Trail Names and Assorted Hiker Knowledge

With only about four months left until my thru hike, most of the planning is done.  Other than my definitive start date, I’ve got most of my details worked out.  A few months ago I did a post about my reasons for starting the trail and I got a lot of positive response to it. Today I wanted to do a post about things that will be taking place on the trail that most people either haven’t heard of or don’t understand.  

A trail name is an alias you’ll be called on the trail.  No one is for sure when this trend started, but most believe it was in the early 1990s, as thru hikers before this time don’t recall being called anything other than their first name.  A trail name comes from a number of different places.  Traditionally, you let other people chose your trail name. My official trail name now is “Trophy Wife.”  It has been “Cheeseburger” and “Topo” in the past.  Cheeseburger was my first trail name and was given to me by a friend who thought I looked to skinny after losing quite a bit of weight.  He said that I must be hungry and I should “go eat a cheeseburger or something.”  I found it hilarious and it stuck for a few months.  My second trail name, Topo, was given to me by a friend who found it funny that I constantly could call out the names of ridges, mountain tops, and creeks anywhere in the Smokies.  Whenever we’d get to a vista and we could see 50 miles in all directions, I was the go-to for what we were looking at.  Trophy Wife was given to me two weeks ago.  I was hiking with a friend of mine and we got to talking about things we were doing and I mentioned I felt like a Kelly Ripa commercial, tiling floors and making risotto and hiking the trails all in one weekend.  Trophy Wife is what came from that conversation.  

Trail names, for the most part, are self-explanatory.  I’ve heard some great ones in my times on the trail, like Tax Dollar, named for hiking the AT on his tax return, Mudd Butt, named for the constant falls he took during a rainy season, Mooch, for obvious reasons… the ones with stories behind them are usually the best.  When these names are called out on the trail, you usually know them.  It’s very rare to know someone’s actual name unless they tell you.  It adds a bit of whimsy and mystery to the trail in my opinion.  

There’s a lot of socialization on the trail as well.  Things we don’t talk about back in civilization are usually the most common topics I have found.  Things like where you’re from, what brought you here, your views on politics and religion, they all are common place on the trail.  The discussions are almost always calm and level-headed.  It’s interesting to think of the places you don’t have these conversations, i.e. – “Good morning, what brings you to the mall this time of year?”  It is also fascinating to me the people I meet.  Some of the people I hike with I would never meet back in towns.  I’ve hiked with computer nerds, CPAs, marathon runners, devout Christians, vegans, mechanics, students… the list goes on and on.  Back at home, we wouldn’t have much in common and probably not that much to talk about.  On the trail, we all have the trail in common.  It is our love of nature and the challenge of the hike that brings us together.  That common bond is enough to make friends out of people who normally would never speak.  

I think the most amazing part of the trail, to me, is the camaraderie between hikers for the most part.  Due to the shelter logs, we know each other before we even meet.  We can usually tolerate each other just fine for a few days.  We get to know you more personally than we know most of our friends back home.  It’s very poignant to me that it is so easy for me to open up to total strangers and let them know so much about me when I hardly know them.  Back at home, I tend to avoid people and keep myself shut up tight, careful not to give too many opinions for fear of backlash.  I was telling my friend on Saturday that on the trail my confidence is a 10 and at home it is closer to 5 or 6.  On the trail, I know what I’m doing, where I’m going, and what I am capable of doing in one day.  At home, I second-guess my work, my time usage, my abilities to keep up my house and make ends meet.   

To shorten and end this post, I’m looking forward to regaining my trust in the world again.  I think getting back to simplicity and needing only what I have on my back is going to be an amazing experience.  I may not make it to the summit of Katahdin, but to me it is all about the journey, and I’m so excited to begin. 

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