How I Got My Trail Name

Some trail names require explanation. Mine—Indigo—takes quite some time and a fair amount of abstract thinking to be understood. But the hiker who gave me my trail name has probably never been asked about her own. Her name is Whisper.

I met Whisper on top of a mountain, which I’ve since decided is the best place to meet friends.

I was sitting on a log, preparing a lunch of Pop-Tarts, peanut butter, and instant oatmeal. The oatmeal packets said Apple Cinnamon, but my poorly rinsed pot turned out a Maple-Blueberry-Apple-Cinnamon-Spicy-Thai-Cheesy Alfredo-Broccoli oat concoction. And it was delicious.

A few minutes passed before a young woman came up the trail. She had blond hair that was so faint and wispy that it almost looked gray, and though she looked very fit and impressively relaxed for having just climbed 3,000 vertical feet, she moved slowly, tentatively.

The woman smiled at me softly and dropped her sizable (even by thru-hiker standards) pack next to the log. Typically, this is when hikers groan, sigh, complain of heat or cold or steep hills or endless flat fields. But this woman only smiled.

“Hello,” I said. She waved. Then, she mouthed something. Maybe she’s mute? I thought. Or perhaps I’d blasted one too many Avicii anthems trying to get over that last climb.

“Sorry? I didn’t catch that.” She did it again, the mouthing thing, though this time —my ears strained, eyes even more so in my best lip-reading attempt—I could just barely make out: “How far is the water?”

The water source was a full half-mile blue blaze. “Too far for me,” I admitted, shaking an empty water bottle as proof of my laziness. The woman sighed, visibly but silently, and sat down. “I’m Whisper.” She breathed. Indeed, I thought. “I’m Will. Still haven’t got a trail name. There’s water a little bit up the trail, not too far off it, I think.” Whisper smiled.

At a closer glance I had to reconsider Whisper’s age. She looked fit, and had smooth, tanned skin, but something in her face, and the way she carried herself, seemed elderly. She looked wise. And she had these soft, gray, knowing eyes that never jumped or wavered—like they’d seen the world over, and there was nothing left in it to surprise or impress or frighten them. She could have told me she was any age between 25 and 65, and I would have believed her.

Starfish arrived just a minute or so later, and went through a similar confused introduction with Whisper. I polished off my sweet and savory lunch and three of us set off, down through the rising afternoon heat.

But Whisper moved slowly, and Starfish and I soon left her behind.

It’s a sad fact of the linear trail world that you cross paths with some people only once. Hike your own hike is the rule. I’d learned to accept that, to not mourn the friendships that might have manifested, and to enjoy the ones that did. But still, I hoped to see Whisper again—it’s the quiet, mysterious hikers who always have the best stories to tell.

A few miles later Starfish and I stopped at an on-trail water source. Just moments later, Whisper appeared. She smiled. “I’m glad I ran into you again. I usually prefer to hike alone.” She turned to me, still smiling, but gray eyes serious and resolute. “Will, I’ve thought of a trail name for you: Indigo.”

I liked the ring of it initially: sophisticated but direct, with a note of mystery. I had to ask, “Why?”

Whisper explained that my hair had been her initial inspiration. She called it “sleek, shadowy,” and added that I had a mysterious, truth- and essence-seeking personality as well.

She then explained that indigo is the essence of blackness, the spirit of iridescence, the color that emerges from all other colors, rising from mystery and confusion into one definitive hue. It was the sweetest way anyone has ever told me “You’re greasy and you ask too many questions.”

Of course, my words can’t do Whisper justice. The way she explained it—and the way she spoke it—was prophetic, eloquent, and true.

“Thank you,” I whispered, my eyes practically tear-wells. That simple response seemed the only appropriate one. And I very much meant it.

Thus, I became Indigo. I checked off another box on the thru-hiker bucket list. And most importantly, I met another kind, wise, and mysterious but honest friend.

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