Trail Name Origins
Many of you, my lovely readers, have requested hearing the stories of how thru-hikers obtained their trail names. Well, ask and you shall receive (some of the time at least)! I’ve reached out to some of the thru-hikers I met on the northern portion of my flip flop and asked them to tell the story of how they received their names. Thus, these stories are told from their point of view. I hope you enjoy!
The ways in which a thru-hiker obtains a trail name can vary. As you will read, some came onto the trail with names already, either from previous thru-hikes, or life experiences. Others obtained their trail names on the trail from something they said or did, or if something happened to them. Lastly, some chose the names for themselves. The beauty of the AT is that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to do anything, and this extends to trail name origins…
First off, my trail name
At its core, the way I obtained my trail name is fairly straight forward. Over the course of my first month on the trail, I had multiple people try and give me a trail name. Suggestions ranged from “Geo”, “Jukebox”, “Curious George”, to “Flight Risk” (which, to this day, this trail name is likely the most accurate description of myself). However, I always had a reason not to fully adopt the name. Eventually, there was a night I entered a hostel (the church at Delaware Water Gap, in Pennsylvania to be exact), and as I met the other hikers in the hostel, and we introduced ourselves, I said “I am not going to tell you my trail name because I don’t want to keep it and I want a new one. If I tell you my trail name now, then you will have it in your head and you won’t be able to help me come up with a new one”.
I kid you not… it was at this exact moment that another flip flopper, Right Way, who I had been playing leap frog with for the last few days, comes bounding down the stairs, sees me, and yells “JUKEBOX! YOU’RE HERE!” It was a moment in time where I legitimately face-palmed myself from the irony of what I had just said, and the timing of Right Way’s comment. Also, this is a good time to point out how sometimes, multiple hikers will get the same trail name, later on in this post you will meet another “Jukebox”. This is part of the reason I no longer wanted to be jukebox, I wanted a unique trail name (which, in retrospect, is an extremely hard, if not impossible goal).
Any who, at this point in the hostel I said: “Look. I am just going to keep resetting my trail name until I get one I like, okay?” At which point, Skip said “that’s it, your trail name should be Reset”!
Trail Names Obtained From Before the Trail
Skip is a name I got in the military. I got assigned to a SF unit that didn’t use real names on name tags for security reasons. I was sitting around reading a book called The rise and fall of the Roman Empire and I was on the chapter of the Punic wars where Roman general Scipio Africanus battles Hannibal. Just then my team sergeant come up and yells “Bajis what name do you want on your tag. You have 3 seconds or you’re gonna get Steve”. I said what? He replied 3….2….1…. I blurted out Scipio. He said Ok Skip it is then. I wore that name tag for 3 years. Everyone knew me as Skip. So when I got out of the military I would introduce myself as Skip.
When I got on the trail people tried to give me a trail name but I felt that I did not need a new trail name when I already have a fake life name?
So life is a trail and Skip is my life trail name
My name came from the PCT. There’s a section called Scissors Crossing. It’s a very long switchback that goes up a couple thousand feet. I was in the desert and I had to figure out how I was going to dress. I could pick between wearing fewer clothes (i.e., shorts and a tank top) with lots of sunscreen, or I could fully cover up with long sleeves and pants for sun coverage. I decided to go with fully covered up. To do so I found a light weight long sleeve shirt, a long skirt, and I carried an umbrella with me. As I hiked up this long switchback I took tiny tiny steps, and another hiker commented that I looked like a Geisha Girl
I was part of an Air Force Security Forces program….Phoenix Raven. On the trail I wore a shirt with Raven across the back, thus I was given the trail name: Raven.
K is a character in Kafka novels The Castle and The Trial that is amusing and to which I relate. He’s also representative of the existential philosophy of absurdism as popularized by Albert Camus, which is something I was into just before starting the trail.
Like many hikers, my name was given to me by another thru hiker (my husband, Jedi, class of 2022).
I’m an ultramarathon runner. I run at a slow pace, but I get the job done. In trail running there’s a LOT of hiking involved. I discovered I really enjoyed this aspect, and that is what brought me to backpacking in the first place!
Ultrarunning has given me tools that have served me well during my thru hike. In a nutshell, get comfortable being uncomfortable- whether that’s being in the rain for hours on end, needing to eat but not thrilled about the food that’s available, being tired but moving forward with your eye on the goal, camping alone that first time, etc… Practical tools as well, like taking care of wet feet (knock on wood, I’ve made it this far with no blisters!).
Running taught me that I can do hard things and things I never dreamed possible. I have to remind myself of that many times out here.
If not for running, I most likely would not have had the courage to attempt this adventure of a lifetime! Thus I embraced the trial name Ultra.
Trail Names Obtained on the Trail
I got on the topic of the American Chestnut Tree with Mojo Jojo (He has huge Power Puff Girl tatts on his calves). He sat in stunned silence while I totally nerded out for about ten minutes. I waxed poetic and threw out Latin names. When I finally stopped to take a breath, he said that my trail name should be Chestnut.
So, I got my trail name “Crushin’ It” just past the NOC in North Carolina. I’d camped at a creek the night before with a few other hikers, including a guy named Army Green Wolverine, Army Green Wolverine was a real character, one of those retired military guys who looks like they may have been living in these woods since the previous thru-hiking season. The kind of guy who randomly knocks his head back arches his spine, and lets loose a vocal cord shredding howl at the sky whenever the mood struck him. Anyways we hadn’t actually spoke the night before because I arrived and set up late, and he and his buddy had already pitched their tents and turned in for the night. I had decided to do 20 miles the night before, my first 20-mile day on the trail. Also, I had only packed out a certain amount of food from the NOC, since, by hiking twenty miles, I knew I would be back in town sooner.
Well, I ended up sleeping in that morning and didn’t get started until around 9:30 or so (and the sun set about 7pm), and at the time I was averaging about a 2 mph pace with my full pack. So I really needed to move to make it to my destination. That’s where Army Green Wolverine comes in. He’s a decent hiker but that day I was moving! For the first five miles or so him and I kept leapfrogging, he started before me, but I caught up and passed him, then I would take a break, and he would catch up, then I would blow past him, and finally he ran up to me again just as I was finishing up another break, and he stopped me to ask my name. I told him my gov’t. name, and he asked why I didn’t have a trail name yet, and I told him I hadn’t earned one yet. Introductions concluded he told me emphatically that I was “Crushing it out here!“ I said “thanks” and then he said “No, you’re Crushin’ It” and that’s when it finally clicked for me. It just sounded different. Less like a congratulations, more like an identity. Cuz yeah I was Crushin’ it!
I carried that with me for the rest of the trail to remind myself that by just being out here, I was Crushin’ it! Hiking the trail isn’t easy, but every step you take in a way is just proof that you can take even more. If you’re Crushin’ it one day you can crush it the next day or even next week.
I got Recon because I hiked the trail last year and was providing my initial tramily with all the intel on what was coming up on trail and in towns.
I got Popeye because I was always packing out bags of spinach to put in my lunch wraps and in my dinners. I always want salad in town haha!
So for background, you need to know that I love dairy. I am from the Midwest, and in MN you cannot purchase raw unpasteurized milk. On the trail, many other hikers told me about the Mennonite stand in the Cumberland Valley that sells Raw Milk and other dairy confections, so it was put on my short list of things to see as I went by. When I arrived, I was half way into my first 15 mile day, and it was quite hot out. The smallest quantity of milk they had for sale was half a gallon, and I’m not a quitter, so I drank it in 8 minutes, much to the horror of everyone around. The next day, 2 different groups of hikers, independently of each other, suggested the trail name Milkman.
Thus, my name. *bow*
Twistys came from the snacks that I would always reach for at trail magic and constantly crave at every resupply – Cheetos! We have the exact same thing in Australia, but they’re instead called Twisties. Also seemed fitting because I’m very prone to twisting my ankle, and they were really on a knife edge for the last few weeks of the trail!
I got my name back in Georgia, where I would go hunting for failed bear hangs in trees, especially at night when the cords reflect and are easy to see, and NOBOs are still getting the hang of no-fail hangs. I would climb trees to rescue the carabiners and then keep or give them away to other hikers.
You can never have too many carabiners!
My trail name origin story is pretty straight forward. A good ways into North Carolina, most hikers already had a trail name, and while others had tried to give me a trail name (“The Prophet” almost stuck), I still did not have one.
Then came along a unique guy by the name of ‘Survivor,’ who spent half a day contemplating it and finally said ” ‘coo coo ca choo’ you’re the Walrus! You write songs, grew up on the ocean, have the prophet thing going and look like John Lennon’s mountain cousin”
The name served me well and I was greeted with positive reactions the whole trail… It was a great part of the experience
Initially I’d been resistant at first to the whole trail name convention. Seemed contrived and awkward – like insisting to your school mates you’d now like to be called Prince, or something (that wasn’t me, honest). A kind of childish pretentiousness maybe…
Anyway I came round, and really started enjoying other people’s names. As my understanding of what we were doing out here increased, I knew I couldn’t, and shouldn’t, resist.
I had a few suggestions before Uncle Sam stuck…
Just a couple of days into the trail, my new friend “L” tried to give me the trail name “Stumbles”, for obvious reasons. I declined, not wanting to sound like a Disney princesses’ sidekick.
That’s probably one reason why it took so long (three weeks seemed long anyway); I continued to turn down trail name ideas, determined to wait for a trail name I liked.
It finally happened in Southern Pennsylvania, the conversation that led me to my trail name.
I had been talking about another trail friend, C, who told me he thought of his new name as an opportunity for an alter-ego. I strongly disagreed. I wanted to be more myself, not less or other. I’d also been asked at Doyle’s Bar, Duncannon: Why are you hiking the Appalachian Trail?
In my rambling response, I came across some sort of defense of America. I’m a Londoner and the USA we see from Europe is very different from the one I see in the natural beauty of the country and the natural hospitality and genuineness of the people I’d met here, both previously, and now on trail.
I decided I wanted as a name the most American thing there was. “Apple Pie” has other connotations, “George Washington” was turned down by my impromptu jury as being too long (I still kind of like it though). I was “Abe” for a couple of days as a placeholder but it didn’t stick.
Both A and L came up with the (now very obvious) answer at the same time. It says, kind of literally, America, and it also has my name (my government name is Sam) in it, so I can satisfy the part of me that wanted to remain stubbornly myself. There’s also a slightly mischievous side with me being very much British.
Meet Uncle Sam. Born on Trail, June 2nd 2023, PA, USA.
I texted a hostel for a bunk, they asked my name and I accidentally hit an auto reply of “nope.” I quickly responded and wrote “sorry it’s Nick”, but by then they said they already had me down and when I got there they had everyone calling me “Nope”
It was this guy named “K-Dawg” and he liked that I kept singing old 60’s through 80’s songs in the shelter. I guess I also did this thing where I, or someone else, would talk and accidentally say a lyric, and then I would finish out the lyrics of the song. I just did it automatically without noticing, so K-Dawg named me Jukebox.
Early March I woke up at sunrise with a full shelter and it was the first snow we had, in my shorts. Three separate people asked me the questions “Aren’t you cold?” Because I was only in shorts and “Where are you from?” Assuming I was from Alaska or something… By the time the third person asked me these same 2 questions I finally announced to the whole shelter that “these are not Alaskan shorts” and they thought it was funny. Someone then called me Shorts and I ran with it.
Mary Poppins (MP)
One rainy day while walking in PA, a group of hikers passed my Dad and me, and my smiling face, giving out good mornings, which was not wet thanks to my umbrella! As they passed, one of them was about to lose his pack cover and I asked him to stop a moment so I could fix it for him. He thanked me for taking care of him.. Fast forward a few days. A group of hikers and I were on the porch at Iron masters Hostel and they were telling me the story of aA white umbrella bopping up and down the trail, and that as they got to the owner of this umbrella, they saw nothing but a smiling face and received joyful good mornings 🙂 they told me that all they could think about was Mary Poppins, and that one of them had actually been in the play Mary Poppins with his church at home, playing Mr. Banks and how they had sang songs from Mary Poppins during their hike that day.
After hearing their story I laughed and said that umbrella is not white, that umbrella is silver and it’s mine! They then dubbed me Mary Poppins at that moment, for doting on my dad at the hostel, taking care of the hikers as they walked past and were about to lose some gear, and for being pleasant and positive even in dark stormy weather!
I was hiking around a few fellow thru hikers, one of who I would call a “veteran” thru hiker, named Ellie. I would pass her during the day and then she would pass me as I was stopped chatting with other hikers on the trail. I would chit-chat with pretty much everyone that wanted to. She would get to camp before I would and when I arrived, I would introduce myself to people who were still up and about at camp. Ellie writes in a journal and doesn’t use real names so she was going back and forth between the name “Greeter” or “Mr. Friendly” for me. As I was crossing Fontana Dam, I met up with Ellie again and that’s where she told me of the names she was giving me. From there it stuck and I started introducing myself as “Mr. Friendly” throughout the Smokies and people enjoyed it!
Before trail, I volunteered for a few years for an NYC safe-streets program, and it was so successful that they decided to make it permanent. However, apparently some people decided to sue the city to stop the program. For some reason, this lawsuit named 6 volunteers as named defendants in the suit (there are hundreds of volunteers across the city so very odd choice), and I was one of those people named.
I was with a big group of people camping at the Rice Field shelter in VA (soooo recommend it if you can stay there, incredible sunset and sunrise) and we had just watched the most beautiful sunset when I got a text about it.
We then joked for weeks that it was gonna be super hard for a process server to find me, (good luck serving someone hiking the AT… in the end they just served my roommate with the papers, turns out that’s legit in NY state). So that is how I got my trail name. As for the suit itself, we have a good lawyer now and we’re hoping that the volunteers get dismissed from the suit.
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