Trail Days 2024 Hiker’s Stories – “Bad Idea” and Willow

This is the second installment of my Trail Days 2024 Hiker’s Stories.  Here is a link to the first installment.

It seemed like Tent City in the south end of Damascus swelled to five-hundred or even a thousand tents during the height of Trail Days 2024. Some of those tents had single occupants, some, like mine, held two. Other housed more. Among the tents crowded in around mine was a gray Durston tent sheltering a human and a canine

Section Hiker “Bad Idea” and his mild-mannered canine companion Willow, a four-year-old Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, were a couple of my closest neighbors in Tent City, and I saw them and talked with him often. A Durston tent and Chicken Legs shorts aficionado, Bad Idea hailed from the DC area. His physique and mannerisms reminded me of Russell Crowe. He was at first drawn to the AT by the COVID shutdown and has section hiked about a thousand miles of the trail since. Like other hikers I talked with, Scouting, especially working toward his Eagle Scout Badge, was his entry way into the great outdoors and backpacking.

His best experience of the AT so far came in New Jersey where he was pleasantly surprised by both the beauty and the ease of hiking, and he wondered how such a bucolic thing could exist in New Jersey. Did he not know that Jersey is, after all, “The Garden State?” On the other hand, he found the many road crossings in Shenandoah National Park to be intrusive and monotonous.

During his various sectional treks, Bad Idea has learned to arrive at open water sources well before his dog Willow, or else she will disturb it, kicking up silt and debris, making it harder to filter. He has also discovered that Willow needs her own sleeping pad, both for her comfort as well as his. Without her own pad, Willow will snuggle up with him on his pad, making it more difficult to stretch out and sleep.

While I enjoyed many conversations with my Tent City neighbor Bad Idea, Willow was nearly silent the entire time. Quick to accept a stroke on the back or a belly rub, I cannot recall ever hearing her bark. She would even stay in their Durston tent, sleeping on her own pad, while her human hiking companion was out and about. Even though I have hiked and backpacked with a few dogs over the years, I find it hard to imagine a better hiking companion than Willow.

If Bad Idea told me how he received his trail name, I did not record it in my notes and do not remember what he told me, and Willow would be no help. I have a vague recollection it had something to do with an action he intended to take while on the trail and someone told him that it was a bad idea, but I do not know what that action or idea was.

This is my second hiker’s Stories from Trail Days 2024 and plan and hope to post at least eight in all, so please check back here.

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