Day 2 turned out to be the day of pain in the pee-ner and ponies. The plan for the day was to hike an 8-mile out and back loop from Massie Gap in Grayson Highlands State Park to Mt. Rogers, the high point in Virginia.
We got a pretty early start to do the day. The boys had a free continental breakfast of preprocessed sunny side up egg saucers (which could have easily been mistook for the plastic version from their play kitchen) , sausage patties, and mini-muffins at the Comfort Inn before we left. What the Abingdon Comfort Inn lacked in creature comforts, it made up for with friendly staff that doted on the boys.
After breakfast, we headed to the U.S. Forest Service Mt. Rodgers Recreation Area Visitor Center in Marion, Virginia to pick up trail maps. After petting the fur of a stuffed black bear and beaver and discussing the differences with a friendly Forest Service volunteer, we head south to Grayson Highlands State Park on winding, rural mountain roads.
The contrast between life in the urbanized areas most of us live and work in and the more remote areas of the country is striking. No office buildings. No retail stores. Not a single restaurant on the 50 minute drive from Marion to Grayson. Only a couple small sparsely-stocked convenience stores. Incredible natural beauty dotted with small dormant and deteriorating factories.
By the time we got to Grayson, I made ham and cheese sandwiches for the boys, and filled the kids’ hydration it packs, it was almost high noon. Sunny and pretty hot. Not ideal conditions for hiking 8 miles with a 7 and 4 year old.
But my boys are tough, and we set out from Massie Gap. The landscape at Massie Gap is beautiful. An open, grassy field with the Rhododendron Trail cutting through it. The peaks of Mt. Rodgers and several other lesser mountains in the distance.
Things quickly went down hill. Less than a quarter-mile into the hike, Will decided he didn’t want his hiking poles. I strapped them to my right flank using the lap belt from the backpack Lucey was riding in. Will started complaining about his legs being tired by the half-mile mark. At the eight-tenths mile mark, Lucas repeatedly started screaming “I want out of the pack, my pee-ner hurts. My pee-ner hurts.” At nine-tenths of a mile, I took him out of the pack. Because the one thing, I forgot to pack was his running/trail shoes, he was now hiking in his Iron Man Crocks.
Mt. Rodgers was getting farther and farther away. We pressed on. Will complaining. Lucas refusing any assistance ascending the stone stairs the park service had cut into the hillside. The day seemed doomed.
Then we saw the wild ponies. First, a small group of ponies including a tiny baby pony nestled in the pines just off the trail. The boys eyes lit up. We pressed on for another mile and half until I yielded to the complaining and we turned around. We saw two or three other outgroupings of ponies grazing on the mountainside. The boys loved seeing them.
Will livened up on the descent. Not so for Lucas. He whined the whole way down, “I want to be at the car. I want to be in the car.” He resolutely refused to get back into the kid carrier. Foot pain is better than pee-ner pain.
When we got back to the car, we headed off to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The kids were jovial. They spent the three hour trip making each other and me laugh and napping. The natural order of the road trip had been restored by a little air conditioning and non-nutritious snacks.