Trail Name Anxiety

Smelly, grey-haired, his face weary but hard-set. “Snorting Ox is what they call me on the Appalachian Trail,” he said. “It’s because, well, I snore a lot.”

We were at Pinkham Notch, an Appalachian Mountain Club refuge in the Whites. I’d just finished a week-long teen outdoors trip, and here I was, meeting my first ever thru-hiker. I crouched on my top bunk, he reclined on his bottom bed across the room, and he opened up a whole new world for me. I’d heard of the Appalachian Trail before, but never the names people are given along it. I listened as he went on to tell me about other people he met on the trail. There was Logger who earned his name by habitually turning on to logging roads by mistake whenever they intersected the trail; there was another man whose name I forget but which derived from his unfortunate tendency to walk several days in the wrong direction on the trail.

This encounter changed me forever. It brought the whole notion of thru-hiking the great Appalachian Trail closer, through that intimate set of stories about the alternate names people would assume on their journey. What would mine be?

In recent weeks, as I’ve approached the date of departure for my thru-hike, that very question is one of the many that are taking turns to make me nervous. Thanks to Snorting Ox, trail names are a crucial part of the romance that the AT holds  for me, so part of me just needs mine to be perfect. It can’t be too silly, or too straight-forward; I’d hate it if it were an insult, but embarrassed if it were a compliment. But a more legitimate concern is that it would focus on one single aspect of my personality.

See, I’m fresh from high school, where I ended up giving off the impression that I had only one main attribute: wild enthusiasm. I was the happy kid, the optimistic, jumpy kid, the one who’d always ask questions in morning Community Time. That narrow perception of me stunted my ability to build close relationships with other students. The trail is not high school, I’m sure. But still, I could once again be squeezed into a single box, this time by my very name.

In the end, I’m sure it’ll turn out fine, and I’ll be happily posting here under my new name. Even if it does just describe me somewhat simplistically, the bonds I’ll form with others will be authentic in their own right. I just can’t help my anxiety. After all…I leave for Georgia in a few hours.

I’ve never seen Snorting Ox since. I don’t know if he managed to conquer the Whites in the end or not. But he sure did snore.

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