I woke up to trail magic, doesn't get much better than surprise free stuff right outside your tent! However, they did happen to be scrambled eggs and breakfast burritos and as much as I appreciate the kindness from John and the gang, I had to re-gift the trail magic to fellow hikers-read a few posts back to see why these dehydrated breakfast treats did not agree with my digestion-if you dare! Again, thank you guys! It's the thought that counts, and I hope someone enjoys them! Walking through the woods towards Grayson Highlands I felt like a kid at Christmas, every southbound person walking towards me if ask, "did you see the ponies? Are they out?" I was getting emotional with happy tears just thinking about them I couldn't wait! I came to a big opening with a signpost that had people circled around it so indecided on what I thought was the most logical way-down. I was walking on smal loose rocks eager to find the ponies, I thought "hmmm I haven't seen a white blaze in awhile" looking off to the right and up in a clearing were ponies! I walked off path to meet them, excited and cautious I took photos walking up to them and then some in the distance selfies. I've heard stories how they try to steal stuff off your pack and bite your poles. Realizing they were quite tame I went in for the real selfie, and got it! I will cherish that photo forever, oh and he bit on my Camelbak hose during the process...hand sanitized that! It was worth it! I can't even describe the feeling of hanging out with these guys in the wild, I loved it. I carried on in hopes to find more down the trail, still no blaze-ok this is getting rather troublesome. Finally on the other side of a barbed wire fence I see a couple, I ask if they are on the AT, they are not and believe I missed it up at that sign about a mile back-great. They pulled out a map and said if I continued to follow this blue trail they were on it would meet back up with the AT and cut off some if it as a shortcut, I agreed to go on passed them. I walked for about 30 seconds before my brain said "You will hit 500 miles today! You need to see that!" Ahhhh your right, you genius you, your always right! I gotta go back. Passing the couple I explained and thanked them and back up I went, this time following the blue blaze. Returning where I was about an hour ago was frustrating, but I would never have met those horses and got that photo I am so fond of- so the extra miles were justified. Back on track the weather turned foggy and dreary, the boulder climb down was difficult and you couldn't see anything 20 feet in front of you. After the strenuous downhill boulders, I heard a gathering of people-must be more ponies! I was right, there was another herd with two babies, they were so cute! Super affraid of people and staying by their mother was hard to get a photo with them. Oh well! I did capture a video of a few of them and a baby running for a little which is neat as well. After coming out the south side of Grayson Highlands I headed on North on the trail. I was walking looking forward to the stream about to come up and the shelter where I would finally eat lunch and there to my right it was! If there hadn't been rhododendron blooms I may have missed it all together! I was eagerly waiting for the 500 mile mark and somehow it snuck up on me! I was alone so I took my own photos but it felt so great to get that number under my belt! I then crossed the footbridge and pumped some water from a really nice stream. After climbing over a stile (wooden step or ladder like structure over barbedwire to keep animals in) I walked through the woods like any other day, and then I saw more ponies! I didn't know they would just be in the woods! How cool! I stopped at the shelter for lunch and made a tea as well since it was a little chilly, Sage and his dog Red stopped in for a bit, and then Animal and UPS stopped in shortly too. I came out to a horse trail that crosses the AT and saw a group of about 15 people riding horses. Everyone waved and said hello, and I asked how they were able to tame them to ride?! They got a kick outta that. I want to come back to the Grayson Highlands for a long weekend and really enjoy the park and the ponies and take the horse trail excursion! The day continued to be dreary and lonely by myself. I did come to a trash which was nice to throw away my deadweight growing trash bag (the little things.) I knew the next shelter would only be 10 miles and change from where I started but 1.7 miles after was a campsite with water that would make it a 12 and change mile day-I needed to make it there. My feet were really hurting the arches, balls and heels. I sat and ate some peanut M&Ms and tried to stay strong. The iPod always gets me at my weak points, Nickelback-Never Gonna Be Alone comes on and "Time, is going by, so much faster than I,
And I'm starting to regret not spending all of it with you." Gets me. June 21st Hunter will be 10 months old...I feel like I am missing so much and it hurts to think about it. I haven't had service all day so when that happens I get at a weak point as well not being able to just say hi to my mom. I sat on a big boulder-took off my shoes and massaged my feet with that cream, I took 1 Advil (before I was living on two in the morning two with lunch) and was able to get out a text to my mom. I lost service quickly so I carried on, there were a lot of rocky sections (where is that soft Georgia clay at?!) and finally I reached the shelter...but knew I had 1.7 miles to go. The descend was less rocky but it still took me awhile. I came to a few people tented out by the stream and decided to cross the road to the other side and camp on that side. There was a large creek and a small campsite tucked in the rhododendrons that I set up camp in record time. I have it down what I have to do when I get there now, take out my tent- set up, put sleeping pad inside, take out sleeping bag, clothes bag for pillow, headlamp, take out food bag, put pack at foot of the tent inside, get dinner ready, hang food bag, pump water (normally don't have to do this since I do it earlier) and then eat, and go to bed. I heard chipmunks or mice or something small scurry every now and then around my tent in the leaves which was rather annoying but safe and sound I was in my tent for the night. One of these days I gotta take a zero and just camp. Enjoy my tent, and the day, and the woods, and not feel rushed to complete miles.