A Rose is a Rose is a Gnat Magnet?
Something I’ve been thinking a lot about as I gear up for my thru-hike is what trail name I’m going to use. I don’t know where or when this custom started, but most hikers assume a new identity, a sort of alter ego when they embark on a journey of this magnitude. It’s part of the adventure, a symbol of shedding the past and leaving the real world behind. It’s a way to be both anonymous and unique, to reinvent yourself and be whoever you want to be for maybe the first time in your life. You use this name for everything — meeting other people, writing in the trail logs or registers — and it lingers in the hiking community even after you finish your hike.
So how do you get a trail name? There are two ways. The most romantic and traditional is the Zen method. You’re trudging along in the woods when fate has you coming across a Yoda-like sage, a Wise Woman or man who instantly sees past your sweaty exterior to your inner spirit and christens you with a meaningful name that captures the essence of who you are. Or (and this is far more likely), another hiker spots you doing something distinctly unglamorous like falling in the mud, and voila, you’re known as Mud Face for the rest of your hiking life.
The other method is to choose your own name before someone beats you to it. But where do you begin? Here are some common ways:
-You can use a physical attribute such as Black Beard, Big John, Tiny Tim, etc., as long as you’re okay with being identified by how you look.
-Your name can reflect your hobby or career.
-Some people choose names based on where they’re from, much like snow birds wearing their state ball caps or college kids sporting an Alma Mater t-shirt. The only problem is that in any given year there could be a dozen people called Big Sky on the trail at once.
-Your name might reflect your personality, whether it be whimsical, funny, dangerous, or irreverent. Just make sure it’s something you can live with long term. After you complete your thru-hike you might give speeches to school groups or appear in the local media. A name that seemed cute on the trail might not sound too appealing then.
Make sure it’s not too common. The trail is filled with Walkers, Striders, Ramblers, and Seekers. Use your imagination to come up with something that fits only you.
Don’t choose something too obscure. The other day my husband told me he was considering 2M18 as his trail name. This totally baffled me until he explained that he has lived in two states beginning with the letter M for eighteen years each (Montana and Maryland). Unfortunately, that name is hard to understand, hard to remember, and even harder to say out loud. Maybe M18 would work – it has sort of a James Bond, MI-5 kind of sound to it. But it’s also a motorway in the UK.
As for me, I’m still debating my options. I’m a writer by career, but Hemingway sounds way too pretentious, Scribbler too dismissive. I don’t really want to focus on my age or height. My hiking style consists mainly of tripping over rocks and roots, not something I care to emphasize. And the only other thing that distinguishes me right now is that while I’m hiking I attract an inordinate number of bugs.
So, I’ll keep on thinking, hoping that the perfect trail name pops into my head. Or maybe I’ll get lucky and find Obi-Wan Kenobi waiting around the next bend. If I do, I’ll be sure to let you know!
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