Grayson Highlands to Chatfield Shelter: Days 43-47
I escape heavy rain for half of my first day out of Damascus, but my luck runs out after lunch. I see and hear the storm before it hits me: the smoky gray curtain of rain moving up the mountain, the roar of a million droplets like a waterfall in my ears. In this weather, nothing stays waterproof for long: The water seeps through my rain jacket, my rain skirt, my gaiters, my boots…
Thunder rumbles overhead. The trail is a stream, 2-inches deep.
Then, I stand in front of Lost Mountain Shelter, soaking wet, staring pitifully at the two groups of section hikers already occupying the space. They look incredibly comfortable wrapped in their dry sleeping bags. “You look like you’re rain proofed,” one of them says.
I give some sort of noncommittal answer as I go to set up my tent: I am most definitely not rainproofed.
77 walks by. “Take care,” he tells me.
When I come back to the shelter, one of the section hikers, a mother of several children, says, “We can make room for you, if you don’t mind sleeping horizontally.”
Gratefully, I unroll my damp sleeping bag, put on my damp down jacket, and slide in for the night.
The next morning is drizzly. I shudder as I force myself to pull on wet socks. My boots squish with every step. The entire morning consists of foggy views, but then, I reach the Mt. Rogers parking lot, and the sun breaks from behind the clouds. The trail remains a stream, but I marvel at the miles of ridges and valleys visible from the trail.
77, 84, Scallywag, and Ty all show up for dinner at Thomas Knob Shelter, located at a prime spot near the summit of Mt. Rogers in the Grayson Highlands. Ponies roam wild in these mountains, grazing on the balds 5000 ft above sea level.
I wake up early to enjoy the sunrise. Dawn is still spreading when I hike out from the shelter. Not five minutes later, I spot a herd of ponies grazing near a cluster of tents.
77 walks up from his tent. “You missed all the excitement last night,” he tells me. “They came through camp at 1, and they were licking the moisture off the tents –they broke this one guy’s tent.”
I spend the rest of the day hiking through some of the most enchanting terrain I’ve seen, enjoying the sun and herds of ponies around Mt. Rogers and the Grayson Highlands: Some scenes are too beautiful for words.
The next day, I aim for Partnership Shelter, famous for having pizza delivery, a shower, and a shuttle to Marion from the nearby visitors’ center. When I get closer to the shelter, I begin to recognize the terrain: Last year, this was among the last parts I hiked during my long section hike. Memories layer upon memories. I remember sharing a pizza, barbecuing with my parents, hitting 500 miles, all in this small stretch of land.
Unfortunately, I arrive too late to order pizza or catch the last town shuttle. Having run out of food, I arrive feeling famished and slightly bummed out. I throw my sleeping pad upstairs, take a shower, then head to the back to wash my clothes in the sink. I rinse my socks out 20 times before the water runs clear.
When I finish hanging my clothes on the clothesline, I spot Scallywag waving me over. His hair is tied back in a red bandana, and he has a couple slices of pizza in his hand. 84 and Ty sit nearby, next to Giggles, a woman with hair dyed purple and teal.
“Do you want some pizza?” Scallywag asks. The four of them have ordered three gigantic pizzas - each with upwards of 20 slices - between them.
The unexpected trail magic could not have come at a better time. I dig in.
Ty raises a pair of birdwatching binoculars and mimics various bird calls. 84 joins in. It’s impossible not to giggle as they mimic the high pitches meow of the catbird. A feeling of contentment fills me as I sit by the fire, eating pizza, listening to the snatches of conversation around me.
In the morning, I do manage to catch the shuttle to Marion, where a local trail angel named Gary shuttles me to the post office, buys me a Sunkist, and offers me a Hardee’s sandwich. I pick up some Dr. Pepper for Silas - my tramily is scheduled to arrive later in the day - and easily catch a ride back to the shelter with 77, Tenacious, and Nighthawk. Most excitingly, I open my mail drop and find new insoles. I immediately throw out my old, duct-taped ones and put the new ones into my boots. In the afternoon, after briefly reuniting with my tramily, I move on to Chatfield Shelter.