogs and hamburgers at a Pavillion. We decided to cut our day short a few miles and stay with them. That night we cowboy camped underneath the stars. The sky was clear of clouds and light pollution. We could see satellites flying by and shooting stars burning through the night. A perfect way to end the night on a perfect day.
O'Lystery Pavillion to Chestnut Knob
HOT HOT HOT! What happened to Spring? It seems like summer is already upon is. We rolled out of camp pretty early again to beat the heat. The initial climb was straight up but then leveled out on a ridge. When the heat of the day really picked up we stopped at Lick Creek for some lunch and a dip in the water. The water was nice and cold and instantly made everyone feel better. From there we had a huge 2200 foot climb up to Chestnut Knob. We probably should have taken longer naps at the creek because it was brutally hot. At the top, the woods opened up to clear balds with views of the adjacent ridges. When we reached the top we were rewarded with the most picturesque view of the valley below. One of the entries in the shelter log described it as "God's Thumbprint." That night we had the shelter and mountaintop to ourselves. The stars lit up the sky over our heads.