Why I Chose My Own Trail Name on the Appalachian Trail
You’re dreaming of hiking the Appalachian Trail and you’re doing your due diligence and researching resupply options, lightweight gear choices, and permits. You’ve read past hikers’ blogs and hope to one day get your own Altras dirty and step foot on the trail. And in your research, you’ve come across the concept of trail names, a piece of trail culture that you are excited about.
Like donning a superhero cape, you hope that your future trail name will transform you into a long-distance hiker, allowing you to become initiated into the backpacking community. However, you’re wary about being christened with a less-than-hoped for name like Mayo or Dead Man, Raingear or Peebug—you get the idea. (Those are actual names of folks I encountered on my thru-hike.)
You have romanticized notions of hardcore, badass names like Mountain Goddess, Rock Puncher, and Legend, although you wouldn’t be so arrogant as to name yourself that of course. And so you find yourself in a pickle asking, do I leave my legacy up to fate or do I take back the naming power and anoint myself? Well, if you don’t want to get stuck with a god-awful name, then name yourself as I did.
I gave myself my trail name prior to starting, as I didn’t want to be stuck with an embarrassing one on trail like Crop Duster or Chafestick. The name Tide Walker just spoke to me at the time and was an homage to my alma mater, The University of Alabama, known as the Crimson Tide. I never said it was particularly clever, and it wasn’t a reference to a character in Star Wars. Over the course of the hike, my name got shortened to Tide, and the further away from the South I got the Alabama reference was lost and people assumed that I must live by the ocean or have clean clothes.
In retrospect, I do slightly wish I had a better story behind my names like some who are given their names after humorous incidents or the like. And I’ll admit it is fun to come up with one to give to another hiker. ‘Cause besides my hiking partners, I didn’t really know my fellow thru-hikers’ real name. I find it special that there are some acquaintances that I met that I only know by their trail name and vice versa. Now, being removed from trail life, my heart is always warmed when someone calls me by my trail name.
So in conclusion, don’t worry. Even if someone gives you a crummy trail name, you don’t have to take it. They aren’t going to brand your forehead with it. You don’t have to have one on your very first day either, so wait till you get one that you can accept, or give one to yourself. It’s your hike, your experience. You do you.
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