Rally. Treeman. Squatch. Hedgehog. Dude. Etch-A-Sketch. You’ve heard me referring to people with these names…but, no, the PCT isn’t completely overrun with hippies. When you’re hiking any of the big tree long trails (Appalachian, Continental Divide, Pacific Crest), people end up taking on trail names — nicknames based on their character, appearance, experiences, or anything else about them that’s identifying, charming, or simply unique. Getting a trail name is part of your “rite of passage” to hiking these long trails.
And, recently, we got trail names! I’m known as Fancypants out here, and Clare is known as Bucket. Mine comes from the literal fancy pants I have — my hiking pants have long zippers down the outside that expand to a ventilation mesh, and my rain pants have all kinds of snazzy stuff on the side that makes them easier to take on and off with your hiking shoes still on. Clare’s comes from the sil-nylon bucket she fashioned out of leftover material from our tarp, reinforced with some extremely lightweight metal — it’s an incredibly useful thing to have along, and weighs far less than anything commercial.
And, yes, people out here really do only know each other by their trail names. Most of the folks I met early on, before they had trail names, I also know of by their given name — but, even now, we refer to each other by trail names. Folks I’ve met later I only know of by their trail names: I’ve met Duke, DinoDNA, Etch-A-Sketch, TomTit, Flash, Wet Dog (the first person I gave a trail name to!), and so on. There’s almost always an interesting tale behind every one, and part of the fun is asking people the story behind their trail name. And some of the people I’ve grown closest to out here have great trail names: Treeman, because he’s German and his last name means something like “treeman”; Hedgehog, because she’s always drawing adorable little hedgehogs on things; Rally (wait, I don’t know that story yet…you’ll have to tell me soon!); PT, because she got referred to as “poor thing” many times due to a sinus infection; Squatch (another great person, but I don’t know the story!); and so on.
After being out here a while, you start to realize another benefit of trail names — and perhaps the reason they got started in the first place: there are enough people out here that first names are far too common to be able to easily remember. I shudder to think how many Daves or Bills I’d be trying to sift through out here, but an Offtrail or Marmot is so much easier to remember!
People’s trail names also carry on past their hike: if people continue doing long-distance hikes, they’ll often get to be extremely well-known by their trail names…and sometimes people form long-term, really close friendships, all the while knowing each other pretty much only by their trail names. It’s an incredibly fun tradition, and part of what makes being out here so great.
P.S.: In your regularly-scheduled hiking news: today we climbed 4,500+ feet in the middle of the day under the blazing sun, which was miserable; we got water from a spring straight in the mountain, dripping down into a bucket, which was pretty cool; we saw many, many lizards; and we grow every closer to Big Bear — our next town stop, and one we’re eager to take in. However, not every day hiking is filled with thrills, and sometimes there isn’t an enormous amount to say beyond “wow, we hiked a really long ways today” ;). More tales tomorrow!