I woke up fairly early, mainly because I was scared some farmer would find me camped out. Mounting Horse, I kicked off for another long day. I wanted to get close to Damascus so I could take a short day into the city and another full day off and out of the saddle. Originally, I hoped to do a several night camping trip in Grayson Highlands, one of my most favorite places in VA. Those plans fell thru so Damascus it was.
I’ve been eating light snacks in the morning and hoping to pass a diner whenever I’m in my first couple of towns for the day. This day I passed one an hour into riding. For whatever reason, I’ve fallen in love with biscuits and gravy. I don’t even look at the menu. Waitress: “do you need a second?” Me: “do you have biscuits and gravy, two eggs over easy, and sausage?” Waitress: “Yes honey.” Me: “make it happen, please, and a glass of water.” These were some of the finer biscuits and gravy I’ve had yet. But I was anticipating the glory of Dairy King in Damascus, where I had fallen in love with BnG while doing the AT.
After some 60 miles of riding, I entered into Grayson Highlands/Mt Rogers Recreation Area. There were several intense miles of climbing while surrounded by picturesque forests. It was nearing 6pm when I started looking for a campsite and came upon a horse trailer camping area. Grayson Highlands has a managed herd of wild horses, and there are several miles of horse riding trails. The Forest Service maintains a horse trailer camping area to facilitate those who wish to ride these trails. I was tired and there was only one other campsite occupied so I decided to hang my hammock between two horse tie up spots (you know, for Horse parking).
Once my hammock was hung, one of the two gentlemen from the nearby camp wandered over and quietly invited me for hotdogs and conversation. I agreed excitedly (hotdogs!) but with some trepidation. Disclaimer: I have mixed emotions about horses and horse riders in the backcountry, especially on the east coast. Generally speaking, horses and their riders have a proportionally larger impact on the environment than do other recreation users (bikers and hikers). Horses spread invasive plants (via feces), destroy trails (think about the weight of a horse and rider and then distribute that weight on four points), eat native vegetation, and generally suck to interact with if you are on a bike or hiking. Not to mention all the shit they produce. But, I was in a horse camp and was curious to learn about horse culture.
And I learned. These were salt of the earth, rural western Virginians. They had been coming to that camp for 20 years, riding a diversity of marked and unmarked trails throughout the mountains. Both had horse trailers with beds in the front. One was heated; one had a shower. Their camp was more akin to music festival camping than to backcountry camping. Both were retired and full of stories. Some stories were great and insightful; others were long winded and hard to follow. (side note: I love when you start talking to someone and can’t understand a damn thing they are saying because their accent is so thick, then over time your hearing adjusts and most phrases begin to make sense.)
After three hotdogs topped with chili, baked beans and a desert of chocolate cake, we gathered round the fire and the bullshit started flowing. A small fire had been smoldering since dinner and in order to kick it up one of the guys grabbed a container full of motor oil and doused the wood. I cringed. He did it again. And again. All night in order to burn freshly fallen wood (brought from off site, cringe), the fire was regularly covered in motor oil. It smelled terrible, and infiltrated my clothes. Finally, I thanked my gracious hosts and went to bed. Apparently I was well behaved as I got an invite for breakfast the next morning, although I was warned it would be early.