The balding, bespectacled man sat against the wooden wall with legs sprawled out, hiking socks still on his feet. Dim sunlight barely revealed his face. I walked into the trail shelter and dropped my pack.
“Hi, I’m Lazy,” he said, pushing his glasses back on his nose. “They call me Lazy because I’m lazy.”
Then a young red-haired hiker, lying on an upper bunk, stuck his head out and introduced himself as Camel. He earned his name because he went long periods without peeing. A short, attractive girl leaning against a tree outside hollered her name – Lassie. With her youthful, innocent face and eager eyes, all framed in a thick auburn mane, well, she rather looked like a Lassie.
“Johnny Molloy,” I replied.
I didn’t have a trail name then. I don’t have a trail name now. I love the trail, but I’m not a fan of trail names, which are found mostly within proximity of the Appalachian Trail, the master path of the East. Trail names are a tradition on the A.T. Running with the bulls in Spain is also a tradition. I won’t do either.
I remember a guy named Bill. His view on trail names mirrored mine. He didn’t have one, didn’t want one. He was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, not seeking a new identity. As he walked the white-blazed path, he simply introduced himself as “Bill”.
The most-often stated reply to him was, “What’s your trail name?”
His standard answer, “I don’t have a trail name. My name is just Bill.”
He became “Just Bill.”
Aspiring Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, when dreaming of their backwoods experience, of quitting their jobs, strapping on the pack and fleeing their current life, often give themselves trail names. For women, it usually combines nature, sweetness, and light – like Butterfly, Flowering Orchid or Brown-Eyed Fawn. Men, when naming themselves, go for monikers that mirror their self-perceived hiking prowess, some hero, or a reference to where they are from. Men often end up with a name that reveals their eating traits or camp habits, such as Butter Pecan, for eating gallons of the frozen treat in trail towns, or Lumberjack, because he snored so loud in the shelters.
Most hikers leave their moniker in trail shelter registers. When reading the registers, I can’t help but try to picture them: Hindenburg—a fat guy hiking the trail to lose weight? Winged Angel—a long-legged beauty with blond tresses effortlessly ascending to lofty heights? Dopey—a guy who puffs weed behind the shelter at night?