While thru-hiking, most people do a combination of tenting and staying in shelters. One of the nice things about tenting is that it gives you more flexibility in terms of how many miles you hike and where you stay at night.
I typically consult my maps each night and figure out where I’m likely to end up the following night. As I was doing this, I was surprised to see a note saying that tenting wasn’t allowed in the Grayson Highlands State Park. I was disappointed because even when I stay near the shelters, I like having the option to retreat into the privacy of my tent at the end of the night.
The hiking near Mt Rogers and the Grayson Highlands was beautiful (even if it was rockier than most of the hiking so far) with grassy ridges, stone outcroppings, and stunning views. I was also excited because all of the rhododendron bushes on the trail were in bloom. Apparently they are blooming late this year because it’s been such a cold spring.
I was already feeling pretty good about the day when I rounded the bend and came face to face with a heard of ponies. They were wandering across the trail and had just found a nice grassy area to graze in. Unfortunately, some hikers had already found this grassy area, pitched their tents in it, and had presumably wandered off to do some day hiking.
I stopped to watch the ponies graze, and then I watched as they moved into the campsite and made themselves quite at home. At this point I was assuming that the reason that you wouldn’t want to pitch a tent in the area was that the horses might trample the tents (with you inside). But then, as I watched, one of the foals went up to the tent and started chewing on the edge of the fly. I couldn’t idly stand by and watch the horses try to eat someone’s tent, so (after snapping a picture) I walked over to the tent and tried to discourage the foal from eating it. It worked! That foal wandered off…
It wandered straight over to the other tent and started to chew on it. Then two of the other foals started chewing on the backside of the tent that I was standing in front of. I was outnumbered! Eventually I gave up and continued on with my hike.
I was convinced that there was no way I was going to pitch my tent anywhere near the park, so I opted to stay in a shelter for the night instead. A couple of other thru-hikers joined me at the shelter later that evening and told me that by the time they went by the ponies had completely wrecked that campsite.
Normally we hang our food at night to keep the bears and mice from getting at it, but this time the thing we were more concerned about were the ponies!
When I told this story to my friend’s kids (3 and 5 yrs old), they said that they would have told the baby ponies that, “tents are not for eating”, or that “tents are not food.” They repeated this chorus emphatically for a while while giggling and exclaiming that the baby ponies were silly.
I still wonder what it was about the tents that made the ponies interested in them… Maybe salt from the sweaty humans handling them? Maybe there was condensation and water on them? Maybe the hikers had left food inside? Or, maybe the kids were right… Maybe the ponies were just being silly.