Behind Trail Names: Average Joe or Super Hero?

I don’t reckon I’ll ever get comfortable hearing, “Oh, I heard about you” after introducing myself, but strangely enough switching out my very average given name, the name I’ve answered to my entire life, for something as ridiculous as Mouse Mama felt as natural as pre-coffee yawns in the morning. In fact, I’ve gotten so used to being called Mouse Mama that when the lady at the deli shouted “Rachel” I didn’t even flinch. It didn’t dawn on me that my sandwich was ready until a trailmate nudged me to situational awareness: I coexist as both Mouse Mama and Rachel. Weird, right?

So, most of you know how I came to be Mouse Mama, but in case you missed it the short version is a mouse gave birth in my pack and I unknowingly carried two still-squealing baby mice 20 miles to the next night’s spot. It’s a good story. It’s a story that apparently travels quicker than I can walk. It’s a story that’s got me contemplating how we identify.

At first I didn’t like my name having mama as part of my trail name. It felt suggestive of taking on a motherly roll among my trailmates and also seemed to shine a harsh light on the fact that I, a thirtysomething female, am not home rearing children like so many of my peers. Don’t get me wrong; I delight in my friends’ little ones, but having them of my own remains a faraway thought on some future to-do list. Enough about child-rearing (for now). My inner trail name turmoil got me to wondering about who my trailmates might be behind their bandanas and bruises. They too have taken on bold names that, in my opinion, somehow feel fitting for the trail as well as indicative of their generational status.

The young men in their 20s are Green Machine, Early Eagle, and Sun Chaser, but back home they are much more plainly called Michael, Cole, and Matthew. Is it ironic that their trail names call in notions of the bold adventure seeking eagerness that is often associated with young men? I don’t think so because when I turn to the 55+ crowd I hear names like Grits, Tar, and OTB (Off the Bench), which all invoke an image of steady dudes that have been around the sun a few more times than the likes of me.

Of course, then I wonder if this holds true with the women, but wait, where are the women? I meet handfuls of twentysomethings with names like Cheeto, Tink, and Riddler. Sure enough, when I imagine the person associated with these names my mind is filled with footloose and fancy-free wisps. Yes, these names have a story and often hold deeper meanings, but they also fit the age-appropriate bill my mind builds.

Looking further into the pool of women out here I have trouble naming many female thru-hikers over the age of 30. They are here for sure, but few and far between. You’ll never find a gaggle of them chirping on a mountaintop. No, mostly they are either with their male counterparts or are the true soloists on the trail. Which makes me wonder if the modern-day Lone Ranger has become the wanderlusting, forest-loving female over a certain age? Maybe. That would be a big statement, but it may just be something to consider.

Either way, I came to the trail knowing I’d land in this awkward demographic and honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The mama in Mouse Mama may have come to existence from a funny trail story, but now I’m quite content letting it stand as a nod toward my nurturing nature rather than mother. In fact, the name Mouse Mama helps keep me grounded in awareness of self by reminding me we all have our dualities and just because I’ve taken on a trail name it doesn’t mean I’m not still the same ole wanderlusting Rachel folks back home know me as.

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Comments 2

  • Avatar
    Linda Cooper : Jul 24th

    Last year did my first ever backpacking trip in SNP solo. On day 3 was given my trail name of Gaia (mother earth). At 69 the name felt perfect. This year at 70 it’s a section hike on the PCT. Won’t be thru hiking, but will be checking off my bucket list treks.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Erin (Tenacious) : Jul 27th

      I turned 35 on my thru hike last year, and I can def say I did not know a single other female in her 30s. I’m sure there were one or 2, but I never found them. I knew one woman in her 40s, but otherwise they were just as you say. 20s or 60s. Though, to be fair, there were only one or two guys I met who were in their thirties as well.

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